Opinion: it’s time for policymakers to require a trained university teaching workforce

By Ian Lang

October 6, 2020


In Australia, teachers have to be trained and registered to work in kindergartens, primary schools and secondary schools. Most TAFEs require a basic Certificate IV in training and assessment, and teachers of English as a second language require specialist certification.

Australia’s 43 universities and 132 non-self-accrediting degree providers, though, beg to differ on mandatory teaching qualifications that the rest of the education system insists on. There is no formal teacher-training requirement for the nearly 200,000 workers teaching 1.4 million of us each year (2019 ABS figures).

“University employees have a broad range of responsibilities”, argues associate dean of Research at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education Sophie Arkoudis, adding that teaching staff at Melbourne have access to a wide variety of professional teaching development programs. A voluntary peer teaching review processes helps cement evidence for promotion.

In jobs where research and disciplinary service are the bulk of job-duties, this makes sense – but what about post-COVID-19 teaching-only positions requiring specialist online education skills?

Professor Arkoudis says, “Having a teaching qualification doesn’t mean they’re going to be a good teacher”. But even defining what ‘good’ teaching is not simple. Current performance metrics are broad, says Arkoudis, with Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching derived by mass student surveys, and in-subject student surveys involving only students rather than professional observation.

Isn’t any training better than none?

Whether it’s teaching 600 undergraduates as a casual sessional, or supervising just one doctoral candidate — optional teaching qualifications makes it harder to promote the consistency of our brand abroad.

That’s because in most universities both in the UK, US, and Australia, it is practically impossible to be promoted beyond mid-tier ranks of the equivalent of senior lecturer without significant non-teaching achievements in research. Under current teaching separations where casualised workers provide the majority of teaching at even our highest-ranked providers, there is little incentive for on-going staff to develop higher teaching skills if it distracts from PhD completion towards a research career.

Commonwealth regulation of higher education – and soon vocational education — has helped develop shared national standards for state-franchised providers — and this is creating a more dependable post-secondary education system for local and international students. Thoughtful redrafting of the Australian Qualifications Framework will soon make student-driven articulation between providers even more flexible. Helping lecturers meet those standards swiftly will be the challenge.

We have evidence Australia’s tertiary teacher training capabilities are second to none. We have the capacity to teach our tertiary teachers well. Is it time for policy-makers to make a trained teaching workforce the defining difference in our higher education offer to the Asia Pacific and at home?

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1 year ago

If mandatory teaching qualifications are going to be required – in addition to all the other requirements imposed on both employed and casual academics – then being paid decently has to be part of the picture. The pay scales of employed academics are bad enough, but those of casual academics and the conditions under which they work are a national disgrace

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