On 13 March 2008 the Minister for Education, Julia Gillard, announced a major Review of Australian Higher Education led by Professor Denise Bradley, the former Vice Chancellor of the University of South Australia.
The final Report, released by the Minister on 17 December 2008, identifies a number of structural, organisational and financial challenges facing Australia’s higher education sector, and provides 46 recommendations for reform. The Government will consider the recommendations and respond to the report in early 2009.
Aspects to consider about Australia’s higher education system:
|Australia has 37 public universities, two private universities and around 150 other providers of higher education.|
|The public universities derive significant proportions of their income from non-government sources and some private providers receive government subsidies.|
|29% of Australia’s 25-34 year olds have degree-level qualifications compared with targets of around 50% in other OECD countries.|
|By 2010 the supply of people with undergraduate qualifications will not keep up with demand.|
|Indigenous Australians, people with low-socio economic status and those from regional and remote areas are under-represented within the higher education system.|
|Provision of higher education in regional areas is made complicated by factors such as distance, transport and critical mass, and is exacerbated by decreases in the 15-24 year old age group.|
|Full-time students straight from school studying on campus now make up a small proportion of the total university student population in many institutions.|
|The quality of higher education is considered to be declining due to a number of factors, including out-dated national quality control mechanisms and high student to staff ratios.|
|25% of Australia’s higher education students are from other countries and are concentrated in a relatively narrow range of subject fields.|
|Australia is the only OECD country where the public contribution to higher education remained at the same level in 2005 as it had been in 1995. This has been considered by many commentators as an under-investment by government over that period.|
The Report emphasises that the quality and performance of a nation’s higher education system is critical to its standard of living and its economic and social progress, as well as underpinning legal, economic, social and cultural institutions. The report suggests that it is crucial for Australia to have a highly skilled workforce to meet future challenges in an increasingly globalised world.
The Report contains a number of significant reforms, in total costing over $5.7billion over four years (including $1.8 billion over four years for base funding for teaching, $1.14 billion in indexation and $1.2 billion for research and infrastructure). It proposes a more deregulated funding arrangement where universities may enrol as many students as they want and introducing a voucher-style system where subsidies ‘follow’ students to the university they choose, rather than being set according to universities’ historical student numbers.
Some of the key recommendations include:
- Setting a national target of at least 40% of 25-to-30-year-olds having attained a qualification at a bachelor level or able by 2020 (Recommendation 2).
- Setting a national target that 20% of higher education enrolments at undergraduate level are people from low socio-economic status backgrounds by 2020 (Recommendation 3).
- Introducing a number of changes to the student income support system (Recommendation 5), such as:
- increasing the Parental Income Test threshold to $42,559;
- increasing the personal income threshold for Youth Allowance and Austudy to $400 per fortnight;
- reducing the age of independence for Austudy eligibility from 25 to 22 years; and
- removing the workforce participation criteria for independence status.
- Increasing the total funding allocation for the Research Infrastructure Block grants program by about $300 million per year (Recommendation 8).
- Increasing the value of Australian Postgraduate Awards to $25,000 per year and increasing the length of support to four years to provide greater incentives for high-achieving graduates to consider a research career (Recommendation 10).
- That the Government commission a study to examine the feasibility of a new national university for regional areas and if it is found to be feasible, provide funding for its establishment and operation (Recommendation 17).
- Providing up to 1,000 tuition subsidy scholarships per year for international students in higher degree y research programs targeted to areas of skills shortage.
- Increasing the base funding for teaching and learning in higher education by 10% from 2010 (Recommendation 26).
- Introducing a demand-driven entitlement system for domestic higher education students, in which recognised providers are free to enrol as many eligible students as they wish in eligible higher education courses and receive corresponding government subsidies for those students. This arrangement would apply initially to undergraduate courses and for public universities but would be extended to postgraduate coursework level courses and other providers when new regulatory arrangements are in place. There would be no time or dollar limit on the value of the entitlement (Recommendation 29).
- Increasing funding to improve access and participation of under-represented groups of students to a level equivalent to 4% of the total grants for teaching. Also funding for the Disability Support Program would be increased to $20 million per year (Recommendation 31).
- 2.5% of the total government funding for teaching and learning for each provider to be allocated on the basis of achievement against a set of institutional performance targets which would be negotiated annually (Recommendation 32).
- Implementing an approach to tuition fees in which price caps apply for any domestic undergraduate or coursework postgraduate students for whom the provider receives a public subsidy for their course (Recommendation 34).
- Increasing the maximum student contribution amount for nursing and education units of study for students commencing from 2010 to the band 1 rate (Recommendation 36).
- Encouraging people to enrol and work in nursing and teaching by reducing HELP debts for graduates who work in those professions by $1500 per annum for each of five years (Recommendation 36).
- Increasing the loan fee for FEE-HELP for fee-paying undergraduate students to 25% (Recommendation 37).
- Removing the loan fee on OS-HELP loans to encourage more Australian students to undertake part of their studies overseas (Recommendation 37).
- Establishing a new Structural Adjustment Fund amounting to about $400 million in funding over 4 years from 2009-10 to assist the higher education sector to adapt to the reforms suggested in the report (Recommendation 38).
- Separating the regulatory and other functions of Australian Education International, with the regulatory function becoming the responsibility of an independent national regulatory body (Recommendation 11).
- Developing a national framework for higher education accreditation, quality assurance and regulation (Recommendation 19) featuring:
- accreditation of all providers based on their capacity to deliver on core requirements;
- an independent national regulatory body responsible for regulating all types of tertiary education including accrediting new providers (including universities) and carrying out quality audits of all providers.
- Establishing a national regulatory body to be responsible for accrediting providers by 2010 (Recommendation 20).
- Developing more rigorous criteria for accrediting universities and other higher education providers based around strengthening the link between teaching and research as a defining characteristic of university accreditation (Recommendation 22).
- That the Federal Government negotiate with State and Territory Governments to expand the national regulatory and quality assurance agency to cover the entire tertiary sector and that the Federal Government assume full responsibility for the regulation of higher education and vocational training by 2010 (Recommendation 43).
Teaching and Learning Capital Fund for Higher Education
On 12 December 2008 the Minister for Education Julia Gillard announced a new $500 million Teaching and Learning Capital (TLC) Fund for Higher Education. The new fund will provide a one-off investment of $500 million targeting capital expenditure towards developing infrastructure for teaching and learning spaces in Australia’s universities and upgrading existing facilities. The TLC Fund is part of the $4.7 billion nation-building infrastructure package announced by the Prime Minister.
Distribution of Teaching and Learning Capital Fund
TLC grants will be made available from 1 July 2009. Funding will be distributed among universities through grants taking into account each university's share of total domestic students. Institutions with large numbers of students will especially benefit. This new capital investment comes on top of $500 million already invested in universities through the Better Universities Renewal Fund and the Education Investment Fund.
|Higher Education Provider||Approximate Grant $m|
|The Australian National University||18.2|
|University of Canberra||5.4|
|Australian Capital Territory Total||23.6|
|Australian Catholic University||8.3|
|Charles Sturt University||14.9|
|Southern Cross University||6.6|
|The University of New England||7.9|
|The University of New South Wales||22.2|
|The University of Newcastle||15.0|
|The University of Sydney||27.0|
|University of Technology, Sydney||16.0|
|University of Western Sydney||20.4|
|University of Wollongong||10.1|
|New South Wales Total||153.1|
|Bachelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education||0.4|
|Charles Darwin University||3.0|
|Northern Territory Total||3.5|
|Central Queensland University||6.4|
|James Cook University||8.0|
|Queensland University of Technology||23.2|
|The University of Queensland||22.7|
|University of Southern Queensland||8.0|
|University of the Sunshine Coast||3.3|
|The Flinders University of South Australia||8.8|
|The University of Adelaide||11.1|
|University of South Australia||14.9|
|South Australia Total||34.8|
|University of Tasmania||10.5|
|La Trobe University||16.5|
|Melbourne College of Divinity||0.5|
|Swinburne University of Technology||7.6|
|The University of Melbourne||24.1|
|University of Ballarat||3.6|
|Curtin University of Technology||15.3|
|Edith Cowan University||10.9|
|The University of Notre Dame Australia||4.2|
|The University of Western Australia||11.7|
|Western Australia Total||49.9|
Review of Higher Education Final Report (in full)
Review of Higher Education (website)
Teaching and Learning Capital Fund for Higher Education (media release by the Minister for Education 12 December 2008)