Archive for December 9th, 2008

Academic quality control

I’ve had a lot on over the last week and didn’t get to read the report of the Senate inquiry into academic bias until last night.

I was rather surprised to find that my post on the subject, along with comments from Conrad, Leopold, and Andrew Elder in the comments thread, appears to have influenced the majority (ie, Labor) report. They describe my argument that this issue is about the professionalism of staff, and not the academic freedom of students, as a ‘fair summing up of the issue’.

Alas, the minority report from Coalition Senators suggests that the Nelson-Bishop micromanaging mindset is alive and well in the Opposition, recommending that a Charter of Academic Freedoms for students be imposed on universities as a condition of funding. Even if we take all the Liberal student and Young Liberal allegations at face value, we will only have a small number of cases, and as the majority report noted, there is no sign that they have pursued existing avenues of complaint. I can’t see that yet another layer of bureaucracy is needed.

And clearly Coalition Senators have not have learnt their lesson on political donations, proposing that universities now be caught in the disclosure net, with universities required to reveal donations over an unspecified level. This seems to be in response to a complaint from Jewish organisations about Arab funding of research centres. But I can think of at least one instance in which this rule would have stood in the way of an 8-figure sum being donated for medical research.

The lack of external quality control of courses and teaching at universities is an issue, but it needs to be approached carefully and systematically, rather than creating yet more ad hoc rules which cause more problems than they solve.