INTERNAL REVIEW OF GRADUATESCHOOL.COM PTY LTD
In April 2012, the Vice-Chancellor commissioned an internal review of GraduateSchool.com Pty Ltd (“GradSchool”), the controlled entity of the University of Newcastle responsible for the marketing, admission, and support of online postgraduate programs. Members of the review panel were Professor John Germov, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Education and Arts) and Chair; Professor Carol Miles, Director, Centre for Teaching and Learning; and Mr Craig Wallis, Chief Financial Officer.
Relevant stakeholders from GradSchool, the University, and external organisations were invited to make a submission addressing the Terms of Reference. The panel received 18 submissions, and conducted 38 interviews with stakeholders over two days.
The Final Report of the Internal Review of GradSchool was completed in June 2012 and has been endorsed by Executive Committee and noted by the University Council. The report made 4 commendations and 14 recommendations which will now be progressively actioned under the direction of an Implementation Group consisting of the Review Panel members and Professor Kevin McConkey, CEO of GradSchool and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic & Global Relations).
Summary of key findings
The Review Panel’s report recognised the success of the GradSchool team in delivering a high standard of customer service to online postgraduate coursework students. It noted that while the University is in a good position to invest in the development of postgraduate coursework programs, there are some barriers that should be addressed to fully harness the potential of online/blended learning practices and technologies as part of the University’s strategic direction and priorities.
In particular, the Review Panel concluded that the University’s online postgraduate coursework operations were not best supported by the company’s controlled entity status. The Panel determined that:
• there is a need to maintain a dedicated customer service point to meet the specialised needs of postgraduate coursework students;
• strategic leadership is required to champion the postgraduate coursework and online/blended learning opportunities activities across the University;
• marketing and branding of online postgraduate programs will be reviewed in the context of developing a stronger association with the University;
• a new operating model would provide more appropriate incentives for Faculties to expand and enhance postgraduate coursework offerings; and
• there are several future opportunities in the delivery of postgraduate programs for the University to consider as part of its long-term strategic goals in this area.
In addition to the review recommendations, the University has confirmed its commitment to online education as part of the core teaching and learning agenda, with The NeW Directions Draft Education Plan 2013-2015 stating that 80% of courses will be delivered through online/ blended technologies by building staff capacity in the provision of world-class physical and virtual learning environments.
Commendations and Recommendations
The operations of GradSchool are underpinned by a highly motivated and enthusiastic team who are very committed to the company’s success. Ms Jodie Davis and Mr Mat Sharman were recognised as supportive managers who were effective in creating a cohesive and dedicated culture at GradSchool.
The University’s online postgraduate students recognise that GradSchool provides a supportive environment and a quality, professional service that assists them to pursue their studies in a convenient and flexible way.
A professional and attractive website has recently been launched which demonstrates the company’s strong commitment to meeting the needs of prospective and current student needs.
The current external Directors on the Board of GradSchool are very experienced and knowledgeable members of the local business community whose input and networks have strengthened the governance of the company.
The operations of GradSchool should be transferred to a dedicated postgraduate coursework unit within the Academic Division as soon as possible, and then the controlled entity GraduateSchool.com Pty Ltd should be wound-up and disestablished.
A senior appointment should be made to provide leadership and direction to the new postgraduate coursework unit as well as to guide and implement the University’s strategic priorities and goals in this area.
Within 18-24 months, the operations of the new postgraduate coursework unit should undergo an internal evaluation to assess progress and performance against the University’s strategic priorities and goals.
The University should establish a postgraduate coursework advisory board to benefit from the expertise and experience of external stakeholders such as the independent Board members, particularly in terms of informing the University’s strategic agenda for postgraduate coursework.
The University should finalise discussions with the Board of GradSchool in relation to payment of a shareholder dividend to ensure that the taxation liability has minimal overall impact.
In the context of creating a new postgraduate coursework unit within the University, the University must consider appropriate incentives and resources to support Faculties in developing new, flexible and sustainable programs consistent with the organisation’s strategic priorities and goals.
Consideration should be given to consolidating the administration of all postgraduate coursework programs (online and face-face) in terms of marketing, recruitment, admissions, and program administration.
As a priority, out-of-load teaching arrangements for online postgraduate coursework programs should be phased-out by the end of 2012, so that all teaching is delivered in-load and managed in the context of Faculty workload policies and standard University employment practices as outlined in the Enterprise Agreement.
Fees for the University’s online postgraduate coursework programs should be reviewed and informed by market analysis, regular benchmarking against key competitors, and consideration of opportunities to increase the number of international students.
The University must clearly articulate its commitment that online teaching and learning is part of core business through the provision of appropriate resourcing of online instructional design and training and up-skilling for academics as well as workload recognition.
Faculties, in conjunction with the new postgraduate coursework unit and the Centre for Teaching and Learning, should review online postgraduate coursework offerings with an emphasis on improving the quality of delivery for students.
Mechanisms for consultation, approval, collaboration and reporting of marketing strategies/outcomes must be established to facilitate effective communication between the new postgraduate coursework unit, Faculties, Marketing and Public Relations, and International Office.
Further marketing advice should be undertaken to determine whether alternative branding be adopted to more strongly associate online postgraduate coursework programs with the University of Newcastle.
A Postgraduate Coursework Implementation Group should be established to carry out the approved recommendations arising from this Review.
Professor John Germov
Chair, Review Panel and Implementation Group