It’s 10 years since the Labor government decided to kill the Australian Learning and Teaching Council (ALTC). Floods in Brisbane caused the Gillard government to look for cuts in higher education, in order to fund repair of damaged infrastructure.
A short, sharp campaign by many of us involved in Australian higher education led to a temporary reprieve on funding. Fatally, the government decided to shift key functions of ALTC into the federal bureaucracy, which made it easier to defund in successive budgets.
What’s more, a government department (the Office of Learning and Teaching, or OLT) could never match ALTC’s ability to energise a community of activists willing to commit their own time to the collective improvement of teaching and learning. Every dollar of ALTC money generated many dollars worth of extra voluntary effort.
I’ve lodged a few resources from the time of the 2011 campaign here.
A selection of quotes from supporters.
Text I drafted arguing the case for the ALTC, which became the basis for a letter that Sally Kift and I wrote, which was published in The Australian.
Statements from the Joint Councils of Deans, the professional engineering and engineering education communities, the National Tertiary Education Union and the National Union of Students.
The Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE) was one of the first member organisations in the country to start mobilising support for ALTC. Its letter to the Prime Minister included the following paragraphs:
- ALTC has played an extraordinarily beneficial role in Australian Higher Education in its very short history. It is hard to think of an organisation which has attracted such widespread support in the university sector – at both grassroots and senior management levels.
- ALTC has emerged as a champion for collective action on the improvement of learning and teaching in higher education. It is contributing to the development of teaching methods and learning environments that support a wider range of student learning needs. In so doing, it helps universities become more inclusive institutions.
The Australian higher education press gave the campaign to save ALTC some reasonable coverage, though it looks rather lukewarm and disengaged, to my eyes.
John Ross, Campus Review, 31 Jan 2011: HE community fights ALTC closure
Joanna Mather, Australian Financial Review, 14 Feb 2011, Deans urge Gillard to save key teaching group
Since the closure of ALTC and the withering away of its successor (the OLT), people who care about the improvement of learning and teaching in HE have, from time to time, canvassed proposals for some new organisation or initiative in this important but neglected space. It turns out to be much harder to get a consensus around the design of something new than around the saving of something that already exists and is valued. The ALTC began life as the Carrick Institute, funded by John Howard’s conservative government. Today’s conservatives display a hostility towards universities that makes it difficult to envisage them investing in this area.
Labor’s decision ten years ago was a grievous mistake, but only a Labor government is likely to reinvest in learning and teaching in higher education in the foreseeable future. ALTC worked. We need it, or something very like it, to feature in Labor’s manifesto commitments.