The Federal Government is planning to scrap the Office for Learning and Teaching and transfer its responsibilities to a new institute, as yet unnamed, that will “promote excellence in teaching and learning.” The move has been branded “a national disgrace.”
Universities will be invited to bid to host the new institute, which will be provided with $28 million in funding and which will administer grants, fellowships and awards under the Promotion of Excellence in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (PELTHE) programme.
Announcing the move, the Government said: “The key elements of the current highly regarded grants, fellowships and awards will be retained, and they will continue to be competitive and peer assessed. Governance arrangements will be collaborative and draw on sector wide expertise to provide oversight of the grants, fellowships and awards, administration of the institute and deal with any perceptions of conflict of interest. The Minister will continue to approve grants, fellowships and awards.”
It said the move would “ensure that the Commonwealth’s investment in improved teaching and learning practices is driven by the higher education sector and focused on substantial sector wide initiatives, rather than supporting small scale demonstration projects.”
The Government claims that the redesigned programme will make strategic investments in a targeted number of collaborative initiatives that support systemic change and are likely to have the greatest potential impact on the higher education sector. “The institute’s programmes will complement other mechanisms and further encourage the sector to drive substantial national initiatives to improve teaching and learning practices.”
Wring on The Conversation Andrys Onsman, a lecturer in the Centre for Studies of Higher Education at the University of Melbourne, accused the Government of having “a flawed understanding of what the role of the [Office for Learning and Teaching] was.”
He said its role was to be much more than simply “a doler out of money.” Rather, “it was meant to provide resource-rich support to all who teach in all universities in the country. Importantly, it was meant to be neutral.”
Onsman said: “By announcing that universities will be invited to bid to host the new institute, it seems that one lucky player is going to win the big prize. Only a handful of universities have the facilities and capabilities to host such a centre.”
Fairfax journalist Jenna Price, in an opinion piece, was far more scathing, branding the move “a national disgrace”. She said the OLT had “revolutionised teaching in – at least – 16 universities across Australia.”
She added: “Just nine years ago, the Office of Learning and Teaching funded the now deputy vice-chancellor of James Cook University, Sally Kift, to explore how we could help first years tune in and stay enrolled.Kift is modest but even she admits the work she did has changed the game for those who are new to universities. Universities and academics now know that if we want to retain students, we have to provide a community where we operate together.”
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