Go with the al­go­rithm: Pear­son work­ing to de­velop AI tool to mark es­says

THE (Times Higher Education) - - CONTENTS - John.ross@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­tion.com

Univer­sity sys­tems across the world should follow Aus­tralia’s lead in adopt­ing a sec­tor-wide po­si­tion on re­la­tion­ships be­tween staff and stu­dents, cam­paign­ers say.

Ear­lier this week, four Aus­tralian rep­re­sen­ta­tive bodies adopted guid­ance stat­ing that re­la­tion­ships be­tween aca­demics and re­search stu­dents were “never ap­pro­pri­ate” and that, when they oc­cur, su­per­vi­sory ar­range­ments should be sev­ered.

Tif­fany Page, co-founder of The 1752 Group, which cam­paigns against staff-to-stu­dent sex­ual mis­con­duct in Bri­tish higher ed­u­ca­tion, ar­gued that the UK should follow suit.

Dr Page, a lec­turer in so­ci­ol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Cam­bridge, said that only one-third of UK uni­ver­si­ties had poli­cies on staff-stu­dent re­la­tion­ships, and their pro­vi­sions – in­clud­ing dis­clo­sure re­quire­ments and dis­ci­plinary pro­ce­dures – var­ied greatly.

“Hav­ing sec­tor-wide prin­ci­ples or reg­u­la­tions to guide the post­grad­u­ate-su­per­vi­sor re­la­tion­ship is a huge step for­ward,” she said.

Uni­ver­si­ties Aus­tralia, a co-sig­na­tory to the Aus­tralian guid­ance, said that the move to re­al­lo­cate re­search stu­dents who en­ter into a re­la­tion­ship with their su­per­vi­sors was de­signed to ben­e­fit both par­ties, as well as other stu­dents over­seen by the same aca­demic. “Per­cep­tions of bias or favourable treat­ment might crop up,” said chief ex­ec­u­tive Ca­tri­ona Jack­son.

“It’s just bet­ter to have a stan­dard pro­ce­dure where the su­per­vi­sor gets re­moved, an­other su­per­vi­sor is found and that nexus is bro­ken.”

Dr Page said that re­la­tion­ships be­tween stu­dents and su­per­vi­sory staff should be “strongly dis­cour­aged” from the out­set, to avoid the dis­rup­tion of chang­ing su­per­vi­sors.

The Aus­tralian guide­lines ap­ply only to post­grad­u­ates, who can spend long stretches work­ing closely with su­per­vi­sors.

But Dr Page said that the UK should go fur­ther, ad­vo­cat­ing the set­ting of pro­fes­sional bound­aries such as those in med­i­cal and ther­apy set­tings, and sug­gest­ing that they could also ap­ply at un­der­grad­u­ate level. “There is a need for a sec­tor-wide dis­cus­sion in dif­fer­ent coun­tries on whether an out­right ban is ap­pro­pri­ate for all staff-tostu­dent re­la­tion­ships,” she said.

The Aus­tralian guide­lines were re­leased on the an­niver­sary of a landmark re­port into sex­ual ha­rass­ment and as­sault on cam­pus. They say that the “un­equal power dy­namic” in re­search de­grees can leave stu­dents vul­ner­a­ble to ex­ploita­tion, af­fect­ing their ca­pac­ity to “con­sent freely” to sex or re­la­tion­ships.

“A stu­dent’s aca­demic progress must never de­pend on con­sent­ing to a sex­ual re­la­tion­ship with [a] mem­ber of staff,” the doc­u­ment stresses.

Ms Jack­son noted that in par­tic­u­larly spe­cial­ist sub­jects, find­ing an al­ter­na­tive su­per­vi­sor could be “quite a com­pli­cated task”.

“It’s the univer­sity’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to find that al­ter­na­tive su­per­vi­sor, not the stu­dent’s,” she said. “The last thing we want to do is make things more com­pli­cated for stu­dents.”

The doc­u­ment sug­gests that uni­ver­si­ties can man­age the prob­lem proac­tively by es­tab­lish­ing co­su­per­vi­sory ar­range­ments from the

out­set. The Council of Aus­tralian Post­grad­u­ate As­so­ci­a­tions (Capa), which co-au­thored the guide­lines, said that uni­ver­si­ties should en­sure that all re­search stu­dents had mul­ti­ple su­per­vi­sors “so that their re­search project is not jeop­ar­dised in the event that one su­per­vi­sor needs to be re­moved”.

This is a moot point in Aus­tralia, where the Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Stan­dards Frame­work al­ready man­dates at least two su­per­vi­sors for ev­ery re­search stu­dent. The Aus­tralian Council of Grad­u­ate Re­search said that co-su­per­vi­sion or su­per­vi­sory pan­els were also stan­dard prac­tice in the UK and US.

Capa pres­i­dent Natasha Abra­hams said that in niche ar­eas, co­su­per­vi­sors could be drafted from other in­sti­tu­tions. “Peo­ple’s re­search projects are some­times so con­cen­trated that you need ex­per­tise not avail­able at your univer­sity.”

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