University vice-chancellors in Australia have rejected a government plan that would require their students to sit a graduate skills assessment test and publish the results. The GSA test is intended to measure widely-applicable skills thought to be relevant when graduates enter the workforce. The test covers critical thinking, problem solving, 'interpersonal understandings' and written communication via 70 multiple-choice questions and a separate 60-minute section of two writing tasks. Although the test was intended to assist universities better prepare their graduates for work, few students sit for it and the Australian Vice-chancellors' Committee said they should not be forced to. But Education Minister Dr Brendan Nelson claimed employers were increasingly critical of new graduates who could not function effectively when they started work. One investigation into employer satisfaction with graduates entering the labour market found an astonishingly large proportion of graduates - more than three in every four - were considered unsuitable by employers even for other positions within the organisation. The level of unsuitable applicants was found to be highest for large businesses and a report of the survey noted: 'Given the larger businesses also received the largest number of applicants, they must be spending a great deal more time and effort in screening and selection of suitable candidates.' Dr Nelson has set up a A$251 million (HK$1.38 billion) scheme to improve university teaching and learning. He wants the GSA test to be one of the measures used to decide how much of the money individual universities should receive. But vice-chancellors see Dr Nelson's attempt to persuade them, with the implied threat they could lose out on grants, as a further attack on their autonomy. AVCC president Professor Di Yerbury said vice-chancellors were not against skills testing but they were against 'the continued threat to the autonomy of universities through over-regulation'. Professor Yerbury said that since the first trials of the GSA test, various universities had willingly tried it out with their students and had found very few were interested. Students were adults who did not need to be forced to sit tests they believed did not add to their university degrees, she said. 'If the demand from students builds, universities remain willing to organise the GSA tests,' she said. 'However, imposing such a test on students, or universities, is not the way to proceed. Nor is such increased intrusion in accordance with the Minister's declared wish to decrease regulation.' The real issue was how to assess learning and teaching excellence, she said. The AVCC proposed to identify 'five or six key aspects of excellence of learning and teaching and assess each one'. Professor Yerbury said this would provide a serious assessment of each institution and be capable of recognising the varying and often distinctive strengths. AVCC executive director John Mullarvey said that if business started to use the GSA test as a means of discriminating between applicants for jobs, students would then want to take the test and universities would make it available. 'We don't believe, given that 500 out of 600,000 students undertake it, that it is a suitable discriminator to determine the allocation of A$251 million for teaching and learning,' Mr Mullarvey said.