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Graduate qualities at UniSA

Determination of the graduate qualities

The University of South Australia sought to enhance the quality of the teaching and learning environment it afforded students by a major policy commitment directed to changing the very nature of higher education provision. This involved a commitment to viewing disciplinary expertise as only one of a number of important outcomes of education for the professions. The determination of graduate qualities was the implementation initiative that sought to bring this policy commitment to realisation. 

Over the last decade, the University has moved in a systematic and planned way to make a comprehensive intervention into the way academic programs are conceived and delivered. The determination of graduate qualities was a major part of that intervention and directed towards the implementation of a policy decision about the learning outcomes of all programs. At its most simple, the policy required all courses to provide for the development of a range of capabilities in students, only one of which was disciplinary expertise. 

The determination of graduate qualities was one of a number of mechanisms that sought paradigm change in teaching and learning at this University. Such change required that the core values of transmission approaches and their attendant views about power relationships between teachers and learners were replaced by values that arise from placing the student at the centre of teaching and learning processes. 

The University worked from the position that changing practices and demonstrating the effects such change would bring involved a revaluing of transmission approaches for both students and teachers. We believed this would be best carried out where the qualities of a graduate provide the benchmarks for change. Consequently, the graduate qualities initiative was less concerned with achieving a specific single outcome (such as improving a particular skill through developing a teaching technique) but more with structuring and sequencing a number of developments that would result in revaluing the normative positions that underpin transmission models of teaching and learning and moving to a value position that fostered student centred education for the professions and focussed on a particular view of the outcomes of undergraduate education.

Embedding of graduate qualities

Embedding of graduate qualities into courses and programs has two benefits. It both improves the processes of teaching and learning and makes possible the development and achievement of significantly different learning outcomes. It requires moving from transmission models of learning to an increasing reliance on student-centred delivery forms that do not necessarily or solely involve face-to-face teaching, but complement such approaches with a range of other resource-based delivery methods. This, at base, represents a shift in the direction of teaching and learning to one provided within the context of a service culture, where an orientation to the needs and concerns of the student as consumer predominates. It involves changing curriculum and assessment so that students are aware of the broader intended outcomes of courses and programs and how these outcomes result in a University agreed profile of graduate qualities. 

The graduate qualities initiative was a central lever in shifting the direction of teaching and learning and involved:

There are comparable developments overseas that have sought to improve the quality of teaching and learning through changing curriculum outcomes in a similar way. The most notable examples arise from the Activity Based Curriculum group of universities (Alverno, Brunel, De Montfort, Napier, North London, Northumbria, Open University, Oxford Brookes, Surrey and Wolverhampton). 

The University of South Australia is acknowledged by those familiar with Australian higher education as leading our universities in changing teaching and learning in this way. Significantly, the University has moved beyond teaching interventions and added a strong focus on student involvement in their development of these distinctive learning outcomes. This has resulted in building linkages between the achievement of graduate qualities and using evidence of their achievement when students seek employment.