Releasing its “Priority Directions” document for the next Government, the Group of Eight Universities (Go8) warns that any innovation agenda will fail without robust policy settings that prioritise universities in line with Australia’s innovative competitor nations such as Canada, the US, the UK, Europe and Singapore.
“The Go8 totally understands the fiscal constraints of an incoming Government. We don’t argue that. What we do argue is priorities, said Go8 Chief Executive, Vicki Thomson. “Put simply you cannot advance to a knowledge economy with innovation at its core, without ensuring that where most of that required innovation occurs our university sector – is equipped to deliver.
“The next wave of reform must set the university sector on a long-term sustainable course. “The ‘Priority Directions’ released today identifies the actions required if Australia is to have a university sector underpinned by a strong research system and a high quality and efficient teaching and learning system. This, after all, is what delivers us innovation and the quality graduates who then assist deliver us our future economic strength.”
The priorities identified by the Go8 as critical for an incoming Government include:
- Addressing the current distorted funding model by increasing investment in research. Current settings uphold perverse outcomes, such as having to cross-subsidise a large portion of essential research from teaching funds. This cross-subsidisation includes supporting critical public research for the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and the Australian Research Council (ARC). It has also created an over-reliance on international student income to ‘make ends meet’.
- Moderating the Demand Driven System (DDS). The DDS in its current form has successfully increased participation in Australia’s university system. However, it is not sustainable in the long term, has been inefficient in delivering equity of access, does not address sub-bachelor or postgraduate coursework and more broadly lacks a holistic vision for the entire tertiary sector. It is time to move to build a new model – better supporting opportunity, student choice and diversity across the tertiary education sector. At its heart this must provide access and equity for all who are capable, while maintaining quality. In order to achieve this, sub bachelor and post graduate courses should also be incorporated in the DDS to ensure incentives for choice of study are not skewed.
- Targeted and effective support for low SES and Indigenous students to attend university. The DDS was one key policy lever to help achieve the target of 20% of low SES students enrolled in higher education by 2020 and that we moved toward parity for Indigenous enrolment (a target of 3 percent of students). This has not occurred and must be addressed. A targeted package for such students which includes a focus on living support costs is critical. Funding for the HEPP program and for a full Indigenous funding program should be restored to assist universities with targeted equity and access programs. Importantly there should be no upfront financial barriers to higher education, including student living costs.
- Addressing the current lack of transparency regarding the resourcing of teaching in our universities and other higher education providers. The allocation of teaching funds has its roots in policy developed nearly three decades ago. Establishing a resourcing framework, negotiated and agreed between government and the higher education sector, would enable policy settings that incorporate a mix of public subsidies and student payments and that enable institutions to develop a mix of offerings drawing on their distinctive strengths.
- Establishing an independent expert advisory body on Higher Education for government. Recent history has evidenced the complexity of Higher Education reform. The Group of Eight welcomes the current bipartisan political support for some form of independent advisory body on Higher Education and agrees that there is merit in its establishment.
The Go8 has provided its “Priority Positions” to the Government and Opposition.
Media contact: Go8 Chief Executive Vicki Thomson 0417 808 472
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