The New Dichotomy – Quality Versus Reputation
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The New Dichotomy – Quality Versus Reputation

Sadly, there now appears to be a dichotomy between quality versus reputation as evidenced (now consistently) in the Quality Indicators of Learning and Teaching (QILT) Student Experience Survey outcomes. We have high-end performances from private providers (including private universities) and low-end performances from our high-profile public universities. There was a time when quality and reputation were one and the same – but not so any more.

There is ample evidence of our public universities receiving high rankings (some worldwide) and yet their students are judging them in a very different way. This then is – the new dichotomy.

In Perspective

To declare – I have spent most of my career in the public university context working at all three levels. I have at the same time always assisted private providers with their accreditation and registration processes – keen for them to grow and thrive. In the last 7 years, I have worked with a private provider in a senior capacity and experienced, first-hand, the dedication and commitment of private provider staff working towards quality learning and teaching – and it appears to be paying a dividend.

A Matter of Priority

Over several years – I witnessed (in the public sector) a shift towards research, research grants and publications. I also chaired many a promotion committee where teaching was downgraded, and research/publications upgraded by way of reward and promotion. I often felt like a voice in the wilderness as I tried to at least balance the acknowledgement.

The moment things other than teaching are elevated – the obvious impact (middle and long term) will be a deterioration in the quality of teaching simply because the effort is misplaced.

In the private sector, however, I have personally witnessed an elevation of the importance of teaching and the promotion of scholarship that contributes to better teaching (and learning). Staff are rewarded for their effort in the classroom.

Quality Versus Reputation

The inevitable response to criticism regarding learning and teaching – our high profile (reputation) universities argue that high employability and employer satisfaction should be regarded as more important than student feedback.

In truth, much of this has to do with the perception of reputation (mistaken for quality) that employers are acknowledging rather than any meaningful understanding of the quality of learning and teaching. Brand recognition and standing come into play here. A colleague of mine recently suggested logos be taken off transcripts and let the outcomes speak for themselves – though a radical suggestion – nevertheless an interesting one.

There is little doubt, in my mind at least, that quality and reputation should go hand in hand – but sadly, this does not appear to be the case at present.


Emeritus Professor Greg Whateley is the Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive Officer at Group Colleges Australia