Universities Australia, an organization representing public universities throughout Australia, has called for major public funding for education after releasing a blueprint for redesigning the country’s higher education policy.
Australia’s public spending on education is near the bottom of competitive international measures, and the organization’s chair Professor Barney Glover has called greater investment in education ‘pivotal’.
Glover spoke at the National Press Club where he presented the UA blueprint. In order to keep Australia competitive, 3.8 million new skilled graduates must enter the county’s workforce in the next 10 years, he said.
The pre-election blueprint by UA calls for major research and innovation investments. As Glover pointed out, Australia is the only OECD member without a national research and innovation plan. The country is 17th on the 2015 Global Innovation Index and ranked 29th out of 30 OECD countries in terms of business-university collaboration.
Glover’s speech identified the prioritization of public funding in education as a way of strengthening economic growth and boosting innovation. Glover said that Australian universities are in a “funding limbo … without a structural and strategic vision for the coming decades,” a detrimental realization for their future and the future of the country at large.
Glover, who is also vice-chancellor at Western Sydney University, warned that urgent action is needed:
“[W]e must invest properly in research, innovation, skills and critically in research infrastructure. We face a stark choice. We either make this investment or we irreparably fall behind those that do.”
Education Minister Simon Birmingham expressed his eagerness to consider new ideas on how to revamp the higher education system. Among the proposals set out in the blueprint by the UA include a tech and innovation program that will directly link universities with companies, a “Student Innovation Fund’ that will support and strengthen student entrepreneurship, more funding for international research collaboration, and a premium tax concession rate for companies doing R&D with universities.
Glover cited in his speech a Deloitte Access Economics research study that shows higher education boosts the country’s productive capacity by $140 billion. Glover revealed the eight pillars of the re-imagined university policy including quality, ‘sufficient, stable and predictable’ resourcing, accessibility and affordability.
Although Glover did not make any comments about fee deregulation, he said of universities:
“[They] should be autonomous, self-accrediting institutions with responsibility for their own affairs”.
Previously, Glover commented that student fee deregulation is essential to achieving a high quality higher education system. In 2014, UA supported government plans to remove limits on student fees as a way of ensuring stable, long term funding for universities. The body characterized fee deregulation as “the logical next step in the evolution of higher education,” but now UA has begun to steer debate away from the issue.