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Australian assessment costs balloon past $1bn annually

A new report has urged Australian universities to rethink their assessment processes, estimating that over the past two decades the number of pieces undertaken each year has ballooned from seven to 30 million, severely inflating costs.

Universities should update their assessment practices as costs balloon to over $1bn annually, according to an OES report. Photo: OESUniversities should update their assessment practices as costs balloon to over $1bn annually, according to an OES report. Photo: OES

The report argues "the odds of success seem good", but warns there will be a need for initial investment in infrastructure

The Next Generation Assessment paper, prepared by University of Melbourne professor Hamish Coates in collaboration with Online Education Services, argues that online assessment could see significant improvements in assessment efficiency and reduce costs by “hundreds of millions of dollars” per year.

According to the report, a 40% increase in higher education participation over the past decade has stretched traditional education models to “busting”, pushing costs for delivering assessment beyond $1bn annually, with global demand expected to quadruple those costs.

“Today’s university students are completing assignments and projects using a variety of technologies, from programs and tools to research methods, all to support the learning process,” OES academic executive director Sue Kokonis said.

“Graduate employer and business concerns about education standards ultimately fall back to concerns about assessment”

“Modernising the process has the potential to make assessment more relevant and better align with current learning processes leading to a more authentic evaluation,” she said.

As assessment has remained mostly unchanged over time, the report argues “the odds of success seem good”, but warns there will be a need for initial investment in infrastructure, as well as leadership to overcome “distrust, subversion and denial that blocks change”.

“Surely the first development step involves mustering the courage needed to leap into uncertainty,” the paper reads.

“Activating next generation assessment will need initial investment in building platforms that promises technical and financial returns. The value of sharpening a business case for such change flows from the huge but as yet unreformed nature of higher education assessment.”

Speaking with The PIE News, Coates said by modernising assessment practices, providers and students would see significant benefits, and encouraged a top-down approach to implement change.

“First get commitment from the top,” he said.

“There is enormous educational and financial value to be found for institutions, faculty, students and governments”

“Then find a small handful of diverse disciplines involving keen faculty and opinion leaders. Then use the models in the briefing to launch projects that reveal otherwise hidden development opportunities [and] snowball these projects into larger cross-university collaborations to improve assessment.”

By doing so, Coates said higher education providers would have a point of difference when trying to attract international students.

“International students will have better experiences and learn more,” he said.

“Innovative educational practices will better resonate with their broader lives. They will see better return from their investment in education.”

Furthermore, he said, by improving efficiency, concerns around transferring from bridging or foundation courses onto a higher education program could be alleviated.

“Making available better quality and more trusted information about higher education will improve student transfer arrangements by helping students and institutions demonstrate and appraise prior learning.”

While the majority of the report focused on student and institution advantages, it also found that improving transparency and understanding around assessment could have a net gain for graduate employability, which continues to be a talking point for the industry.

“…Use the models in the briefing to launch projects that reveal otherwise hidden development opportunities”

“Graduate employer and business concerns about education standards ultimately fall back to concerns about assessment,” Coates said.

“By doing assessment better and cheaper, there is enormous educational and financial value to be found for institutions, faculty, students and governments.”

Australian universities have been instructed to implement cost-cutting measures after the government announced a funding freeze in December 2017.

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