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Australian gov’t to review HE in long-term plan

The government of Australia has announced a ‘Universities Accord’ designed to build a long-term plan for the country’s higher education system.

Photo: iStock

The final report is due in December 2023

Minister for Education Jason Clare noted it is the “first broad review” of the system since the Bradley Review in 2008. The Accord is “an opportunity to look at everything from funding and access, to affordability, transparency, regulation, employment conditions and how higher education and vocational education and training can and should work together”, he said.

A team representing a mix of STEM and humanities experts from cities and regions across the country will cooperate to advise, with students, staff, business and industry groups, peak bodies, and other experts involved.

Clare has previously spoken of the “chance to do things differently” since the Albanese government was elected in May.

An interim report will be provided to the government in June next year with the final report due in December 2023.

Relating specifically to international students, the panel will review the quality and sustainability of the sector.

It will examine the challenges faced by domestic and international students and staff due to the pandemic, including the temporary and permanent impacts, and has pledged to support a competitive and resilient international education sector.

Doing so reflects “the important role international students play in our society and economy, and Australia’s interest in deepening partnerships abroad”, government said.

Australia’s parliament also launched an inquiry to examine the country’s international education recovery in October.

Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson said the Albanese government’s Universities Accord is “our best chance” to make the Australian higher education sector “even stronger”.

Jackson pointed to the need for university-led research and development, skilled job shortages requiring university degrees.

“Getting the policy settings right will support universities in these important endeavours, and to thrive. The Accord is our chance to do this,” she said.

Stakeholders also congratulated those appointed to the six-member panel, including Mary O’Kane, Barney Glover, Shemara Wikramanayake, Jenny Macklin, Larissa Behrendt, and Fiona Nash.

“This is an enormously talented and experienced group which brings the required breadth and depth of expertise to the task at hand. We look forward to working closely with them,” Jackson said.

“What we need is a contest of innovative ideas to ensure we have the right policy framework so Australia can prosper in the future,” Group of Eight chief executive Vicki Thomson added.

“The Accord provides a window to reframe Australia’s higher education sector and lift the bar. And if we miss this opportunity the repercussions will not be just to the sector, but to all of Australia.

“While we need a long-term sustainable plan for Australia’s university sector to lay the necessary groundwork for future generations and future success, there are some quick fix options that will deliver immediate wins for the higher education sector,” she added.

The previous government’s Job-ready Graduates package “has acted as an impediment to skills creation particularly in relation to STEM courses, such as engineering and IT, which are already experiencing critical shortages”, Thomson noted.

“Sensible and equitable reforms will have immediate benefit”

Independent Higher Education Australia seeks a combination of immediate and longer-term changes to higher education policy settings to address current needs and educate the workforce of the future,” said CEO, Peter Hendy.

“Sensible and equitable reforms will have immediate benefit to the Australian community and economy, whilst also energising the sector to deliver for future generations.

“The Universities Accord is a great opportunity to harness the enormous capability of Australian independent higher education.

“IHEA looks forward to working closely with the government and the Universities Accord panel to review Australia’s higher education system and examine themes for sector reform.”

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