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University truth


I write in reply to Neil Ormerod's article Future Bites for Theological Colleges as I wish to correct some factual inaccuracies in the article.

On 30 August 2010, the Melbourne College of Divinity (MCD) submitted an application to the Victorian Regulations and Qualifications Authority (VRQA) to become a 'university of specialisation'. Prior to submitting the Application, the governing Council of the MCD convened a Summit on November 18, 2006, to consider the possibility of becoming a Specialised University.

The Summit drew together 70 people internal to the MCD as well as experts in the field of Higher Education and a broad range of representatives from the University sector. A second Summit was convened on 6 December 2008, to progress the consultation and move it toward a recommendation. On 28 August 2009, the MCD Council unanimously decided to apply for specialised university status.

It did so following rigorous assessments by its academic board, academic audit committee, Finance and investment committee and risk management and audit committee. The College also employed an external risk consultant to undertake a comprehensive organisational risk profile of the College which was presented to Council in June 2009.

In preparing the application, the MCD engaged the services of two higher education advisors from Philips KPA, a company which specialises in the provision of consultancy services to the education industry. All the heads of the constituent churches and religious orders of MCD colleges were consulted and all gave the application their unreserved support.

The four year process that lead up to the submission of the application (which consisted of 1000 pages, hard copy, and in CD ROM) was thorough, comprehensive, consultative and detailed. It was by no means 'an act of faith'.

VRQA assessed the application against sections D, D7 and D8.8 of the National Protocols for Higher Education Approval Processes and sections 16.1 to 16.11 and 18 of the National Guidelines for Higher Education Approval Processes: Guidelines for establishing Australian Universities, and agreed that the application should proceed.

VRQA then appointed an expert assessment panel to examine the MCD application. The panel consisted of a former vice chancellor of Australian Catholic University as chair, a vice chancellor of a Victorian university, a former deputy vice chancellor of a Victorian university and two senior academics in the field of specialisation from a NSW university and a Victorian university.

The panel conducted a three day site visit of the MCD on 25–27 May 2011. This involved conducting 11 group sessions on 25 and 27 May, and a site visit of each of the eight MCD Melbourne based colleges and one specialised institution on 26 May. The panel conducted a site visit of Australian Lutheran College in Adelaide on 16 June.

In all, 196 MCD office holders, and internal and external council, board and committee members, faculty and students were interviewed, as well as the chairs of the governing boards of the constituent colleges and the institute.

The panel's draft report was submitted to the MCD to check for accuracy of detail. Following the MCD response to the draft report, and taking into consideration the submissions made in the public consultation process, the assessment panel submitted the report to VRQA.

On Thursday 25 August, the VRQA board approved the MCD to become a specialised university, with no conditions attached, but subject to ratification by the Victorian Parliament. The approval to operate as a specialised university was for an initial period of five years, the limit by which VRQA was permitted to award specialised university status under the Education and Training and Reform Act 2006 Section 4.3.30 (6) (Approval of Universities).

A senior representative of VRQA stated that the MCD 'had passed with flying colours an incredibly rigorous and robust test under the National Protocols and National Guidelines, which included a Peer Review exercise conducted by an Assessment Panel of Vice-Chancellor level university administrators and scholars in the field of specialisation'.

Ormerod's comment that this was the 'last hurrah of VRQA' is without foundation. The assessment process, outlined in detail on page five of the National Guidelines, was adhered to assiduously by a State Regulations and Qualifications Authority which aimed to set the benchmark high for any agency charged in future with the establishment of 'universities of specialisation'. VRQA succeeded admirably in achieving this goal, and deserves both recognition and congratulations for doing so.

In regard to the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA), the MCD looks forward to participating in future reviews of its operations in the expectation that they will be as incisive, informative and supportive of the MCD as the one undertaken by VRQA.

The MCD is the sixth oldest self-accrediting higher education institution in the nation, with a century-long history of academic excellence in the offering of degrees and diplomas in divinity and associated disciplines, a research culture which has been rated 'at world standard' by the 2010 Excellence in Research for Australia exercise and a robust federated model of governance and ecumenical cooperation which the VRQA assessment panel described as one of the MCD's greatest strengths which should be preserved at all costs.

With such a resounding endorsement by an external assessor of its history, structures and scholarship, the MCD under its new title, MCD University of Divinity looks forward to its second century of existence with a great deal of anticipation.

The MCD is well aware that, while it may be the first university of specialisation to be approved in Australia, it will certainly not be the last, and considers that this development will present to both comprehensive and specialised universities the opportunity to engage with each other for their mutual benefit. The MCD welcomes the opportunity to participate fully in such engagement in open and honest discussions, free of hyperbole and full of goodwill. 

Paul BeirneProfessor Paul Beirne is
Dean and CEO of Melbourne College of Divinity.

Topic tags: Paul Beirne, Melbourne College of Divinity, Education



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Existing comments

Is Paul Beirne super-sensitive, or am I missing something in Neil Omerod's article? Surely Omerod's use of the phrases 'act of faith' and 'last hurrah' weren't enough to attract this response. Was it then his suggestion that the TEQSA might prove a tougher taskmaster, 'a very different beast', than the VRQA and AUQA? Or was it his observation that 'member colleges are beholden to church constituencies which can make decisions regardless of the wishes of the colleges themselves', a point that Beirne has not addressed in his response?

Ginnger Meggs | 16 September 2011  

Yes, I had the same thought. There was nothing so insulting or provocative in Ormerod's article to warrant a response or a defence at all. MCD University of Divinity need to remember they're in the big sandpit now. People will say things about you. Some will sting. Much won't even be true. Just ask ACU. Three deep breaths from now on before you reach for the defensive quill Dean.

Pat Howard | 21 September 2011  

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