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Rethinking teaching excellence in Australian higher education

Trudi Cooper (Edith Cowan University, Joondalup, Australia)

International Journal of Comparative Education and Development

ISSN: 2396-7404

Article publication date: 7 January 2019

Issue publication date: 3 May 2019




The purpose of this paper is to explore: why the concept of teaching excellence has been uncritically accepted into the lexicon of university management; and how it has been used to co-opt university teaching staff into supporting the myth that teaching quality can be maintained as financial support for teaching has declined.


This paper is conceptual and analytical rather than empirical and a critical management perspective is adopted.


Per capita funding of university teaching has declined steadily. The concept of teaching excellence has been used to distract attention away from discussions about funding and the conditions required to promote good teaching in universities. The construction of teaching excellence as an attribute of individual teachers has co-opted university teachers into supporting the illusion that teaching quality can be maintained, despite falling organisational support and decreased funding.

Research limitations/implications

Teaching in universities can only be improved through changes to the management approach and maintenance of per capita funding, and ultimately democratisation of universities. This will require changes to the regulatory framework, and national policy.

Practical implications

The author concludes that teaching excellence is unhelpful as a concept. Instead the focus of discussion needs to return to ensuring that the necessary conditions for responsive teaching are in place.

Social implications

Democratise the workplace and management methods; adopt matrix management structures; Rebalance to focus on social benefit and public good.


This paper uncovers tensions, contradictions and missing elements in current policy and concludes with suggestions for change.



The author would like to thank Dr Miriam Rose Brooker for her assistance and helpful comments.


Cooper, T. (2019), "Rethinking teaching excellence in Australian higher education", International Journal of Comparative Education and Development, Vol. 21 No. 2, pp. 83-98.



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