ATSE welcomes the opportunity to provide a submission to the Universities Accord Panel on the discussion paper. The Australian university sector plays a vital role in addressing national and international problems and educating the next generation. The Australian Universities Accord provides an opportunity for some big-picture thinking about the role and purpose of the university sector, and how we can make it work better for students and to make the most of its crucial role in advancing society as well as solving our most complex challenges. We must ensure that Australia’s higher education system is flexible enough to meet our students’ needs both now and into the future, supports improved student outcomes and makes university education and research more accessible to a diverse range of people. Constant student-focused pedagogical improvement should guide our approach to university reform.
We’ll benefit most from our university sector coordinating and harnessing universities’ comparative strengths in both teaching and research, developing stronger institutional specialisations and industry connections that together as a sector support a thriving research and tertiary teaching ecosystem. By combining this with greater cross-institutional collaboration, in both research and teaching, and greater job security for early career academics, Australia can achieve excellence across the university sector. This will require government leadership, support and targeted investment to ensure that both research and teaching are properly funded to disincentivise cross-subsidisation of research from funds earmarked for teaching.
Effecting these changes will require vision and commitment to long-term transformation of the sector. The Australian Universities Accord is an opportunity to bring this vision and kick-start these changes. ATSE’s submission focuses on the short to medium term cultural and investment changes necessary to allow the university sector to be more flexible and adaptive to changing societal and student expectations, and give the sector the breathing room to engage in this long-term transformation. To this end, ATSE makes the following recommendations:
Recommendation 1: The Accord Panel reviews 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.
Recommendation 2: The Australian Government works with universities to develop greater availability of cross-institutional study pathways, based around centres of teaching excellence.
Recommendation 3: The Australian Government works with State and Territory Governments to develop and implement a national strategy to increase the cooperation and integration of vocational education and the university sector.
Recommendation 4: The Australian Government develops 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 uses this standard to fund teaching activities in Australian higher education.
Recommendation 5: The Australian Universities Accord includes long-term funding provisions to develop research specialisations within universities.
Recommendation 6: The Australian Universities Accord includes an Australian Government supported mechanism to require universities to invest in providing career stability to early and mid-career researchers.
Recommendation 7: The Australian Government develops a fully funded, whole of sector strategy to consolidate diversity and inclusion programs in academia and promote those programs and initiatives that can demonstrate their efficacy at improving inclusion and diversity.