Published on May 14th, 20121
SuperTAFE: A Pretentious Prejudice or Credible Criticism?
By Matteo Gagliardi
I’m sure you’ve all had friends from other universities joke that UniSA should be renamed “SuperTAFE”, effectively consigning it to an educational status beneath university. I’m not saying that TAFE is in any way beneath university, but certainly that’s what is intended by the pejorative label your friends use to ridicule your university.
But what would such friends say if they were asked: “Why do you call UniSA SuperTAFE?”
At first, they might snigger arrogantly and say something along the lines of “UniSA is consistently ranked the lowest out of the three SA universities.”
Of course, they would be right. But this is rapidly changing, as Matthew Walton, UniLife’s Representative for Post-Graduate Students, explained.
“UniSA’s dominance of the local and international student market is part symptom and cause of its rapid rise up the world university rankings – a rise that’s been faster than any other Australian university as of late,” Walton told UniLife Magazine.
UniSA’s jump of 25 places up the QS World University Rankings to 256th last year was the largest recorded among Australian institutions, and took it above Flinders Uni’s position at 299 (after dropping 48 places incidentally).
UniSA was, however, still overshadowed by Adelaide Uni, which placed 92nd.
Nevertheless, this rise is an indication that UniSA is emerging and competing well with other universities internationally.
At that, your friends from Adelaide may scoff, “Well UniSA, like TAFE, allows entry to almost anyone.”
Sure enough, a quick look over the SATAC website shows that entry scores for undergraduate programs at UniSA appear generally lower than those of the other two universities.
UniSA also has by far the largest number of students in SA. The SA Government’s MyUniversity website shows that UniSA has 35,940 students compared to Adelaide Uni’s 23,917 and Flinders’ 18,435.
But does this mean UniSA is the easiest to get into? Matthew Walton doesn’t think so.
“The reality is that UniSA is the university of choice for both local and international students, with about as many enrolments as Adelaide and Flinders combined,” he said.
“I think the fact that more students choose to study here is because there are a number of fields in which UniSA clearly outperforms its competition.”
These statements are at odds with student demand ratings given by the Good Uni Guide, though; while UniSA scored well with four stars, it came second to Adelaide with a score of five (Flinders received just 2).
They would also be at odds with another of your Adelaide or Flinders Uni student friend’s assertions that the quality of study and academia at UniSA is generally lower as well.
Walton is living proof that this isn’t exactly accurate. He switched to UniSA after spending years at Adelaide Uni, following better prospects.
“I did my undergrad at Adelaide, but chose to do my Master of Business Administration (MBA) at UniSA because it’s widely regarded as the best in the state.”
UniSA’s MBA program was rated five stars by the Graduate Management Association of Australia, and its Division of Business is accredited by the European Quality Improvement System. Neither Adelaide nor Flinders Unis can claim that about their MBA programs or Divisions of Business.
There are other fields in which UniSA is considered to compete favourably with its rivals. These include Accounting, Architecture, Communications and Media, Computing and IT, and various medicinal and social sciences.
“But these fields aren’t exactly prestigious academic fields,” your friends may say. They’d point out that when it comes to serious academia, UniSA fares worse than the others. They could, for example, argue that UniSA’s research program is lagging behind its fellow unis.
Pauline Mooney, Executive Director of the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI), strongly opposes this stigma.
“In SA, UniSA’s ERA ranking is second only to Adelaide Uni, (and) it is the youngest and most rapidly developing of our state-based universities,” she said.
“The ERA ranking is based on performance and international benchmarks; clearly UniSA’s performance in the last ERA round disproves the hypothesis that (there is a negative perception of UniSA).”
Indeed, the outcome of the first round of the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA), released last year, shows a respectable 70 per cent of UniSA’s evaluated research is world-class. Although dwarfed by Adelaide Uni’s score of 86 per cent, these figures suggest UniSA is good enough to be considered a reputable university when it comes to research standards.
For those UniSA students overwhelmed by their friends’ scorns, remember they are merely pretentious, unjustifiable digs by snobs from rival universities.
UniSA does trail behind Adelaide in reputation, but it is budding and competes well, both locally and internationally, refuting the insinuation of it being a “SuperTAFE”.
Besides, MyUniversity also shows that, despite popular belief, ‘prestige’ doesn’t exactly amount to much in the work-force. More UniSA graduates end up with full-time employment than those of Adelaide or Flinders, with 77.3 per cent compared to 74.5 per cent and 74.7 per cent respectively.
So when you’re confronted by an Adelaide or Flinders Uni student calling UniSA “SuperTAFE”, Matthew Walton has some words of advice for you:
“Make sure you know what your school of faculty does better than the other universities and then promote that strength.
“That way if someone arrogantly challenges the quality of your education you’ll be armed with the facts when you launch your (spirited) rebuttal.”