Redefining excellence

A message from Provost Professor Belinda Tynan:

Professor Dermot Nestor recently asked us to reflect on what we do as academics and how that activity relates to, defines, or is itself defined by, ‘academic excellence’. He spoke of how metrics and numbers retain their importance but also how disposition, agency and voice need to be acknowledged and accounted for. We both believe that academic excellence is something that can be revealed through a strength-based approach as opposed to a deficit-based approach.

Over the coming months, and through a series of conversational-style seminars jointly hosted with Dermot, I will be inviting you to explore what we as a university community understand as academic excellence and what we want it to mean for our work.

For example, I would like to explore the relationship between research and teaching. We have numerous measures of what excellence is supposed to look like for both: metrics which are primarily driven through government reporting. However, I am yet to see metrics that readily and clearly translate the accepted view of a ‘nexus’ between the two. My understanding of the relationship has been formed through a belief that, to achieve academic excellence in a university, the two should be linked. And, if I needed reminding, our university status is recognised by the research that is undertaken across the areas where we teach. Indeed, TEQSA expects us to demonstrate ‘scholarship’ within, and its impact on, the curriculum.

A 1996 article by our own Professor Herb Marsh, co-authored with John Hattie, caused me to pause. Their metanalysis of 58 studies on the relationship between research and teaching in universities found that the relationship could be quantified by a single figure: zero. There was no relationship between the two. In this absence, what they suggest is that there should be strategies to enhance the relationship, and that by “rewarding creativity, commitment, investigativeness and critical analysis in teaching and research”, universities can find ways to enhance integration between the two. In short: incentivising integration between research and teaching becomes the goal of the institution. I’d encourage you to read the full article.

This relationship is but one topic I would like to look at, and it is one I hope you will be interested in exploring with your university community. Watch out for our first instalment in the seminar series which will be in a week or so. If you have other topics you believe warrant our attention in defining the concept of excellence for ACU, I invite you to share them with me.

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