CLOSE to 1000 teachers at Australia's top university are being told to make their students happy at the expense of confronting their fledgling thinkers with rigorous lessons, says the union representing lecturers.
Teachers at the Australian National University now need to explain themselves if too many students are not pleased with them and colleges must argue why courses with student satisfaction rates less than 50 per cent should be kept.
Students have for years been asked to fill out satisfaction surveys at the end of each semester. But the university's education committee earlier this year decided to assign them greater importance by strongly linking them to teachers' performance reviews.
In the past fortnight, numerous teachers have been asked to explain why students have given them poor marks for the first semester.
Since then the union has received dozens of complaints from members, according to the ACT secretary of the National Tertiary Education Union, Stephen Darwin.
One teacher who emailed the union said: ''I feel under pressure to lower standards and make the student experience more comfortable so I don't end up before the Head of School to explain myself.''
Another educator was concerned ANU management was threatening to close courses based simply on highly subjective student opinion.
The university's Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic), Professor Marnie Hughes-Warrington, said management looked forward to the staff union taking up one of two invitations to talk about any concerns.
''The university uses a range of evidence to guarantee the quality of the education we deliver to students,'' she said.
''ANU has the highest student satisfaction, at 84 per cent, and is ranked top in teaching quality in the Group of Eight universities.''
Mr Darwin said only 20 per cent to 30 per cent of students filled out the surveys.
He said these students tended to be the angriest, probably because they had received bad marks or were confronted by teaching that challenged them.
More students seemed to complain about first-year economics and business courses which had large class sizes and lots of statistics and sometimes students complained who needed to realise they were not suited to studying the subject.
The union sees the greater importance now placed on student satisfaction as a continuation of Vice-Chancellor Ian Young's moves to use metrics to run the university.
''This is the first time at this university that student opinion has been the basis of determining what is quality education,'' Mr Darwin said.