Phillip Thomson August 12, 2012
CLOSE to 1000 teachers at Australia's top university are being told to make their students happy at the expense of confronting their fledgling thinkers with rigorous lessons, says the union representing lecturers.
Teachers at the Australian National University now need to explain themselves if too many students are not pleased with them and colleges must argue why courses with student satisfaction rates less than 50 per cent should be kept.
Students have for years been asked to fill out satisfaction surveys at the end of each semester.
But the university's education committee earlier this year decided to give the surveys greater importance by strongly linking them to the performance of the teachers.
In the past fortnight, numerous teachers have been asked to explain why students have given them poor marks following the end of the first semester.
Within days of teachers being approached, the union has been hit with dozens of complaints from members, according to National Tertiary Education Union ACT secretary Stephen Darwin.
One teacher who emailed the union said: ''I feel under pressure to lower standards and make the student experience more comfortable so I don't end up before the head of school to explain myself.''
Another educator was concerned ANU management was threatening to close courses simply based on highly subjective student opinion.
The university's academic deputy vice-chancellor, Professor Marnie Hughes-Warrington, said management looked forward to the staff union taking up one of two invitations to talk about any concerns.
''The university uses a range of evidence to guarantee the quality of the education we deliver to students,'' she said.
''ANU has the highest student satisfaction, at 84 per cent, and is ranked top in teaching quality in the Group of Eight universities.''
Mr Darwin said only about 20 per cent to 30 per cent of students filled out the surveys.
He said these students tended to be the angriest, probably because they received bad marks or were confronted by teaching which challenged them.
More students seemed to complain about first-year economics and business courses which had large class sizes, lots of statistics and sometimes students who needed to realise they were not suited to studying the subject.
The union sees the greater importance now placed on student satisfaction as a continuation of vice-chancellor Ian Young's moves to use metrics to run the university.
''This is the first time at this university that student opinion has been the basis of determining what is quality education,'' Mr Darwin said.