Increased university system funding, leadership and flexibility crucial for a strong Australia

12 April 2023

The Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE) has outlined new ways to reform Australia’s universities and transform the research sector for stronger national outcomes.

ATSE President, Dr Katherine Woodthorpe AO FTSE said the Universities Accord is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ensure the university system genuinely equips students for a future, increasingly driven by technology.

“Australia urgently requires a culture change in higher education. The incentives that drive our universities are outdated and unfit for setting up Australian students for success.

“It is difficult for researchers to move from industry into academia, and those that do often suffer delayed career progression. We need to measure the success of our researchers in a way that reflects our modern expectations of universities,” Dr Woodthorpe said.

“This involves resetting expectations for universities to deliver high-quality research and teaching in their areas of expertise and to an increasingly diverse domestic student cohort. The quest for ever more international students to cross subsidise their research has led Australian universities to try to teach everything.

“Adopting a specialist approach, where universities teach areas of their strength and collaborate with other universities to support students to access different areas of expertise, will create better educational experiences.

“This must be supported by a funding and fees paradigm that drives these outcomes. Currently, funding for tertiary education in Australia rarely meets the actual teaching costs of degrees. This is particularly true for regional universities. We need to see a resourcing standard in higher education for better educational outcomes including enhanced accessibility across fields of study, location, and student demographics.

“Most research funding in Australia comes from a handful of short-term grants. We need a national review of research funding to bring us to 3% of GDP and put Australia in step with other OECD countries.

“For a modern, diverse and strong university system, we also must do better at improving gender equity in Australian universities. While there is some progress, it will take a decade to reach parity in leadership positions and women are far more likely to languish in casual roles than men.

“The government must take an evidence-based approach to dealing with this gender disparity, and support and expand programs that are demonstrably effective at reducing inequality in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields,” Dr Woodthorpe said.

In a submission to the Australian Universities Accord panel, ATSE’s recommendations to underpin a strong higher education system that will help build a strong Australia include:

  • Reviewing university and grant metrics to better reflect the value of activities that promote engagement and collaboration between the university sector and outside groups including industry, government, and local communities – including supporting researchers to exit and re-enter the system without penalty.
  • Expanding availability of cross-institutional study pathways, based around centres of teaching excellence.
  • Increasing the cooperation and integration of vocational education and the university sector.
  • Developing a tertiary student resourcing standard that includes loadings for factors that impact the cost of teaching (such as field of study, university location, student demographic factors etc.) and using this standard to fund teaching activities in Australian higher education.
  • Creating long-term funding provisions to develop research specialisations within universities, which benefit local communities and the nation.
  • Providing career stability to early and mid-career researchers.
  • Consolidating diversity and inclusion programs in academia and promoting those programs and initiatives that can demonstrate their efficacy at improving inclusion and diversity.

ATSE will continue to work closely with Minister Clare, Professor O’Kane and the panel to strengthen the role of Australian universities.

ATSE’s submission in response to the Australian Universities Accord Panel Discussion Paper is available here.


Media contacts

Edwyn Shiell – Director, Communications and Outreach

0402 254 968

The Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering is a Learned Academy of independent experts helping Australians understand and use technology to solve complex problems.