The changing nature of teaching and unit evaluations in Australian universities

Mahsood Shah, Chenicheri Nair

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    38 Citations (Scopus)


    Teaching and unit evaluations surveys are used to assess the quality of teaching and the quality of the unit of study. An analysis of teaching and unit evaluation survey practices in Australian universities suggests significant changes. One key change discussed in the paper is the shift from voluntary to mandatory use of surveys with the results used to assess and reward academic staff performance. The change in the direction is largely driven by the introduction of performance‐based funding as part of quality assurance arrangements. The paper aims to outline the current trends and changes and the implications in the future such as increased scrutiny of teaching and intrusion to academic autonomy.

    The paper is based on the analysis of current teaching and unit evaluation practices across the Australian university sector. The paper presents the case of an Australian university that has introduced performance‐based reward using various measures to assess and reward academic staff such as the outcome of student satisfaction surveys. The analysis of external quality audit findings related to teacher and unit evaluations is also presented.

    The findings suggest a shift in trend from the use of voluntary to mandatory tools to assess and reward quality teaching. The case of an Australian university outlined in the paper and the approach taken by seven other universities is largely driven by performance‐based funding. One of the key concerns for many in higher education is the intrusion of academic autonomy with increased focus on outcomes and less emphasis on resources needed to produce excellence in learning and teaching and research. The increased reliance on student happiness as a measure of educational quality raises the questions on whether high student satisfaction would strengthen academic rigour and student attainment of learning outcomes and generic skills which are seen as key factors in graduate exit standards.

    Practical implications
    The renewal of quality assurance and performance‐based funding using student satisfaction as a measure of educational quality will result in increased use of student voice to assess learning and teaching outcomes. Such direction will increase the accountability on academics to improve student experience and the measures will be used to assess academic staff performance.

    The paper outlines the trends and changes in the teacher and unit evaluations in Australian universities and its implications in the future. The paper also provides a case of an Australian university that has recently made teacher and unit evaluations compulsory with the results used in academic staff annual performance review and linking reward with performance outcomes.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)274-288
    Number of pages15
    JournalQuality Assurance in Education
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 2012


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