Australian Institutional Research—Framing Upcoming Challenges & Opportunities
Inaugural Regional Dinner Meeting – Melbourne
Inaugural Regional Dinner Meeting – Melbourne
A humid Wednesday evening in Melbourne. A group of institutional researchers gathers. AAIRies from public and private higher ed providers, regulators, consulting businesses. Many crossing paths for the first time. Off campus in a quiet pub dining room. Initial reserve and uncertainty. Hamish Coates made a few remarks. Conversation took off.
For almost two and a half hours we batted the breeze and time passed without note. The food was good, but to a person we ignored the option of seconds at the buffet, and no one stood to grab dessert.
Our dialogue turned on the professional role and recognition of institutional researchers, and the increasing significance of data (big, medium and small) as a decision support tool for institutional executives, students, teachers, governments and employers.
Most AAIRies know Hamish as an innovator who has marshalled the power of data to throw light on how higher education works and can work better. Professor of Higher Education at the University of Melbourne’s Centre for the Study of Higher Education, Hamish has contributed to the IR landscape through work on graduate outcomes at Graduate Careers Australia, developing and implementing AUSSE (Australian Survey of Student Engagement), and leading the charge on the OECD’s AHELO (Assessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes) project.
There’s a thread in Hamish’s career journey: what do learners gain from their higher ed experience? We spent a lot of time following it. We tugged at ideas like the notion of ‘value’ in higher education, how to think about productivity in the sector, what form of information disclosure we should make to students (prospective and current), how financing models lead us away from and closer to our core business, what leads higher education providers to outsource some IR work.
Hamish prodded us to consider what was wrapped up in the notion of institutional research as a professional endeavour. Our professional identity as IR practitioners is a little opaque, even to ourselves. Hamish proposed benchmarking Australasian IR practice with systems elsewhere in the world. You thought of the US, the UK and Europe, didn’t you? Well Hamish suggested we might think very seriously about China, Israel and Singapore. And we shouldn’t go in cap in hand but with an intention to share expertise and ideas. Australia has proved itself a top flight innovator in higher education over many years, from HECS to HEIMS (which Hamish counts among the finest national higher ed data collections on planet Earth).
Afterwards I wandered up the street, wondering about a question that arose in discussion: which data we collect, interrogate and report on really needs to be kept inside the institution, and which can and should we share? As Hamish noted, predictions that quality or commercial interests would be undermined by releasing data just haven’t come true. Publicly available data has improved debate time and again. So many discussable morsels were laid out for us to choose from. We didn’t get to sample them all. Next time. There needs to be a next time. Hamish wanted to know how IR practitioners could lift the profile of institutional research in the sector and among its stakeholders. We need to get back to him with a few ideas on that score.
Hamish Coates is a Professor of Higher Education at the Centre for the Study of Higher Education (CSHE), University of Melbourne. He was Founding Director of Higher Education Research at the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) from 2006 to 2013, and between 2010 and 2013 also Program Director at the LH Martin Institute for Tertiary Leadership and Management.
With a background in psychometrics and political theory, Hamish completed his PhD in 2005 at the University of Melbourne, and subsequent executive training at INSEAD and MBS. Through research and development Hamish focuses on improving the quality and productivity of higher education.
Core interests include large-scale evaluation, tertiary education policy, institutional strategy, assessment methodology, learner engagement, and academic work and leadership. He has initiated and led many projects, including numerous national and international surveys. In terms of national work involving hundreds of tertiary organisations, he has redesigned the
GDS, designed the AUSSE and UES/SES, developed the CEQ, and led the first five-year-out study of bachelor degree graduates. He has worked in 50 counties and was Founding International Director of OECD’s Assessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes (AHELO).
In recent decades Institutional Research in Australia has played an increasingly substantial role in understanding and developing a sector of growing significance to individuals, institutions and the nation overall. Australian experts continue to pioneer practices and techniques adopted by institutions and governments around the world.
The need for high-quality IR continues to grow and is now greater than ever. Institutional researchers must innovate and adapt along with broader changes in tertiary economies, technologies and methodologies.
This talk begins be reviewing the history of IR in Australia over the last few decades as a means of identifying the contexts and ideas which have shaped key innovations. Moving to the present, I will review trends shaping contemporary opportunities and challenges for IR. From these analyses, I forecast key areas in need of development, and key challenges and opportunities specific to each area and IR in Australia more generally.
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