Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Smarter Australia: An agenda for Australian higher education 2013-2016

Universities Australia today released "A Smarter Australia: An agenda for Australian higher education 2013-2016". This 80 page document details reforms proposed for Australia's universities. There is also the more provocatively titled four page summary document "A Smarter Australia: Policy advice for an Incoming Government 2013–2016", which implies Universities Australia does not believe the current Gillard government will be reelected.

Four trends are suggested as driving change in higher education:
  1. The digital economy and technology
  2. global higher education market
  3. Asian century
  4. many countries develop and expand their own world-class capacity
Four themes are proposed
  1. Increase Australians’ university participation
  2. Develop Australia’s globally engaged university sector
  3. A powerful research and innovation system that drives economic and social progress
  4. Efficiency, investment and regulation


To herald a new era in Australian higher education, Universities Australia, the peak body for 39 Australian universities, has developed A Smarter Australia: An agenda for higher education 2013–2016. In this statement we outline the reforms required to underpin the nation’s higher education system over the next four years, with a view to longer-term changes.
A Smarter Australia responds to four trends that are driving change in Australian higher education: the emergence of the digital economy and new technology; increasing globalisation and the possibilities of the Asian century; economic and industrial restructuring as the nation responds to the resources boom; and the need to improve productivity with universities central to the >national innovation effort. This statement sets out principles and actions for responding to these drivers under four themes.

Theme 1 Increase Australians’ university participation

To increase Australians’ opportunities to attend university, universities will:
  • broaden pathways into university degrees
  • respond to student demand and national and regional employment demand
  • evaluate and adjust partnership programs that support access to university for students from low socio-economic backgrounds
  • expand flexible offerings for students
  • expand opportunities for regional students to attend university
  • adopt a whole-of-institution approach to attract and retain Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and staff.
Universities Australia recommends that the Australian Government:
  • maintain income-contingent HELP loans
  • maintain a system that enables any Australian who is capable of studying at university to do so
  • expand sub-bachelor places
  • maintain successful equity programs
  • collaborate with universities on employment and graduate skill demand
  • increase the stock of affordable student housing.

Theme 2 Develop Australia’s globally engaged university sector

To develop Australia’s globally engaged university sector, Australian universities will:
  • improve international students’ welfare and university experience
  • improve English language proficiency and opportunities for cultural exchange
  • extend student housing services
  • expand provision offshore
  • continue to globalise their curriculum
  • stimulate study abroad
  • strengthen international research links.
Universities Australia recommends that the Australian Government:
  • further refine its regulation of international education
  • broaden advice on international education to include all the industries that are substantially involved in international education
  • support international research collaboration
  • advance the 2012 APEC leaders’ declaration to enhance student mobility by providing incentives for students to complete at least part of their degree overseas and assistance to universities for outbound mobility programs.

Theme 3 A powerful research and innovation system that drives economic and social progress

To develop a powerful research and innovation system that drives economic and social progress, universities will:
  • review how best to train PhD graduates for employment in the broader economy and increase the number of international students enrolled in PhDs
  • extend and deepen collaboration and connections with the end users of research
  • expand research outreach through strategic engagement and wider access to research outputs.
Universities Australia recommends that the Australian Government:
  • adopt a long-term and sustainable research investment plan
  • increase the maximum duration of the major national competitive grants by two to three years
  • fund the integrated health research centres discussed by the McKeon review of health and medical research in Australia
  • increase support for international research collaboration
  • partner with universities to evaluate the impact of research
  • increase direct investment and incentives for investing in research establish an efficient and integrated research publications data, records and text access system.

Theme 4 Efficiency, investment and regulation

To further improve efficiency, universities will:
  • introduce external peer moderation of standards
  • integrate technologies to support teaching and enhance the student experience
  • increase philanthropic donations
  • further explore and adopt measures to enhance their operational efficiency.
Universities Australia recommends that the Australian Government:
  • appoint the Productivity Commission to review the regulatory burden placed on the university sector, with special attention to removing duplication between jurisdictions, and excluding universities from regulatory regimes where a strong public interest rationale and benefit cannot be identified
  • leave uncapped the number of undergraduate places it funds at Australian universities
  • maintain its current indexation of higher education funding and consider lifting base funding per student by 2.5 per cent each year over a five-year period
  • identify a continuing source of funds for university infrastructure
  • match philanthropic donations
  • negotiate intakes into graduate programs in institutional compacts.

Expand flexible offerings

Australian universities are using new information and communication technologies to make higher education more flexible, more accessible and more productive. Many universities are offering programs online, with or without entry requirements, through their own platforms, some by participation in Open Universities Australia or through massive open online courses. As online learning expands it will transform higher education by developing new pedagogies, by making study accessible anywhere at any time, and by introducing new business models. Universities will expand their online and other flexible offerings and will establish more paths for students to move from open and flexible courses to degree courses that can be completed either fully online or in combination with distance and/or campus study. ...

Open access to research

... Australian universities have repositories of their research publications that are open to any person in the world with access to the internet; however, only about 30 per cent of publications are recorded in institutions’ digital repositories and full text is currently available for many fewer publications. The National Health and Medical Research Council and the Australian Research Council now require any publication arising from research to which they contribute funding to be freely accessible to the public within 12 months of publication.

Universities Australia believes that there is enormous public benefit in increasing access to the outcomes of all research, especially research that has been publicly funded. There are a number of logistical, practical and commercial issues that need to be addressed to achieve this goal and Universities Australia, with the support of government, is committed to making Australia’s high-quality research output freely accessible to all. ...

From: "A Smarter Australia: An agenda for Australian higher education 2013-2016", Universities Australia today released , 27 February 2013

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