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Australian University Teacher to Student Ratios

Students get lost in the crowd. CHRONIC overcrowding in university classes is causing a rise in student resentment and threatens to weaken the Rudd government’s education goals, according to a federal budget submission. Universities Australia says the nation’s average student-to-staff ratio has soared to one of the highest among industrialised countries, with almost 22 students for every tutor. Its submission for the May budget warns that overcrowding and already high student dissatisfaction levels will worsen unless the government improves funding for domestic students.

Surprise surprise, while staff to student ratios have increased, international numbers have probabaly decreased due to bad publicity (especially from India), public and political percpetion about migration and population, high AUD etc. therefore universities, and probabaly TAFE, need to supplement scarce resources with more public funding.

Is this about genuine concerns for students and quality, or simple lobbying for more funds to ensure survival of public universities and management?

But surely the question is, do we need more Australian students entering university with unclear goals and outcomes? It may keep the unemployment numbers down, and give something for their parents to talk about but it is unclear what they should be studying to address skill shortages?

3 Responses to “Australian University Teacher to Student Ratios”

  1. You are focusing on a very important issue in Australian universities. Our student-staff ratios are indeed matters that should be of great concern to our government. However, you are also taking your information from an organisation that has a vested interest – Universities Australia. What it does not say is that government funding, while not the best in the OECD is by no means the worst. Why should money buy fewer academics in Australia than in other OECD countries? This is certainly not the case in primary education for example.

    Government funding has gone down in recent years (as the various university lobby groups say) as a proportion of total funding. It has gone down a little in absolute terms but not by that much. However, total funding, much of it coming from international students, has risen significantly, hence the significant fall in the proportion of funding coming from government sources. Between 1996 and 2006 total funding to Australian universities practically doubled in real terms. Where has the money gone? Well not into academic salaries, as the growth in numbers of academics is dramatically less (about 40% over the same period) than the growth in the number of students and academic salaries have fallen in recent years in real terms. An increasing proportion of academics are casual rather than full-time and cost much less.

    The truth is that most of the money has been spent in burgeoning administrations. Salaries and numbers in that part of universities have risen substantially. The standard reason for this given by the university lobby groups is that goverments are requiring more accountability from universities which need more administrative staff to produce the reports. This argument is given at a time when in other sectors administrative costs are dropping because of the use of computer systems that do much of the work.

    Moreover, this argument does not explain the increasing numbers of public relations and marketing personnel in universities. Nor does it explain the rapidly expanding numbers of pro-vice chancellors and other high salaried and otherwise highly resourced members of university administrations.

    Universities have failed to impose the same scrutiny on performance and cost-effectiveness in administration as they have on academics who face constant performance monitoring in both teaching and research. Any company that ran with administrations proportionately as large as those in the universities of Australia would be out of business.

    • I have observed significant amounts spent on vague “international promotional activities” i.e. travel plans etc. (talking AUD100 million annually from state sector alone?) masquerading as marketing at the expense of onshore activity e.g. evaluating student welfare (and experience), dealing with internet based enquiries and assessing product quality, which are real marketing activities.

  2. Throwing money at a problem does nothing for student well being. Yes I admit an increase to the amount of educators would not go astray, but educators also have to be aware of the social and emotional problems that this type of withdrawal can cause. As a university student myself I see students who seem slightly disturbed by the lack of interaction received from their tutors.
    Students that are not stimulated by engaging in conversations in class are having their education suffer. A student that withdraws themselves from class discussions can inevitably cause him/herself emotional damage. Without having them heard a student cannot fulfil one of the simplest human desires and that is the desire to feel important. Not in a celebrity status kind of way but just to know that their opinions and ideas are heard and valued can mean a great deal to young people.
    This is where the education departments of this country need to come together and address the situation by either adding staff or discussing the lack of emphasis being put on actually engaging with each student to have each of them heard.

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