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MyUniversity in Australia: critical response

A website that allows students to compare Australia’s 39 public universities met harsh criticism from industry professionals when it went live last week. Launched by tertiary education minister, Chris Evans, MyUniversity is a searchable site with a range of indicators including courses, student satisfaction level, graduate employment and student-staff ratios.

Critics complain the site shows the government is “focused on league tables rather than quality”.

"It includes not just universities but higher education providers generally"

Evans said it would “empower students to make the right call” and ”help drive universities to lift performance and quality”. However, national lobbyists, trade unions and universities are cautious to support Evans’s efforts. Belinda Robinson, chief executive of lobby group Universities Australia (UA), warned that she had reservations about the accuracy of all the information and said it lacked context for students- especially international students.

“Prospective students, making one of the biggest decisions of their lives, must have confidence that the information available to them presents an accurate and complete picture of the options they are considering,” she said. “Getting it right is also essential for the reputation of universities operating in an increasingly competitive market brought on by the demand-driven enrolment system.”

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) president Jeannie Rea said the site showed the government was  “focused on league tables rather than quality in higher education”.

“The use of student satisfaction scores in particular is prone to manipulation and does not reflect quality in teaching,” said Rea. “Indeed, if institutions based their courses on whether students liked their subjects, which is essentially what these metrics capture, they would risk driving down the quality of degrees from Australian universities.”

“The use of student satisfaction scores in particular is prone to manipulation and does not reflect quality in teaching”

NTEU argues the site’s indicators, including cost of library photocopying, whether a university has a swimming pool and the number of car parking spaces on a campus, were an inaccurate measure of the quality of teaching and research at any given institution.

The deputy vice-chancellor at the University of New South Wales, 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,” he said. “This confusion must have an impact on our reputation internationally. 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.”

In response to the criticisms, Evans defended the site, saying: “We have been very careful with the information we put on the site, each university has ticked off on the information about their university, so they have authorised the content.”

The AUS$1.5 million MyUniversity project was foreshadowed two years ago by then education minister Julia Gillard, on the back of the controversial but popular My Schools site launched in 2010.

Gillard initially wanted the site to launch in January to help students make choices in Australia’s newly deregulated higher education markets. However it was delayed due to last-minute additions to course information and the process of allowing universities to check the information for accuracy.


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