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Finding the balance: Threshold standards versus academic freedom

Lawson, R. (2015) Finding the balance: Threshold standards versus academic freedom. In: 5th International Practice based Education Summit, 15 - 16 April 2015, Sydney, Australia.


Under the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Act 2011, universities and other highereducation providers are responsible for ensuring that self‐accredited courses comply with the Provider Course Accreditation Standards. Section One focuses on course design, with the expectation that course design takes account of external standards and requirements, for example, the Australian Qualifications Framework, published discipline standards, professional accreditation, input from external stakeholders, and comparable standards at other higher education providers.

This legislation has led many academics to raise concerns about academic freedom in designing, delivering and assessing degrees, and the potential lack of variation in degrees across universities. These perspectives derive from a narrow interpretation as the act is about meeting standards not standardisation to alleviate points of distinction between degrees.

The threshold standards foster whole of degree curriculum design where a consistent set of aims are provided for the overall degree providing a structured approach for both students and academics. It is about setting minimum standards not denying additional learning and creativity. These overall outcomes and how they are achieved is decided upon by the academics. The process is about balance between meeting requirements and academic freedom, which is best achieved through collaboration to create a scaffolded degree that provides obvious progression towards these outcomes from first year to completion.

This approach provides a platform to design a cohesive degree where students are introduced to the expectations of the degree from day one and through continual engagement, practice, selfassessment and feedback can take ownership of their learning in order to be autonomous learners.

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