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Aus: sector to knuckle down on gov’t report

Universities Australia has welcomed the Universities Accord interim report, saying it "underscores the importance" of tertiary education in building a stronger Australia.
July 19 2023
3 Min Read

Australia’s peak higher education body has welcomed the government’s Universities Accord interim report, saying the “detail, depth and quality of the work underscores the importance of the tertiary education system in building a stronger Australia”.

Universities Australia said the document, released on July 19, “makes clear” that universities are “essential to Australia’s progress and success in delivering the skills and knowledge that fuels our economic and social firepower”.

The government is undertaking the biggest review of the country’s university sector for the first time since the Bradley review in 2008.

Chief executive Catriona Jackson welcomed the five immediate actions in the report, which will uncap places for all Indigenous students, remove barriers for students from underrepresented backgrounds and extend the Higher Education Continuity Guarantee.

Extending the support relief introduced during Covid-19 is “a vital step toward providing the funding certainty that our institutions need to continue doing their job for the nation”, she said.

Many of the points related to international students come in the second “more exploratory part” of the report, with Universities Australia chair David Lloyd noting that the body “look[s] forward to undertaking appropriate and thorough interrogation of the considerations contained within the report as they evolve towards firmer recommendations”.

The Group of Eight of research-intensive universities hailed the Accord as “a once in a generation opportunity” to shape Australia’s higher education ecosystem.

However, it warned that a levy on international student fees suggested in the interim report could risk undermining Australia’s “hard-won and enduring successes in areas such as our global strength in international education”.

Independent Higher Education Australia, like Go8, said it would be opposed to a levy on income derived from international students.

“Such a measure would impose significant burdens on higher education providers already facing a demanding competitive environment. The imposition of such a levy would make Australia less competitive against our international rivals,” IHEA CEO Peter Hendy said.

“The imposition of such a levy would make Australia less competitive against our international rivals”

The Accord process must not have “unintended consequences” that impacts the country’s international reputation for delivering world-class education, Go8 added.

It noted however that suggestions to create a sustainable research environment aligns with its submission to the Universities Accord.

The organisation will continue to advocate for research funding and a bipartisan national research strategy to give universities “certainty in research and research infrastructure investments, boost our global reputation for research excellence and help Australia retain and attract the world’s best and brightest”, Go8 added.

However, the Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia said the reform outlined in the interim report “doesn’t put students at the heart of the higher education system”.

“ITECA’s priority is to ensure that student choice is at the centre of higher education funding, allowing a student to access a government-supported place quality institution of their choice,” said Troy Williams, ITECA chief executive.

“This would see a significant expansion of the funding system to allow most students to study with independent higher education institutions if that was their decision.”

The report makes some positive steps in regards to creating a “more cohesive tertiary education framework in which the higher education and skills training systems operate as one but retain their separate strengths and identities”, ITECA acknowledged.

“[However] the Australian Universities Accord needs to recognise the complementarity of independent and public higher education providers, with a refreshed name – a higher education accord – and fresh policy approaches that are agnostic as to provider type,” Williams added.

IHEA supports the five immediate considerations in the report in principle, and said the measures align with IHEA’s mission of enhancing the higher education sector.

The Australian Universities Accord Panel has a large amount of work to do prior to the final report due in December, IHEA added, and that it “will continue to work closely with review process”.

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