Website puts unis under the microscope

Emma Macdonald April 03, 2012

The website will

The website will "help drive universities to lift performance and quality." ... Minister for Tertiary Education, Chris Evans. Photo: Penny Bradfield

A WEBSITE that allows students to compare Australia's 39 public universities on everything from student/staff ratios to graduate employment outcomes and even car parking spaces on campus will go live this morning.

The Tertiary Education Minister, Chris Evans, who will launch the My University website at a Canberra high school today, said it would ''help drive universities to lift performance and quality''.

But just as the My School website has attracted sustained criticism for allowing narrow comparisons of school literacy and numeracy results, My University is likely to get a lukewarm reception from some universities.

Several senior educators have privately condemned it as part of the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard's, ''obsession with league tables''.

The deputy vice-chancellor (academic) at the University of NSW, Richard Henry, said he questioned the value of the website to parents and students.

''First thing to note is that it's not My University - it includes not just universities but higher education providers generally. This confusion must have an impact on our reputation internationally,'' he said. ''Secondly, I believe there are anomalies in the way data is presented that could cause serious difficulties for potential students trying to make informed choices.''

While My School concentrates on literacy and numeracy results, lists student attendance rates, assigns a socio-economic value to each school community and calculates per-student funding, My University is broader in scope.

It details each institution's fees, courses, cut-offs, lecturer qualifications, student satisfaction rates, graduate employment outcomes, enrolment numbers and student/staff ratios. It also encourages students to directly compare institutions across fields of study.

Students will also be able to look beyond the 39 public universities to private tertiary providers to see which courses are on offer, including a fee schedule. A section on postgraduate study will include student numbers in master's and doctorate fields as well as scholarships and Commonwealth support.

The website cost $1.5 million to create and is expected to receive millions of hits from domestic and international students.

Prospective students could find out whether their preferred institution had a pool or student radio station, the breakdown of alumni across gender lines, and how many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students attended.

Announced by Ms Gillard in March 2010, when she was the education minister, the My University website was supposed to be functioning from January - in time for last-minute enrolments for the 2012 academic year.

Ms Gillard wanted the website up and running to help students negotiate the new deregulated higher education market, with unprecedented growth in enrolments this year resulting from the Commonwealth's removal of the cap on student places.

A spokesman for Senator Evans attributed the delay to last-minute additions to course information and the process of allowing universities to check the information for accuracy.

With Jen Rosenberg

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