ANU Strategic Plan Reveals New Direction for the University

Source: Stuart Hay, ANU

Source: Stuart Hay, ANU

ANU Vice Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt has announced the ANU’s plans to focus on improving equity, academic excellence, engagement and other targets for the next five years in the ANU Strategic Plan 2017–2021.

The plan, which was unveiled at a speech by Professor Schmidt on Thursday, comes in the form of a document wide in scope but short on detail.

Among the primary strategies outlined in the document are new initiatives to improve equity at the university. The plan points out that only four percent of ANU students are identified as coming from disadvantaged backgrounds and that the ANU aims to ‘increase opportunities for students from all walks of Australian life’.

Gender equity is also discussed in the plan, which states that while the majority of ANU students are female, ‘there are some notable exceptions [in the university] that are strongly gender biased’, and that progression rates of academic staff remain biased against women.

Among the initiatives announced in order to improve gender equity is the ANU Futures Scheme, a funding program that will provide grants to ‘high-potential early and mid-career researchers’, with at least 50 percent of recipients being women. The university has also announced that it aims to achieve a SAGE Athena Swan Gold award, which recognises gender equity at an institution.

The ANU plans to increase engagement with CSIRO, industry and alumni, with Professor Schmidt saying that ‘By working with business and industry, we can multiply our impact’.

‘We also need to change the culture here at ANU, and embed within us people who have successfully worked with business and industry’, Professor Schmidt added.

Other initiatives include using measures of student learning and satisfaction to ‘drive a regeneration of [the ANU’s] approaches to curriculum, teaching and digital and physical learning space design.’ Currently, ANU collects student evaluations of teachers through the Student Experience of Learning and Teaching (SELT) system.

However, student evaluations have been widely criticised after multiple studies found them to be biased against female teachers. The authors of a January 2016 London School of Economics report on student evaluations concluded that ‘The mere fact that SET [student evaluations of teachers] are numerical gives them an un-earned air of scientific precision and reliability’.

‘SET are evidently biased against women (and likely against other underrepresented and protected groups)—and worse, do not reliably measure teaching effectiveness’, the authors added.

Professor Schmidt said that in 2018 the university will be reforming its admissions process to incorporate more than potential students’ ATAR scores. The plan also states that the university will ‘increase in the ratio of student applications to acceptances’, indicating that admission to ANU may be more competitive in future.

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