Letter to the Prime Minister

Posted by matthew on Feb 4, 2011 in education, politics

Dear Prime Minister,

I write to urge the government to reconsider its decision to axe the Australian Learning and Teaching Council (ALTC). While I am a strong supporter of appropriate funding for the reconstruction work in Queensland, Victoria and beyond following the recent natural disasters, I do not believe this decision has been made in the best interests of the nation.

I believe events such as the Victorian bush fires, the Queensland floods, and Cyclone Yasi prove that the Australian government needs to fundamentally alter its thinking on disasters. The government should recognise that we cannot sustain a situation where we must find several billions of taxpayer dollars on an ad hoc basis every time one of these disasters comes along. Of course I will gladly pay the one off levy for the Queensland floods, but I would be even more supportive an ongoing approach that would to pay for a disaster contingency fund for all Australians. With a mining boom, our continued economic growth and projected budget surpluses, this country should be able to compare itself to the Norways instead of the Naurus.

The ALTC is a success story in Australian higher education, and this industry is one of Australia’s largest exports. I have worked in higher education for my entire career since 1990. During this time, I have seen student learning suffer from being vastly undervalued in comparison to research, yet I have seen a great deal of evidence that both are of equal importance. Without excellence in teaching, the top researchers of tomorrow will not be supported to continue in universities. The ALTC was an important way that this imbalance was being addressed in recent years, by rewarding and recognising excellent teachers, and by supporting applied research projects into teaching and learning. Its demise is a giant step backwards for all Australian universities.

I have been lucky enough to be involved in an ALTC funded project on learning spaces. As an early career academic, this is a significant boost to my professional development, but far more importantly it is now having a significant impact on the outcomes for students in my university and beyond, through the establishment of a range of exciting new study environments, including several new collaborative teaching spaces, and the setting up of Faculty learning commons at La Trobe. Our work is being disseminated nationally, and in the coming months my team will publish an edited book internationally. Each of these outcomes — academic development, evidence-based capital investment, student support, and publishing of research — have been made possible only because of the support of the ALTC. This is the sort of thing that will be crushed by the removal of a relatively small amount of government funding necessary to keep the ALTC going.

With changes coming through the Bradley Review and the establishment of TEQSA, as well as important challenges in attracting international students to Australia, it is clearly vital that the government gets the balance right in supporting universities right now. The government will fail in its goal of improving the quality as well as access to higher education in this country if its approach does not include supporting educators through programs such as ALTC. These goals are in tension, and cannot be achieved through regulation alone. Please stand up for the quality of higher education by immediately reviewing the hasty decision to discontinue the good work of the ALTC.

Kind regards,
Matthew Riddle
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Matthew Riddle
Senior Lecturer (Academic Development)
Faculty of Law and Management | La Trobe University | Bundoora, Vic 3086