Go8 to run academic quality trial

 In the lull before the emergence of TEQSA, the Group of Eight (Go8) will trial a new check of academic quality in its universities, with a focus on final-year undergraduates.  Senior Go8 academics will verify their peers’ grading in a sample that crosses five subjects — physics, history, psychology, accounting and chemistry. Their review will touch five per cent of the total undergraduate cohort, examining at least 25 per cent of the subjects’ final-year work. Unlike a similar system in the UK, however, grades would not be changed or standardised, said Professor Marnie Hughes-Warrington, pro vice-chancellor (learning and teaching) at Monash University. “This is not a moderation exercise, so the assessors in this pilot do not re-mark student work,” Hughes-Warrington said. Describing the exercise as “quality assurance with a light touch”, she said it was not yet clear how the system could dovetail with the national teaching and learning standards being developed. TEQSA (the Tertiary Education and Quality Standards Agency) will use the standards, among several others, to audit higher education quality when the national regulator’s full powers come into effect on January 1. But Hughes-Warrington said TEQSA and the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) had acknowledged peer assessment was valuable for checking standards. “We see [this] as fitting in nicely with the signals that DEEWR and TEQSA have sent out about the importance of peer standing in these areas. We’ve also said this is an important step forward, because it’s not just peer verification of work in a competency setting, but it’s also peer verification of a proficiency of achievement,” she said. Under the pilot, academic assessors will verify grading from a relevant discipline at another Go8 university, rather than their own. They will compare quality across the samples and report on the appropriateness of awarded grades. The Go8’s stated goal is “to create a five-year cyclic review of academic standards across all disciplines taught within participating universities”.  Hughes-Warrington said the system would rely completely on the experience and judgement of the reviewers. She said the cross checking of quality standards outside individual institutions also would benefit students. “You really are asking another disciplinary expert to come in and look at your work, and that’s great for students, because it says when you’ve studied say, physics, in one Group of Eight institution, the quality not only institutionally is outstanding, but the quality has also got this extra step of verification,” she said. The Go8 says there are clear international trends that show students’ academic attainment should be the primary reference point for monitoring standards and that final-year work outcomes are suitable for benchmarking. Hughes-Warrington said the group’s system had been designed for minimum impact on the time of busy academics. It was hoped others might adopt the framework.  “We expect it to continue to evolve but we hope it will be of interest to staff and institutions outside the Group of Eight,” she said. “Certainly we’d be interested in sharing with people the insights of the pilot.” That said, eight other Australian universities recently began their own peer-review pilot project on teaching and learning, with funding from the Australian Learning and Teaching Council. The Go8 trial will involve about 40 academics and begin in late August. 

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