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At the beginning of April, Australia’s Ministry of Education, Employment and Workplace has launched the MyUniversity website which is part of a larger Advancing Quality in Higher Education initiative. The website allows student to compare Australia’s 39 public universities on a variety of indicators and according to the ministry, aims to “support the move to a student centred higher education system, improving transparency and informed choice”. The development of the website took two years at and cost about AUD 1.5 million (EUR 1.17 million).
Just how “informed” this choice really is has been a matter of controversy due to the alleged inaccuracy of a number of the indicators and misrepresentation of results. However, all of the information fed into the website’s comparison tool is already publicly available and has been provided by the universities themselves. Some of the controversial data revealed an increasing rate of casual staff across universities, and in some cases, an astoundingly high student-staff ratio. But Universities Australia, the peak body representing the 39 public universities, contested the accuracy of these two indicators despite expressing cautious support for the initiative.
Essentially, the website is in no way meant to be the ultimate ‘well of knowledge’ about Australian universities, rather it provides a supplementary source of information upon which potential students can draw in addition to information provided by the institutions directly. For all that it’s worth, the government has conceded that the website’s content and metrics are not perfect, but pledged to continue tweaking them over the next two years by committing up to AUD 750 000 (EUR 585 000) per year to improve the website and data collection.
The case of MyUniversity provides an interesting example of the pitfalls of today’s obsession with information and the higher education industry’s love affair with rankings, comparisons and brand development. It is very telling that the instinctive response of the institutions to potentially incriminating results – regardless of the quality of indicators employed – was to blame the website and defend their reputation, rather than to look into what it might tell them about quality issues at their own institution. Is this the welcome that awaits U-Multirank, the European Commission’s answer to our thirst for information?MyUniversity Ministry of Education, Employment and Workplace – information sheet Universities Australia