ANU EDUC8010 Research Project

Title: On-line Professional Education For Australian Research-Intensive Universities in the Asian Century

Tom Worthington
Version 0.5

Table of Contents


The Dichotomy of Research and Education

Quality Assurance and Postgraduate Education

Quality Management in Higher Education

Quality management



Needs Analysis

What are generic skills for research higher degrees?

Generic Skills Programmes in Higher Education

Lessons from SPEF-R for Higher Education

Computer Professional Standards and Education

Accreditation of University Degrees

Body of Knowledge and Philosophy for the Design of Programs of Study

Seoul Accord Graduate Attributes for Computer Professionals

International Professional Practice Partnership and ACS Certified Professional Program

Recognition of Prior Learning

ACS Professional Year Program

ACS Certification Guidelines

ACS Computer Professional Education Program

Generalising the ACS Approach from ICT to Other Professional Areas

Degree More Than the Sum of Coursework and Thesis

Teaching Students to Learn

Generic Graduate Attributes for Research Students an Oxymoron?

e-Portfolios to Demonstrate Generic Skills

The Online Viva



Note: This is an early version of work for the ANU Graduate Certificate In Higher Education. The aim is to allow higher degree students to obtain skills certificates, by completing a template in their e-portfolio, alongside their coursework and research. This will allow universities to meet skills and quality standards and offer e-learning as an option, while retaining traditional courses and flexible research degrees. I would welcome comments.

As an example I what I have in mind, it happens I have been asked if I can do some vocational teaching at an RTO. This requires a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment. I should be able to meet much of the requirements for the certificate by Recognition of Prior Learning, based on my studies for the Graduate Certificate in Higher Education. This requires filling in a form from a RTO, attaching evidence of skills and experience and having this assessed. That process would have been much easier, if I had the form at the start of my Graduate Certificate and I could have filled it in with evidence as I went along.

PS: As the Prime Minister recently released the  Australia in the Asian Century White Paper and I am just on my way back from talking on online education in Indonesia, I appended “Asian Century” to the previous title of the paper. ;-)


Research Question: How can the tools and techniques which have been developed for on-line postgraduate professional education be applied to supervision of higher degrees, so that they provide practical professional skills as well as academic outcomes?

Importance: The second of five key areas for action set by the Australian Government for success in in the Asian century is “...job‑specific skills, scientific and technical excellence ...” (DPMC, 2012). At the same time the government also aims for university research excellence: “By 2025, 10 of Australia’s universities will be in the world’s top 100” (DPMC, 2012). Universities will be under pressure to accept students with a wide range of backgrounds and to rapidly produce graduates with work relevant skills, while also maintaining research programs. The traditional approach of having graduate students gradually absorb skills in an ad-hoc way on campus, from staff who learned their craft the same way, will be no longer workable. ANU policy makers discussed the current use of online education (ANU Academic Board (2012) and future use (ANU Council, 2012) in July 2012. However, there appears there is no published comprehensive strategy to transition ANU to research-intensive blended or on-line education and supervision. Such a strategy is needed to enhance ANU's position as Australia's pre-eminent research-intensive university (ANU Pro Vice-Chancellor Research and Research Training,  2011).

Proposed Approach: Investigate how to progress the core objectives of The Australian National University's strategic plan (ANU, 2011) using on-line pedagogy developed for professional education. Look at existing policy and procedures of vocationally oriented universities for professional doctorates which combine coursework and research, to see if these can be adapted for ANU's research intensive approach. Also look at adapting techniques from non-university programs, particularly the Australian Computer Society's certification and education programs. Draw on experience of designing vocational on-line courses using mentored and collaborative e-learning for the Australian Computer Society and ANU, plus experience in formulating the Defence Department's on-line policy.

Suggest how policy might be framed to cover both professional and research degrees, combining coursework and research. Investigate the use of the framework of Lee (2012) for research supervision (Functional, Critical Thinking, Relationship development,  Emancipation and Enculturation) with Lindley (2007) on professional education derived from  using a methodology derived from Salmon's Five Stage Model (2002).

This could use an e-portfolio provide evidence of skills beyond the dissertation, as is planned for University of Canberra from 2013. Also Peer Endorsement of Skills and Expertise, as being introduced on LinkedIn could also be considered.

Declaration of Interest: The author is currently a member of the staff of ACS Education as well as the ANU Research School of Computer Science, developing and delivering courses for both institutions. Also the author formally headed professional development for the ACS and in that role and as President, was involved in the development of some of the policies discussed. Under contract to the Australian Department of Immigration, they also developed part of the online tool used for assessing the professional skills of migrants. Currently they are assisting the University of Queensland with the development of software for student skills assessment.


The purpose of this document is to suggest ways in which techniques for on-line postgraduate professional coursework could be applied to solve some problems confronting research intensive universities, particularly the Australian National University (ANU). Australian universities face the challenge of competing globally, while adapting to online technology and more vocationally orientated demand (Bokor, 2012).

The second of five key areas for action set by the Australian Government for success in in the Asian century is “...job‑specific skills, scientific and technical excellence ...” (DPMC, 2012). At the same time the government also aims for university research excellence: “By 2025, 10 of Australia’s universities will be in the world’s top 100” (DPMC, 2012). Universities are under pressure to accept students with a wide range of backgrounds and to rapidly produce graduates with work relevant skills, while also maintaining the excellence of research programs. The traditional approach of having graduate students gradually absorb skills in an ad-hoc way on campus, from staff who learned their craft the same way, will be no longer workable. ANU policy makers discussed the current use of online education (ANU Academic Board (2012) and future use (ANU Council, 2012) in July 2012. However, there appears there is no published comprehensive strategy to transition ANU to research-intensive on-line education and supervision. Such a strategy is needed to enhance ANU's position as Australia's pre-eminent research-intensive university (ANU Pro Vice-Chancellor Research and Research Training,  2011).

The Dichotomy of Research and Education

Universities are confronted with the problem of maintaining a research reputation, while at the same time meeting increasing accreditation requirements for education programs. The traditional approach has been to select staff based on their research reputation and use that to attract graduate research students. While this approach has been successful at attracting top calibre students who go on to successful research careers, it is less useful for vocational programs, particularly postgraduate programs which are required to combine both vocational and research components.

The quality assurance approach being adopted by national, international and professional accreditation bodies requires every student to be tested against a set of predefined skills relevant to employment in academia, industry or government. At the same time universities are expected to also foster research by students. This could result in completely separate university programs, with coursework programs meeting strict accreditation requirements, but separate from research streams offering more flexible, but non-accredited programs.

The separation of students into coursework and research programs may lower the quality of education. Garnett & Ecclesfield (2012) point out there is not necessarily linear path of new knowledge being created by the researchers and then being handed over to the teachers. They suggest that teaching not simply instructional, suggesting that research is critical to the process (as would be the case particularly at research intensive universities). Garnett & Ecclesfield (2012) suggest that Boyer's four ‘Types of Scholarship' (Discovery, Integration, Application and Teaching), is limiting is suggesting that research and learning can't be combined together. This is most clearly seen at the postgraduate level, with programs labelled “coursework” and “research.

One way to avoid the problem of meeting accreditation standards for research universities could be to use their considerable influence to be exempted from national and professional accreditation rules. The case would be put that research is different to coursework and therefore these universities, or at least their research degrees, should not be required to meet the same standards as coursework programs. However, education standards are increasingly set at the international level and it is more difficult for educational institutions to have influence at this level. Also if research intensive universities are claiming that their graduates, including research graduates, have useful real world skills, then they must meet the same standards as other institutions.

Research is a search for new knowledge and so a research degree can't specify set outcomes in advance. However, a process derived from vocational education could be applied alongside a research program, to show the students has acquired a specified set of skills. This would then allow for the type of quality assurance accreditation bodies require, alongside the traditional research informed approach to education. This could be done by enhancing the existing procedures which require research students to produce a body of work (Thesis) for assessment. In addition to the thesis, the student would document their skills, in accordance with standards set by the university, national, international and professional accreditation bodies. The skills selected could be predefined for the student, or selected in consultation with staff during the program.

The same e-learning technology used for coursework students can be used for collection of the required skills evidence for research students, without burdening students and staff with extra paperwork. According to media reports the ANU is already investigating this approach for some programs: "… ANU ... looking at portfolio-based credentials delivered by the Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia and Britain's Higher Education Academy" ("Online efforts boosted as ANU mulls changes in teaching arrangements", Julie Hare, The Australian, October 10, 2012 12:00AM). However, it is proposed this approach be generalised to allow it to be used across all postgraduate programs.

Quality Assurance and Postgraduate Education

The Australian Qualifications Framework (July 2011), defines ten levels for Australian education, from a vocational Certificate 1 to Doctoral degrees. A Masters Degree is at Level 9 and a Doctoral Degree at Level 10 (the highest level). One anomaly is that there is one type of Doctorate, but three types of Masters:

It appears that the Doctoral Degree is more flexible, as it allows for research and professional practice, whereas these are divided into different types of Masters Degree. The definitions of the types of masters degree differ in referring to combinations of: research, scholarship and/or professional practice. The Doctoral Degree refers to all of these, but differs from the masters by requiring the student to create "new knowledge", rather than just "apply ... knowledge".

In terms of university processes, it would be simpler to have one definition of a masters, which included research, scholarship and/or professional practice. Apart from simplifying administration, that would better reflect the reality that all masters students will require an element of all three of these (even a pure researcher will have to know the professional practices of researchers in their discipline). That would allow allow the student to explore different options after starting their program. A student could start the program and then decide if they want to concentrate on research, or practice. This would also allow for the same procedures to be applied for both Masters and PHD students.

RMIT University have issued a "RMIT Higher Degrees by Research (HDR) Candidature and Supervision Policy Suite" for comment. This consists of six documents: three on candidature (28 pages total) and three on supervision (18 pages total). These documents cover policy and procedures, including progress management. Comments close 21 September 2012.

The 20th APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting in Vladivostok has agreed on "Promoting Cross-Border Education Cooperation". The aim is to allow students and researchers to work at institutions in each others countries and allow institutions to provide courses across national boundaries. Australia already has an education agreement with India, signed by the then Minister for Education, Julia Gillard,in 2010. Australia is also a signatory to the "Bologna Accords") for standardisation of higher education qualifications with Europe, along with NZ and USA.

Quality Management in Higher Education

Basir (2012) argues that Malaysia can lift the quality of their universities to the level of western countries by use of the ISO 9000 Quality Management Standards (ISO 2008). While that may seem ambitious, the Japanese car industry used similar standards to overtake western car makers within a few decades. By use of on-line technology, the same may be possible in education in less than a decade.

Formal quality assurance in higher education is suggested by Basir (2012) as being a way to to assist planning and drive reform at the national level, increasing  competition between universities and in particular to improve the oversight and quality of private institutions. 

The Total Quality Management (TQM) process of continuous improvement was developed for manufacturing, but is suggested by Basir (2012)  as being applicable to universities. There has been considerable interest in this topic by academics, with listing more than 150 books on the topic of "Total Quality Management in Higher Education" and Google Scholar listing more than one thousand document on the topic so far for 2012.

The Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA) has developed a set of guidelines, although these appear to be targeted at coursework, not research and to not explicitly mention formal quality processes.

Quality processes depend on having a repeatable processes. By its nature, research supervision produces one off unique products, as every research student is required to make a unique contribution to knowledge. However, these processes could at least be used for other parts of the higher degree processes, such as imparting generic skills. But there would be a danger this would distract from the primary product: researchers.

Two requirements for quality management given by Basir (2012) are:

  1. 1.Engagement with the total quality management system,  

  2. 2.Strong leadership rather than more administrative process  

These requirements have proved difficult in other service industries, such as IT, with the quality management system being gamed by staff, who see it as an imposition, with more forms to fill in.

The use of ISO 9000  in Malaysian Higher Education Institutions (MHEIs) is traced back to 1996 by Basir (2012), focusing on management and "academic activities". The aim was professional excellence and efficiency. It is important to note the emphasis on professional excellence, as unlike production line manufacturing, higher education is dependent on the performance of a a few individuals.

Quality management

As noted previously quality management systems were developed for manufacturing processes. The main sections of ISO 9001:2008 Quality management systems — Requirements  (ISO 2008) cover:

The aim of this is to produce a satisfied customer. However in the case of higher degrees, who the customer is may be a matter of some debate: the student, their future employer, the government or society?

QM emphasises documentation and measurement. This would appear to be a good fit with academia, which has an emphasis on writing and research. Academics themselves may be less enthusiastic when they are the subject of the measurement and reporting. However, formal standards processes derived from QM are specifically referenced in professional education standards, such as those of the Australian Computer Society (ACS), discussed later. It is likely that any university which fails to address QM could maintain the accreditation of its programs.


  1. 1.Higher Degrees by Research candidature policy (DOC 124 KB, 7p)  

  2. 2.Higher Degrees by Research candidature procedure (DOC 149 KB, 10p)  

  3. 3.Higher Degrees by Research candidate progress management procedure (DOC 170 KB, 11p)  


  1. 1.Higher Degrees by Research supervision policy (DOC 83.5 KB, 5p)  

  2. 2.Higher Degrees by Research supervision procedure (DOC 116 KB, 7p)  

  3. 3.Higher Degrees by Research supervisor registration procedure (DOC 83.5 KB, 6p)  

Needs Analysis

The Candidature procedure includes a "Needs analysis" to be completed by the candidate and their supervisor on a ‘Needs Analysis Form’. This looks a very useful process, particularly if used to prepare a proforma for the student's portfolio. Unfortunately it appears that RMIT have not yet designed the Needs Analysis Form:

Within one full time equivalent month of the candidate’s research commencement date they and their Senior supervisor/s must complete an analysis of the specific requirements of the proposed research and any additional requirements for support the candidate might have. This is to be done by completion of the ‘Needs Analysis Form’ …

The University of Sydney Strategic Plan 2011–2015, includes a series of Strategies for Integrated education & research this includes fostering research skills from undergraduate to postgraduate.

Sydney's strategies appear workable, except for the proposal to extend a full-time PhD to four years:

9(a) Embed discovery-based learning in all curricula, with opportunities for research experience appropriate to discipline and level. ...

9(b) Develop coordinated faculty, divisional and University-wide programs for researcher induction, and for research training and mentoring at all career stages. ...
9(c) Extend the standard full-time duration of the PhD program to four years to provide scope for broadening methodological and generic skills training, where appropriate. ...

9(d) Develop clearer pathways to the PhD from honours and alternate prior programs. ...

9(e) Establish discipline-specific guidelines and training for supervisors, including provision for co-supervisors. ...

9(f) Charge the Graduate Office with enhanced responsibility for candidate administration, monitoring of consistency of practice and policy, and procedural development across the University. ...

9(g) Develop a more transparent model for the allocation of income from research students, consistent with the University Economic Model. ...

9(h) Develop programs to extend the leadership skills of researchers heading major research initiatives. ...

From: University of Sydney Strategic Plan 2011–2015.

Deakin University provide advice to Doctoral candidates in arts and education on their "Folio format". This is a thesis, which in addition to a dissertation, has reports, papers and publications. As with a doctorate by publication, the contents of the folio need to be combined into one coherent work, by use of a commentary.


The Final Report of the "Review of Higher Education Access and Outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People" was released 14 April 2012 by the Australian Government. The report makes 35 recommendations, including on supervision of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander HDR students. The “hands-on” approach and appreciation of cultural differences (particularly a deference to authority) are also relevant for other groups of students.

What are generic skills for research higher degrees?

The ARC sponsored two studies of PHDs, looking at what attributes employers want in staff with PHDs (Pitt, Cox, & Manathunga,  2010a) and what the candidates want from their PHD (Pitt, Cox, & Manathunga,  2010b).

Importance of graduates attributes and skills (adapted from Table 6.1
of Pitt, Cox, & Manathunga,  2010a)





 Effective oral and written
communication skills




 In-depth knowledge of their field of




 Critical judgment and analytical skills




 An ability to work as a member of a




 Independent research skills




 Preparing articles and reports for








 Problem solving skills





The survey of employers had a relatively small sample of 265 organizations, which was skewed towards universities (75%), with public sector (19%) and private sector (9%). Most interesting was that "in-depth knowledge of a field of study" was not top of the list for any employer category and only universities highly valued "Independent research skills".

If employers, including universities, do not consider research skills the highest priority, how can this be addressed in the design of higher degree programs? Should universities simply give up on research and just offer coursework? If this was done, where would new knowledge come from? Pitt, Cox, & Manathunga, provide some interesting answers to these questions in a study of Cooperative  Research  Centre  (CRC) PhD graduates.

CRCs were established by the Australian Government to encourage applied research. In the ICT field there is also NICTA, carrying out a similar function. Pitt, Cox, & Manathunga (2010b) found that CRC  graduates  set out to address an industry relevant topic for their PHD, as a path to employment. In contrast non-CRC graduates had less of a vocational focus.

Counterintuitively, Pitt, Cox, & Manathunga (2010b) report that CRC graduates had less awareness of   generic  skill  and  attribute  development, than their non-CRC counterparts.

While the CRC's industry relevant research approach attracts (or influences) graduates perceptions, it would appear this is not sufficient to produce an awareness of generic skills employers want.

The obvious solution to a demand for work relevant skills for doctoral degree graduates would be to make these skills a required part of the program. Just as the candidate has to provide evidence of their research skills, they would have to demonstrate the generic skills to be able to graduate. A diversity of doctoral programs could still be offered, from professional practice programs with a majority of coursework, to research PHDs with little or no coursework. A uniform requirement for generic skills could be applied on all programs, but with flexibility in how to acquire and demonstrate the skills.

Gilbert, Balatti, Turner and Whitehouse (2004) provide a useful overview of the issues with generic skills in research higher degrees. The authors put it very clearly:

"Given that the chief goal of doctoral and masters' research degrees is for students to make an original contribution to knowledge, it seems potentially contradictory that at the same time students should be developing a set of skills common to them all."

The authors go on to list some commonly cited skills: Leadership and communication, Project management, Collaboration and teamwork. They make the point that even academic employers seek such skills.

Gilbert, Balatti, Turner and Whitehouse go on to discuss the difficulties with agreeing a set of generic skills. However, they do not appear to address the central point that research may not be a useful way to teach these skills, nor if thesis examination an effective way to test for the skills.

Hager, Holland, and Beckett (2002) describe generic skills as qualities and capacities, such as logical and analytical reasoning, problem solving
and intellectual curiosity, effective
communication skills, teamwork skills. The authors point out that some of the "skills", such as integrity and tolerance, are more attitudes than skills.

Apart from demands from employers, Hager, Holland, and Beckett  point out that some of these these generic skills are also attributes looked for in adult learning and so can aid the learning. The authors also point out that some skills are interdependent, such as teamwork and communication. 

Hager, Holland, and Beckett refer to federal government policy which has encouraged universities to address generic skills, most universities having responded with statements of graduate attributes by 2002.

Hager, Holland, and Beckett point to RMIT University, QUT, UTS, UNISA and CUT, making up the Australian Technology Network (ATN), as having worked on "qualitative differences in the attainment of a generic capability". I suggest this may come from the vocational and technical background of these universities, where observed measurement of skills is the norm. However, the authors don't point out the apparent contradiction in measuring supposed "generic" skills, such as team-work, in a specific context. If the skill is assessed in a specific context then they  cease to be a "generic".

The ATN skills appear to be very generic, such as "a commitment to learning from every new situation they encounter and the ability to fulfil that commitment". Such a skill appears so generic as to be a of no practical value. There would be no way that a university could test for such a skill and therefore no way to attest that a student has acquired the skill.

Hager, Holland, and Beckett  go on to briefly mention forms of work-based learning. Given the obvious value of this to employers, it is surprising the topic is not covered in more detail.

Manathunga (2004) describes a process called "Research Student Virtual Portfolio" (RSVP) using student portfolios for developing and demonstrating graduate attributes.

Manathunga points to the limited use of formal pedagogical theory for doctoral education and lack of a "curriculum". In an attempt to provide some structure (without limiting research freedom), the RSVP process has the student and supervisor tailor a custom developmental plan for each student. The student can then collect evidence in their portfolio to indicate progress on the developmental areas. This include a reflective exercise by the student.

This e-portfolio approach would seem to answer many of the challenges of generic skills for research students. It provides a way for the student to plan and chart their progress, without the need for a narrow coursework structure. However, this assumes the student, and the supervisor, have the skills to undertake this developmental process. Some formal coursework is likely to be required to bootstrap the student, and the supervisor, so they have sufficient skills to undertake a self directed process.

The ANU already has an online Graduate Information Literacy Skills Audit, and for CECS potential candiadates a  Self Assessment Guide.

The "New Route PhD", is a structured programme for graduate students, developed by a consortium of UK universities (mostly vocationally oriented ones). The program also offers Diploma, Certificate, Masters and professional qualifications, along the way to a PHD. The program addresses the popular"generic" skills, such as communication and teamwork. But I could not see any of the details of the actual courses offered. Also this appears to be a consortium approach, like Open Universities Australia, where the individual institutions involved come together for marketing purposes, but their courses are not integrated.

Generic Skills Programmes in Higher Education

The "Student Practice Evaluation Form" (SPEF-R) shows one approach. SPEF-R is a paper based and later online system for supervisors to evaluate students on occupational therapy professional practice placements (Turpin, Fitzgerald, and Rodger, 2011) As well as supporting Formative and Summative assessment, the tool also supports Criterion-referenced assessment (CRA), as outlined in the a policy at the University of Queensland's Assessment Policy and Practices. With this each individual student is assessed against set criteria, rather than by relative performance against other students in a program. SPEF-R targets eight learning domains:

  1. 1.Professional Behaviour  

  2. 2.Self Management Skills  

  3. 3.Co-worker Communication  

  4. 4.Communication Skills  

  5. 5.Documentation  

  6. 6.Information Gathering  

  7. 7.Service Provision  

  8. 8.Service Evaluation  

These have much in common with the generic skills described for higher degree research students by other programs:


National Postdoctoral Association six core competencies:


1. Discipline-specific conceptual knowledge2. Research skill development

3. Communication skills4. Professionalism

5. Leadership and management skills

6. Responsible conduct of research


UK Vitae "Researcher Development Framework" four domains:

  1. 1.Knowledge and intellectual abilities: The knowledge, intellectual abilities and techniques to do research.  

  2. 2.Personal effectiveness:           
    The personal qualities and approach to be an effective researcher.

  3. 3.Research governance and organisation: The knowledge of the standards, requirements and professionalism to do research.  

  4. 4.Engagement, influence and impact: The knowledge and skills to work with others and ensure the wider impact of research.  

SPEF-R  has an "item bank" for each learning objective, made up of "items" describing how the student demonstrates they have the skill. While it is not clear from the documentation, the learning objectives do not appear to be hard coded into the software and others could be entered. There are different sets ("streams") of items students learning "Direct Service Provision" or "Project Management / Consultancy". This should be able to be generalised to apply to a broader set of professions which need variations of the same skills.


Feedback is provided in SPEF-R  by way of a numerical ranking on a five point scale, and text based qualitative comment’s. The five point scale may be programmatic, as it could be difficult to differentiate many of the skills to this level of detail. It is not clear if a different scale can be substituted, such as the  three point scale I use for ICT Sustainability.


SPEF-R  has minimum requirements for each learning objective and the supervisor provides a summary statement.


Perhaps more important than the recording function which SPEF-R provides is the introduction to modern teaching and assessment practices provided, such as the Feedback Cycle.

Lessons from SPEF-R for Higher Education

The approach used for SPEF-R might be generalised for Higher Education using off-the-shelf learning management software, in particular a Learning Management System (LMS), such as Moodle and/or a SCORM package.


Moodle 2 supports advanced assessment techniques, including rubrics. SCORM packages allow for portable assessment, across different learning management systems, such as Moodle and Blackboard.


The student could be provided with an e-Portfolio (such as Mahara), loaded with a template of skills definitions, which they are then required to fill in with evidence. The evidence would include results of assessment from courses, imported from the LMS (Moodle 2) and examples of their practical work, plus any papers or thesis produced.


The same system could be used for coursework postgraduate students and professional degree students, as well as research Masters and PHD students. Different programs would use different discipline templates of skills, but the same core set of "generic" skills.

Computer Professional Standards and Education

Accreditation of University Degrees

The Australian Computer Society (ACS) was founded in 1966 (Gable et Al. 2008). From its earliest days the ACS has balanced academic theory with professional practice. The ACS founding president J.M. Bennett, had been the first research student of the Cambridge University Computer Laboratory, not only researching the theory of computer operation, but helping construct one of the world's first electronic computers (Jones, 2001). The ACS accredits university degrees suitable for membership of the Society. Many Bachelors of Computer Science and Bachelors of Information Technology of Australian universities are accredited, including those of the ANU (ACS 2011). The ACS accreditation procedures assumes a conventional undergraduate coursework university program which has mandatory topics. There are difficulties in accrediting more flexible postgraduate programs, such as Masters (discussed in detail later).

Body of Knowledge and Philosophy for the Design of Programs of Study

The ACS publishes a Body of Knowledge or “BoK” (ACS 2012c). The BoK does cover traditional Australian three‐year bachelor’s degrees, but also allows for “blended” degrees and encourages development of professionals. A professional is considered to:

The ACS view of professionalism is similar to the graduate attributes claimed by many university programs and and consortia (discussed previously). However, unlike university programs where these attributes are mostly aspiration, the ACS requires the member to provide evidence, through formal study or experience. In this way, the ACS approach in part resembles the vocational sector's competency-based assessment approach to skills assessment.

Seoul Accord Graduate Attributes for Computer Professionals

The ACS is the Australian signatory to the 2007 Seoul Accord, which provides mutual-recognition of computing qualifications between the UK, Canada, Japan, Korea and the USA (Seoul Accord Secretariat, 2011). The Accord includes the Seoul Accord Graduate Attributes (SAGA), based on previous definitions adopted internationally for the engineering discipline. The attributes are described in terms of:

  1. 1.Academic Education, 

  2. 2.Knowledge for Solving Computing Problems, 

  3. 3.Problem Analysis, 

  4. 4.Design/ Development of Solutions, 

  5. 5.Modern Tool Usage, 

  6. 6.Individual and Team Work, 

  7. 7.Communication, 

  8. 8.Computing Professionalism and Society, 

  9. 9.Ethics, and,  

  10. 10.Life-long Learning (From Seoul Accord Secretariat, 2011) 

Many of these are common to graduate attributes defined by university programmes in the UK, USA and Australia. This is not surprising as those drafting the Seoul Accord were from academia in these countries.

International Professional Practice Partnership and ACS Certified Professional Program

The ACS is accredited by the International Professional Practice Partnership (IP3 2012) for certification of computer professionals. IP3 was founded by many of the same national computing societies as the Seoul Accord, but so far only Australia and Canada have completed the formal accreditation process. IP3 accreditation references computer professional skills definitions of the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA Foundation, 2010).

There are six areas of skills for SFIA Version 4:

  1. 1.Strategy & architecture 

  2. 2.Business chang 

  3. 3. Solution development and implementation 

  4. 4.Service management 

  5. 5.Procurement & management support 

The skills and then divided into subcategories. Also for each subcategory, there are up to seven Levels of responsibility: from the lowest Level 1: “Works under close supervision. Uses little discretion. Is expected to seek guidance in unexpected situations.” to Level 7Has authority and responsibility for all aspects of a significant area of work, including policy formation and application. Is fully accountable for actions taken and decisions made, both by self and subordinates.”.

SFIA is far more detailed than the skills definitions of the Seoul Accord, providing a level of detail which can be used for defining the responsibility's of computer professional positions and requirements for qualifications.

Recognition of Prior Learning

In addition to accreditation of university programs, the ACS also assesses the skills of applicants for migration to Australia on behalf of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (ACS 2012a). The guidelines allow for Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) for those with a with a non-computing degree or no no tertiary qualifications . Applicants without a computing degree are required to complete an eleven page ACS Project Report Form (ACS 2012b). The applicant for RPL is required to list the Areas of Knowledge claimed, Evidence of applying claimed knowledge and two project reports. In support of the process the ACS provides an Online Application Form and an Online Skills Recognition Assessment Tool. These guide the applicant through the collection of evidence and short online tests of skills.

ACS Professional Year Program

The ACS offers the Professional Year Program (ACS PYear) as a job-readiness program for overseas graduates of Australian in universities. The program is licensed by the Australian Government to help with permanent residency. The program uses face to face and online classroom courses and internship with a company.

ACS Certification Guidelines

The ACS Certification Guidelines (ACS, 2012e) define requirements for membership at two levels:  Certified Technologist (CT) and Certified Professional (CP). The CT is essentially an entry level for the profession, defined at SFIA Level 3 (“Works under general supervision ”). The usual qualification is from the vocational sector at AQF 5/6 Program in ICT from TAFE , or a vendor certification (such as Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer). The CP is the professional level defined at SFIA Level 5 (“Works under broad direction. ”) . The usual qualification is a three year university degree program in ICT, plus a combination of work experience, and postgraduate study.

ACS  Computer Professional Education Program

As well as recognise university postgraduate programs for Certified Professional (CP) status, the ACS also runs its own Computer Professional Education (CPE) Program (ACS, 2013). The CPE Program is made up of three core subjects and one elective, all provided online. The courses are similar to postgraduate university courses and is recognised for credit to Masters level business and technology programs at several Australian universities. In addition to the three core subjects, the students also document their skills with reference to SFIA , using an e-portfolio (ACS, 2013).

One of the CPE Program elective courses “Green Technology Strategies”, has been adapted for the postgraduate program of the ANU as “ICT Sustainability” (COMP7310), as well as a North American university. The development of the course has been described by the author (Worthington, 2012). The CPE Program uses a mentored and collaboration online approach to teaching and also work integrated learning. These required some adaptation for the university environment, where students may not have as much work experience, has much English language expedience or a workplace environment to apply assignments to.

In addition to skills for specific job functions, SFIA has "generic skills" defined at each revel of responsibility. Here are SFIA generic skills for enterprise architecture at Level 5:

From: Enterprise Architecture (Elective Subject), ACS Education, 2011

These generic skills use similar terminology to those for university graduate programs. Some of these skills are specifically addressed in  ACS courses on "Business, Legal and Ethical Issues", "Business, Strategy and IT" and "New Technology Alignment". More generally a Professional Practice reflective diary, recorded in an e-portfolio, is used by the student to document their learning experience.

The Australian Computer Society (ACS) offers its members free use of an on-line tools to help self assess their current skills and identify areas for improvement. This might be a good model for universities, particularly for postgraduate students and especially those undertaking research, where the program offers little structure for career development.

The ACS tool is called MySFIA with the name derived from the UK based Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA). However, the ACS should have chosen a name which does not tie it so closely to the one framework.

The MySFIA tool was produced by PSARN International. The tool guides the member through a series of steps:

  1. 1.Self-Assessment  

  2. 2.Identify Competencies  

  3. 3.Documentary Evidence  

  4. 4.Submit for Assessment  

  5. 5.Certification and Resume  

A status panel shows where the member their progress with the assessments, with the stages: Submitted for Assessment, Assessed, Self Assessments Complete and Suggested competencies completed.

At the end of the process the system helps the member identify courses to help with skills development and preparation of a resume.

MySFIA is a standalone system. For students undertaking study, it would be useful if this process was integrated with the e-portfolio system of their institution (ACS uses the Mahara e-Portfolio package). Integration with popular business social networking tools, particularly LinkedIn would also be useful (LinkedIn has an on-line resume tool).

Generalising the ACS Approach from ICT to Other Professional Areas

The ACS's approach of global standards for computer professional skills and qualifications may be directly applicable in other technically related disciplines, where global standards exist. For other disciplines with less standardisation, more work would be needed to define skills. The factor comparison method, such as implemented in the Hay Chart method systematically analyses the knowledge, skill and experience, accountability and problem-solving required for a position. While the Hay Chart method has been criticised for a mechanistic approach and possible biases, it provides on technique for categorising skills  (Uys & Johnson, 2010). The way the Hay Chart method allocated scales of responsibility and numeric codes for work descriptions resembles SFIA. There has been some discussion of mapping Hay point ranges to SFIA levels (Joshi, J., 2012-10-24).

The ACS approach of blending vocational and professional education provides a model applicable to postgraduate university programs, even where there is no direct link to a profession. This could be applied to research programs, as well as coursework programs to provide a way for the institution to demonstrate that every student acquires every skill required, without confining the student to one pre-set syllabus.

On starting a program at ANU, the student's first task would be, with the help of staff, to identify the skills they are required to be able to demonstrate by the end of their program. They will then identify how those skills can be acquired and what form of evidence will be offered to show the skills have been acquired. A template will then be created in the student's individual e-portfolio and as the student progress through their program they will fill in the template with evidence of skills acquired. At the end of their program this e-portfolio will be assessed.

Degree More Than the Sum of Coursework and Thesis

Coursework students will see little change with this proposed process, as most of what they provide as evidence will be the results of assessed courses undertaken. Similarly, for research degree candidates, their thesis will make up the bulk of evidence. However, the e-portfolio provides a way for other skills not specific to one course or research to be evidenced. In addition to assessed courses and research, short courses and extra-curricular activities can be included. These extra-curricular activities will be particularly useful for demonstrating generic skills, such as communication, teamwork and leadership.

Teaching Students to Learn

Use of techniques such as e-portfolios will require new skills of the staff and students. These skills can be acquired using online courses. Obtaining the resources to provide such courses and getting staff and student to actually do them can be difficult. It is proposed to incorporate this in a series of courses on professional skills courses, with the same courses offered to both staff and students. These courses will not be compulsory, but it can be made clear to staff that they are unlikely to be promoted and students they are unlikely to pass, if they do not take part. The emphasis will be on skills for a future workplace, be it in academia, industry or government, rather than on university studies.

Generic Graduate Attributes for Research Students an Oxymoron?

After a brief look at some of the literature on generic graduate attributes for research students, I am unable to shake off the sense that Australian universities are creating complex contradictory structures in order to avoid an obvious truth: research degrees are not a suitable form of education for most employees. A research degree provides an education in how to carry out research in a narrow specialisation. The research skills may be transferable to other areas of research and some of the background to the specialisation may be useful in employment. But apart from this, such an education will not be useful, outside a few research occupations. It should be noted that a research degree would not be suitable preparation for lecturing at a university, as universities are tending to require teaching qualifications.

Rather than address employer's requirements by designing vocational coursework programs at the graduate level, some universities appear to be using marketing dressed up as research, to make research programs appear vocationally relevant, with impressive sounding "skills".

I suggest that rather than asking what generic student attributes students might obtain as a by-product of their studies, universities need to put these at the core of programs. Teaching and testing these skills will, as some of the literature suggests, also aid student learning and research skills.

e-Portfolios to Demonstrate Generic Skills

If "generic" skills are an important part of higher degrees, then universities need to specifically train and test these skills. This does not appear a problem for coursework students, where the skills can be part of compulsory courses. However, universities appear reluctant to have any coursework, or compulsory content, in research degrees. In theory that should not be a problem, as these degrees are not intended to provide vocational skills. However, employers do not understand the distinction between coursework and research degrees and, for marketing reasons, universities do not want to educate the employers about this distinction.

The use of techniques developed for adult vocational education appear to offer a way to provide generic skills for research students, without requiring compulsory courses. With this approach, the student has a portfolio, where they place evidence of having acquired skills. Templates with standard skill sets can be provided and courses to help the students acquire the skills. At the end of their program, if these skills are mandatory, the portfolio can be submitted as part of the thesis and assessed. The employer can then examine this material when selecting employees to see which have useful skills.

However, use of ePortfolios will require staff trained in their use to help the students. Research supervisors will require extensive training and testing before they could carry out this function and they may not be the most suitable people for the task.

The Online Viva

Maxwell (2009) comments that "... the British PhD candidate must also undergo a viva voce - an oral defence of the research, whereas in Australia, an oral defence is required only for a PhD (project), not a PhD (thesis)." One reason for the lack of viva in Australia is the logistical difficulties of arranging suitably qualified examiners from interstate or overseas. One solution would be an online Viva, which could make use of real-time (synchronous) and/or non-real-time (asynchronous) communication. Apart from overcoming logistical problems, this might better reflect the global workplace the graduates will work in.


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