Until quite recently, I was enrolled as a science student, majoring in physics. I had somehow persuaded myself in high school that I enjoyed physics.
After two years of studying physics at university, I can confidently say that I am not a physics person. It hit me during one of my final exams last semester. As I was solving a question, I looked at the numbers and letters my pen was writing. What do these symbols mean? What am I even finding here? How is it that I know what to do to solve the question, but not what it actually means?
Now I feel at home doing another, social science.
So, I raised the question to myself: ‘Who performed this master deception, fooling me into believing that I like physics?’ I think that my teachers in high school played a significant role in that.
I am lucky enough to be able to say that my high school teachers were fantastic. They were caring, knowledgeable, and passionate. Heck – they were so good that they made me love subjects that, in hindsight, I was thoroughly not of the right calibre for.
After I graduated high school, I picked up tutoring jobs and started to realise just how good my teachers were. Other schools’ teachers seemed to be incompetent and devoid of passion. They had no long-term plans about the curriculum and seemed to just do everything to pass the time.
When I arrived at university, I was frankly amazed by the people surrounding me, but especially in science. While I was struggling to understand basic concepts and to motivate myself to slog through the content, so many students seemed to be taking it in their stride without so much as a stumble. Their intellect, work ethic and drive were awe-inspiring. The thing is, the bachelor of science at ANU doesn’t have a very difficult level of entry; what were all these ridiculously intelligent people doing here?
A great number of them told me that they were there because of their teachers from secondary schooling. They told me stories about how their teachers were so passionate that it rubbed off on them, or how their teachers instilled a curiosity about science within them. Some students told me about how their parents were resistant to them studying science, instead wanting them to study something with a higher bar of entry. The PhB program was essentially made for this particular class of students – high-achieving students who want study science, whose parents were hesitant because of the low ATAR requirement.
Teachers, with one sentence, one smile, one question, have the capacity to shape their students’ interests, ambitions and future prospects. However, in Australia, we seem to have just agreed that it is perfectly acceptable for teachers to not all be of a certain quality. We seem to have all agreed that it is perfectly fine that students have to go to a private school, or in some states, selective schools, to get to meet with, and learn from, these amazing teachers. This is not to undercut the fantastic work that teachers are doing all over the country; I hold the utmost level of respect and appreciation for them. However, it is a fact that in universities, and especially courses with high cut-off marks, private schools and selective high schools are severely overrepresented; on average, private schools in Australia perform 11 ATAR points better than government schools.
Instead of firing off about Asian tiger mums or ‘pay-to-win’ tutoring practices on the letter section of the Sydney Morning Herald, perhaps the real discussion we should be having is why education isn’t attracting the best and brightest students and why we’ve all just silently acquiesced to this poor standard of secondary teaching in Australia.
Comments Off on Are Regional Students Even Worth Supporting?
Try and come up with a strong argument for why regional students are worth giving extra support to be at ANU.
We don’t get marks as high as our peers from the city. The median rural student has an ATAR of four points lower than the average city student. Whilst there were 34 public schools featured in last year’s top 100 performing schools in the HSC, there were only four schools featured from a regional area. Students from regional communities are often unable to access the facilities and resources that help you do well in school.
Once we get to uni, we’re less likely to graduate. Whilst the ANU has an attrition rate that’s half the national average of 14.8 per cent, nationally, students from regional areas are 21 per cent more likely to drop out of uni than students from metropolitan areas. If you’re from a remote area, you’re 62 per cent more likely to drop out.
Regional students are also less likely to even attend university – about 20 per cent of people living in regional and remote areas have degrees, compared with 40 per cent of those living in cities.
We require more support and financial assistance – and every equity scholarship or bursary costs the ANU money. It simply costs more to have us here.
If this is all the case, then why bother? To have a truly ‘national’ university is hardly a reason. Why should we spend more on support and outreach to bring more regional students to the ANU?
Regional students are innately driven. They often juggle several jobs at once alongside their studies, and have a strong sense of community – determined to give back to the ANU and to their hometowns. Regional students work exceptionally hard and don’t pass up opportunities – they know how lucky they are and value the chance to be a student at this incredible university.
Too often, the importance of supporting regional students is told through a lens of pity and disadvantage. The stories of our students from regional areas however, paint a very different picture.
Renee Selvey, First Year Maths/Music from Wagga Wagga, NSW
“Being on a scholarship myself, it has been a huge gift to be able to focus my energies on the opportunities at University and where I want to get involved, rather than concerning myself over a job to fund living expenses. I still see the importance of work – currently teaching guitar, but I feel very privileged to only work two hours a week compared to some other regional students who work much longer hours.
I’m looking forward to performing in Fenner Hall’s musical and Big Night Out; I see myself in the coming years becoming more involved within the ANU music scene.”
Jacob Mildren, Second Year Commerce/Policy Studies from Wodonga, VIC
“Moving from regional Australia to university can be a huge challenge. New surroundings, new friends, new costs of living, but especially important – new opportunities. Opportunities we simply can’t access at home.
One of the best traits of regional youth fortunate enough to be at ANU, is their willingness to dig in and have a go… I’ll be damned if I find a regional student who wastes the opportunity.
Perhaps it’s about our sense of community. Coming from a small rural or regional town where everyone chips in, being involved is a way of life. Regional students are the first to put their hand up, get involved in clubs, societies, internships.
That’s the value of regional students.”
Lachlan Arthur, Fourth Year Science from Gawler, SA
“My university life is a stark contrast to the one I would have had if I had stayed in South Australia. Rather than balancing a three-hour commute to and from the city for Uni with paid work, I have been able to live on-campus and put my energy into work opportunities that are relevant to my career and pursue research, volunteer and sporting opportunities that would have been impossible if I weren’t at ANU.
The scholarship I have received has enabled me to volunteer overseas and participate in four exchange programs throughout my degree, taking me to over 20 countries in total, and found the ANU’s PhB Society. My ANU experience has been life-changing, and the fact that someone else’s generosity made my experience possible is enough to motivate me for the rest of my life.”
Tania Willis, Deputy Director of Access, Inclusion and Wellbeing from Armidale, NSW
“I’ve been working since I was 14, whilst I completed some studies at TAFE. In the early 90s I was made redundant from my retail job. I was only 19 at the time, and my partner and I were living on around $160 a week with a small mortgage – it was a very difficult time for us but we made it work.
After around 6 months of job hunting and rejection, someone finally gave me a go and I started casual work with the largest employer in our community, our local university. I loved the work and recognised early on that I wanted to study and discovered that I could apply as a mature aged student and study part-time while I worked. So…at 23, whilst on maternity leave, I decided to have a go at study – taking 7 years to complete my degree – as I juggled part time study alongside full-time work and family life.
It’s important that we don’t set up deficit models of support as students from regional backgrounds are incredibly capable, resilient and empowered to succeed. What we now need to do is continue to expand our suite of financial support which in turns supports wellbeing and academic success and work with our students and future students to engage and better communicate our programs and services with the broader community.”
Support for regional students isn’t merely altruistic. It’s an investment in the university, as regional students enrich the student experience for us all. To invest in regional students is to transform not only our regional communities, but the ANU.
A few decades ago when our parents and grandparents were young, a university degree was a guaranteed ticket to a better life. Degrees were rare and special, a marker of a qualification that meant something, and put you on a pathway to a well-paid job. While perhaps all millennials wear rose-tinted glasses to think back to the days of being able to buy a house and provide for a family on a single salary, there’s a grain of truth which is hard to ignore. In this day and age, house prices have sky-rocketed, as have living expenses, and a university degree just doesn’t hold the same value and significance that it once did.
Today, there seems to be a straight forward pathway for children and young people. Primary school, then high school, graduation (gap year optional), head to university, graduate again and find a job. There’s not as much room for people to exist outside of this framework – we’re all part of a university system that is essentially a machine, churning out thousands of fresh graduates each year and tossing them into the work-force. Given the number of young people with degrees (we’re a dime a dozen), we’re being forced down the professional ladder, starting in unpaid internships and working our way up in a manner that would have been an outrage to previous generations. Statistics from The Australian regarding recent graduates are also suggesting that the degrees we study often turn out to be no help at all in the professional workplace. Admittedly, according to the Wall Street Journal, those of us with a tertiary degree earn about 75 per cent more than those who have only a high school diploma, and are vastly less likely to be unemployed, but the question arises of whether the thousands of dollars that university students are forking out each year are really worth it at all. Or, more accurately, what exactly are we paying for?
A university degree is now a minimum requirement for any professional job. In many ways, it has replaced the high school diploma as society places a higher importance on education. In my parents’ and grandparents’ day, not all kids finished high school; the number of students in the cohort dropped significantly from Grade 10 to Grade 11. To me, that’s unheard of. Graduating high school is a vastly more common today than ever before, and dropping out was not something I even considered, though experiences undoubtedly differ town to town and state to state. With the plethora of high school graduates evening out the playing field, more and more students started going to university, despite the fee increases, in an effort to get ahead. Essentially, there are three categories of education: for older generations it was Grade Ten graduate, High School Graduate and University Graduate. The university degree that you were handed at the end of your studies put you safely into the category of ‘Most Educated People’. But now, the number of people attending university has more than doubled, and for us, the three categories are High School Graduate, University Graduate and Post-Graduate Degree-Holder. It’s like everything has gone up a step and, all of a sudden, despite the higher level of education that we’ve achieved with a Bachelor’s Degree, we’re not in the group of ‘Most Educated’. We’re just normal.
A tertiary degree is not something that adds an extra dimension to your resume, but rather makes up the bare bones of it. It’s a screening process that employers use at the very beginning of the process – you’re not even part of the conversation without a degree. It no longer holds the value that it once did. The competition for jobs is also harsher, with internships, high GPAs and extra-curriculars significantly affecting your chances and more and more graduates are being forced to move back home before finding a job that can allow them to be self-sufficient. It’s an unfortunate truth, but the value of university degrees truly has decreased. Once upon a time a degree made you stand out from the crowd but, now, it seems like it’s the basic requirement for being part of the crowd at all.
Comments Off on Work, Study, Eat, Sleep, Repeat: The Struggle of Being a Low-SES Working Student at the ANU
Work, Study, Eat, Sleep, Repeat. It’s a daily structure that many of us at the ANU are familiar with. Plenty of students have part time or full-time jobs and it is even becoming common to meet someone with more than one job. Money is simply always on our minds. Whilst reasons vary, many students at the ANU are working solely for expendable income as a means to support their lifestyle and are able to cut down where necessary. Often, these students are the focus of how the ANU, and especially how the academics, conveners, and tutors, structure their courses and lessons.
Higher Education is becoming increasingly inaccessible for working students; from mandatory labs that offer no flexibility, time requirements for readings and course material, to the generalised culture around being low-SES. All of this plus the cost of attending, measured in the tangible costs of lost wages through reduced availability, textbooks, supplies, and course fees, with the intangible emotional and psychological costs, places a burden on students without the privilege of exterior support. It’s hard managing all of these things and these costs impact how you structure your degree and whether you stay enrolled. Part time enrolment has complications in and of itself in terms of degree time but is often the most chosen route. There are options to catch up through summer or winter semesters but the time requirements for these intensive courses, whilst expected, are almost impossible to meet with employment involved. The same can be said about internships and exchanges, highly beneficial programs that working students are unable to participate in because of time requirements.
There is a major absence of understanding that employment = livelihood. Personally, I don’t have support outside of myself. I live alone, I don’t have the benefit of financial assistance from family, and Centrelink does not give a high enough payment for me to continue to live independently. There are many things that my conveners could do to assist me that they don’t do because of the perception that my work isn’t mandatory. They often wouldn’t consider the fact that a student may not have done the reading because they were at work until ten at night and genuinely did not have the time, the perception is immediately that that student is in some way lazy.
Scheduling labs and tutorials correctly is important for all students but is especially critical for working students. A miss-step in lab scheduling can cause major issues with employers. I have previously attempted to get priority enrolment for one of my courses explaining that I could only attend labs that were on a particular day due to work. It was a reasonable request but the response I got back was more akin to the Hunger Games “may the odds be ever in your favour” mentality. Because of my ability to attend multiple labs I was unable to get placed into any of the labs that I needed and was advised that I should just organise something with my employer instead. I have been forced to drop a course because I have not been able to get the lab that I need to fit with my employment. Complications like this push back how long it takes for degrees to be completed.
I took a summer semester this year to try and “catch-up” and it was ridiculously difficult. I expected as much, but the responses from my classmates I did not. In between managing 3 separate jobs, I was doing several readings every night, attending class for 8 hours 3 days a week for 2 weeks, and submitting an assignment almost every day. Upon telling one of my class mates that I was working before and after university, they informed me that they took 2 weeks off for the course. I explained that I couldn’t afford to do that, they responded: “Why did you even take the course then?” The implication from statements like this, and this certainly isn’t an isolated incident, is that if I can’t afford to go to university without working then I shouldn’t be going to university at all. I could then go on and explain the economic trap that engages but to simplify: Poor + No Education = minimal job opportunities= Still Poor.
With all of this considered it is no wonder that many low-SES students, if they do indeed get to ANU, can’t maintain their enrolment because inaccessibility is just too much. But, let’s face it, ANU doesn’t really want you to work whilst studying, they make that abundantly clear in their helpful “Study & Work” guide on ANU’s website. The guide weighs up the pros and cons of working whilst studying without acknowledging that some of us don’t have a choice. In addition, the ANU advises you to seek out employment that is relevant to your degree, offers you flexible hours, isn’t too far away, and offers you security. Those of us who need to work to survive understand that hardly any of that is a requirement, the ideal job would be one that offers you enough hours, minimum wage and the comfort that you probably won’t be fired. This isn’t the reality though. Many of us have to take on more than one job to ensure that we can at least afford accommodation and food. The guide itself problematises the work/study relationship and places the blame on the sick/tired/mentally exhausted student rather than requiring ANU to take responsibility and implement reasonable adjustments for working students.
The adjustments that would help aren’t even that hard to implement. Priority enrolment is already in place but the process needs to be more accessible to working students. Course material can be made more financially accessible by ensuring that libraries have more than 2 copies of the text book; assessment can become more accessible by allowing employment issues to be a viable reason for an extension. Honestly, I could go on and on with a full list of all the examples of changes that ANU could make to greatly improve the experience of its underprivileged students but… I’ve got to get to work.
Comments Off on The ANU is Failing Working Class Students: Get Angry, Get Even
As working class people, we value higher education because it opens up the world. My degree is set to give me a chance at a higher average income, at a broader career path and a lifetime more of opportunities. Coming from a family of merchant seamen, of labourers, of childcare workers, disability care workers and secretaries who haven’t had these chances, I am incredibly grateful. But this isn’t what I value most about being at university.
Instead what I value most is the way higher education has changed the way I think: it’s given me new ideas, analytic tools and critical thinking skills my hometown couldn’t offer me. These ways of thinking have helped me make sense of my place within such an inequitable world, have given me a voice, a sense of agency and a sense of self-worth. Like Jessica Andrews, a working class Masters student in London, wrote for the Independent in February “every day I struggle with guilt and hunger and shame and I know these are feelings I will always be coming to terms with,” but higher education and writing “has given me the tools to work through them”.
This is not to say higher education is more valuable than vocational education like TAFE or apprenticeships, or the many other livelihoods working class people create for themselves. Places like the ANU could not function without labourers who over many seasons rebuild, restore and maintain the learning environment we often take for granted.
That being said, coming to the ANU should be an opportunity every working class person, who I hope might find higher education as transformative as I have, has. For young carers and single Mum’s who have not yet been able to pursue the education they want, for newly settled migrants in Western Sydney to young kids itching to escape the poverty of rural Australia – our national university should be a place for you. But as it stands, it’s not. It’s inaccessible and, as I’ve written before, our number of low-SES enrolments reflect this. So what could the ANU be doing differently for working class students?
Scholarships and Bursaries
Despite the breadth of scholarships available to ANU students, few are equity-based and targeted at working class people who, after deferring tuition costs to HECS, still so crucially depend on this source of income to get to university. Instead, the majority of scholarships on offer are merit-based, meaning they are offered on a competitive basis in relation to academic achievements, extra-curricular activities or community service. We know how meritocracy works and that those from upper class, privately educated backgrounds are more likely to have access to a wider array of opportunities and extra-curriculars than working class students. We know that these profoundly privileged students are more likely to secure merit-based scholarships and that working class people miss out.
This remains true of scholarship programs like the Tuckwell, which despite taking into account personal circumstance and adversity, still prioritise merit over equity. This will likewise be true of any scholarship offered by the Ramsay Centre’s newly proposed Bachelor of Western Civilisation, aimed at attracting the ‘best and brightest’ (often code for ‘from the North Shore of Sydney’).
Instead of investing time and energy in scholarship programs from the pocket of Paul Ramsay, the ANU needs to be creating a suite of equity scholarships for working class students, capable of subsidising both moving costs and the cost of living for the span of their degrees. These scholarships need to be publicised in postcodes the ANU would never normally reach out to and have a clear and unbureaucratic application process. For many working class people and their families, navigating a scholarship application is unfamiliar territory. As Bridget Neave, an employee at the University of Sydney’s Widening Participation and Outreach program has said “You don’t know about these scholarships because you don’t know anyone in your family, school or community who has ever gotten one.”
Ditching often condescending and unhelpful ‘budgeting’ classes during O Week and instead expanding the emergency bursaries for textbooks, laptops, equipment and other living costs available through ANUSA is similarly important in providing economic security for students coming from poverty.
For many working class students who have grown up dealing with housing insecurity, finding secure, affordable accommodation at university can be the difference between completing a degree and not. Poverty makes the lives of working class people precarious, with many people jumping between private rentals and public housing waitlists. For many of us the idea of juggling this precariousness as well as study can be enough to crush higher education aspirations. Without the guarantee of any significant financial safety net or the assurance that long-term, affordable housing will be available, getting to and staying at the ANU is not achievable.
Currently there are limited affordable housing options for working class people in Canberra. The ANU colleges, marketed by the university as the housing solution for all, are too expensive for those who already struggle to make ends meet with casual work and Centrelink payments below the poverty line. The rents of colleges like Bruce Hall, Burgmann and Johns XIII continue to rise, and limited scholarship support is available. This means that many working class students cannot access on-campus accommodation if they want this experience.
It is important to consider, however, that making on-campus accommodation at the colleges cheaper is not a fix-all solution. For mature aged students from working class backgrounds wanting to study at the ANU, international postgraduate students, students with disabilities, students with children or students dealing with any other significant barrier, college accommodation is not always appropriate, desirable or welcoming. Often the colleges are toxic environments where misogyny and violence goes untackled, as has been exposed in the Red Zone Report, and unequal dynamics of power are reaffirmed. For working class kids who see being accepted into these institutions as a way out of trauma, living at college is often not safe and secure and is instead re-traumatising on several fronts.
More accessible housing needs to be made available off-campus, within close proximity to the university. Models like the Canberra Student Housing Co-Op offer more affordable accommodation and the university could be investing in a significant housing stock within inner north suburbs as it has done in previous decades. This could ensure working class students have access to below-market-price rents and don’t have to compete in an exorbitant rental market.
It’s important to consider that getting to university is only half the battle – for working class students to succeed and thrive in an institution geared against them, ongoing social support needs to be on offer so that people can be supported throughout the entirety of their higher education. As I mentioned above, for many students trying to escape poverty, trauma has played a complex role in shaping their experiences. Trauma therapist Laura Brown has written extensively on how “social class has a circular relationship with trauma. People who are poor or working class are more likely to have exposures to some kinds of trauma and also less likely to have the resources with which to respond to a trauma when it does occur.”
In an environment like the ANU, this trauma may manifest in many ways, from addiction – considering how regularly many of us are exposed to alcohol and drugs in both safe and unsafe ways – to mental illness. For working class students struggling to cope, limited support is available through ANU Counselling: wait times are often unbearable and there exists limited capacity for consistent and regular support. ANU counsellors are frequently left only with the option of outsourcing social support to services within the broader Canberra community, which are hard to access when you have limited resources (it’s extremely hard to find bulk-billing services in Canberra!) and are unfamiliar with the ACT health system.
The same can be said for those working class students who are most likely to be carers or themselves living with a disability needing to access social support. Help is limited to the work of the DSA and Access and Inclusion, which at most can help with the creation of an Education Access Plan (EAP) supporting learning considerations and provide referrals to services like ANU Counselling or the ANU Health Service.
Expanding Access and Inclusion to incorporate recovery programs like many US universities have created would help make ANU a supportive space for those working class students navigating trauma. Expanding the type of social support available for students living with disabilities as well as carers could likewise see Access and Inclusion play a greater role in making the ANU accessible, centralising the services working class students need to survive at university. Perhaps most importantly, the ANU needs to be investing in and expanding ANU Counselling so that poorer students unable to access mental healthcare anywhere else in the community have a source of support and healthcare they can rely upon, for free, on a regular and ongoing basis.
If the ANU is failing working class students on so many fronts, and so much needs to change, then why aren’t we talking about it more? Perhaps the biggest barrier at our university is the culture of elitism that is interwoven within the fabric of the ANU. From its obsession with rankings and sleek marketing, to the slow and unwitting takeover of our student spaces by public servants, private businesses and corporate organisations, at every twist and turn we are prevented from having honest and open discussions about class and poverty. These are issues considered too hard and shameful to talk about, which is why we revert to sanitising terms like ‘low-SES’ and talk disingenuously about what ‘low-SES engagement’ might look like.
I cannot put it any simpler than this: poor, working class students don’t need to be ‘engaged’ with. The ANU does not need complicated 2020 targets for low-SES enrolments whilst remaining uninterested in cultural change. Instead, working class students need the resources to get here, to stay here and for the ANU to accept this institution is not a playground for the wealthy. This university is for us too, because higher education is for us too, and we shouldn’t have to plead for acceptance.
We shouldn’t have to feel so estranged from the rest of our cohort because we aren’t upper class. We shouldn’t feel alien in the classroom because nothing we read reflects our experiences in the world and, most importantly, we shouldn’t feel the biting loneliness, shame and humiliation that comes with being working class at the ANU.
I don’t think higher education can ever be truly accessible for working class students until it’s made free and Youth Allowance, Newstart and other income support payments rest at a liveable wage. But I do believe the ANU administration has the immediate power to make changes that could drastically improve the chances of people coming from poverty and it is a damning indictment on this university until then.
The opportunity to learn and to think critically is what we should value about higher education above all else, and, referring back to Jessica Andrew’s writing, what has given me the power “to take all of the anger and confusion I have felt through being a young, female, working-class person in the world, and turn it into something else”. Everyone should have an opportunity to learn how to do that, especially the other angry people from poverty like me
To say that our education system undervalues Indigenous knowledge is a severe understatement. A lack of understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ history, culture, and identity is pervasive throughout education at all levels. And while there has been some change in the right direction at ANU, we still have a lot of work to do.
As a young Aboriginal woman coming to this university, I connected with the Tjabal Indigenous Higher Education Centre and began a minor in Indigenous studies through an Arts degree. The difference between the culture of Tjabal and other young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, and the knowledge in Indigenous studies classes, was stark. There was a disconnect between our cultures and the wider university institution.
Our identity as young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is linked with every aspect of our lives – including our educational journey. But the link between our identity and the education system is weak.
We have a lack of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lecturers, tutors, and course convenors. We have a lack of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in executive roles. We have a lack of staff, of cultural teaching, of our stories and knowledge in classes throughout the university.
This lack of Indigenous education at all levels leaves students, Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike, at a severe disadvantage. Not only are young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people unable to further their understanding of history and culture, but we are also creating non-Indigenous graduates who are entering the workforce with little knowledge of First Nations issues and cultures. Inevitably, non-Indigenous people will work with Indigenous people after graduation, so this lack of knowledge is damaging. Educational institutions exist as places to shape our future leaders, but our system is failing us. Without genuine steps to broaden our understandings of Indigenous culture, we are producing a generation of leaders who will never know otherwise. The ANU is making progress in creating a cultural shift to incorporate more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices into the curriculum and to diversify our staff. But I can’t help but ask – is this too little, too late? There will be thousands of students that pass through this university without ever having an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander lecturer. There will be thousands of students that take Indigenous courses that are 50 years out of date. But, we are a mere cog in the business of the university, so we must accept what it gives us.
We have waves to go before the education system is inclusive of First Nations peoples. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have waited for the changes, and they are slowly happening. I can only hope the pace will quicken to a sense of urgency.
Makayla is a proud Wiradjuri woman from Cootamundra. She is in her fourth year of undergraduate study in Psychology and Arts and is passionate about diverse and inclusive advocacy on campus. The views reflected here are her own and do not aim to reflect other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at ANU.
Many university ranking systems seem to favour ANU as a world-class research institution that spearheads academic progress. A walk around campus will see ANU boasting that it is ‘ranked first in Australia’ or it is among the ‘top 15 law schools in the world.’ These ranking systems emphasise a range of factors relating to a university’s educational output. Among these factors are the quality of research, the number of Nobel Prize winners, and the number of citations academics garner from their work. Yet, very few of these ranking systems account for a crucial aspect of university life: student satisfaction.
Recent studies confirm feelings likely shared by many ANU students. A cursory glance at data gathered on the Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching (QILT) indicates that ANU performs poorly in many areas of undergraduate student experience: learner engagement (60.0 per cent versus the national average of 64.2 per cent), learning resources (82.9 per cent versus 85.2 per cent) and skills development (77.4 per cent versus 81.2 per cent) were all well below the national average. Perhaps the most concerning was the ‘student support’ aspect, which sat at 64.5 per cent, a whole 7.5 per cent below the national average of 72.0 per cent. Regarding the overall quality of educational experience, the ANU sat on the national average of 79.9 per cent. In contrast, Bond University had the highest overall quality of educational experience in Australia, sitting at 90.2 per cent.
The issue is that the academic rankings of universities tend to conflate academic prestige with a fulfilling, well-supported student experience. This trend can be particularly misleading and damaging to those entering university for the first time. For instance, when selecting universities, between 70 to 80 per cent of international students prioritise the academic prestige of the university according to the mainstream ranking systems. After having paid upfront the full academic fees for the semester (roughly $20,000), they are sometimes left with a sense of dissatisfaction and disappointment with the education they are receiving. Loss aversion then compels these students to absorb these significant sunk costs and continue studying at their university. This dissatisfaction can then lead to poor mental health and educational outcomes for not only international students but also interstate domestic students.
A study conducted at the University of Western Australia concluded that the primary determinants of student satisfaction at university are school work, time management, and relationships formed while at university. The ‘school work’ variable looked at questions such as ‘I am given the chance to do work that interests me’; ‘I achieve a standard in my work which I consider satisfactory,’ and ‘I can cope with my university work well.’ These factors all require a combination of academic competence and support from the university.
We know that our academics are leading, world-class researchers in their field – but are they also pedagogical experts? The data above seems to point in a different direction: that we need academics who inspire and sustain a passion for learning while taking on some pastoral care responsibilities to ensure their students are coping. Through doing so, perhaps we can close the gap between student satisfaction and academic prestige.