Responses to the Universities Accord recommendations

The final report for the Universities Accord, which was released on Sunday by Federal education minister Jason Clare, is the first major review of the tertiary education sector in over fifteen years.

The Universities Accord was set up in late 2022 with the goal of determining a long-term plan for lasting reform of the higher education sector. A panel of experts was engaged, led by former Vice-Chancellor Mary O’Kane, and over the past year, has participated in almost 200 meetings and read almost 1,000 submissions covering all aspects of higher education.

Read the latest print edition of School News HERE

People who submitted to the review were encouraged to ‘think big’, and suggest ideas and concepts that would last for decades and touch on everything from teaching to research, funding to fees and welfare to governance.

The final report is over 400 pages long and comes with 47 recommendations that the panel believe will lay the groundwork for the significant reform they believe the sector needs to undergo. It is considered a ‘blueprint’ for reform.

What are some of the recommendations?

One of the main recommendations of the report is to increase the number of people who attend and graduate from university in order to supply the number of skilled workers required to support the Australian economy in the future.

This increase, in part, will come from increasing the number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds – who traditionally are underrepresented in the higher education sector – including students from rural and regional areas, Indigenous students, people with disability and students from low socioeconomic backgrounds.

Many of the other recommendations flow on as practical and financial measures that will support and enable the first, such as:

  • Increasing the amount of fee-free places in enabling courses (bridges to university)
  • Establishing a national ‘jobs broker’ that will assist students to find part-time work while they study
  • More accessible income support for students
  • Fairer HELP loans
  • Funding universities on a ‘needs-based’ system that takes into account the extra costs of educating students from disadvantaged backgrounds
  • Basing course fees on potential lifetime earnings, and
  • Paying students for compulsory work placements, such as those in teaching and nursing.

Other recommendations include:

  • Broadening the range of countries International students are sourced from and increasing their presence in regional tertiary campuses
  • Setting new targets for the expenditure of GDP on research and development
  • Establishing a fund that will support universities to research and solve some of the major challenges – environmental, social, medical etc – facing us as a nation.

How are universities and Unions responding?

Professor Alec Cameron, Vice-Chancellor and President of RMIT University was reported as saying:We welcome measures to widen access and participation in undergraduate education, but this alone will not address the skills crisis or help Australians remain employed. It will be through practical changes like ‘earn and learn’ offerings developed with industry, as well as modular, stackable and transferable units of study, that we will create a more inclusive skills-based tertiary system that is accessible through the many different stages of life.”     

National Tertiary Education Union National President Dr Alison Barnes welcomed the release of the report. “This ambitious reform blueprint has the potential to create better universities but only if it is implemented correctly and funded properly,” she said. “Creating a new Australian Tertiary Education Commission should be a priority, with a focus on tackling core issues for staff. As should rolling back the unfair and poorly designed Job Ready Graduates scheme.”

The Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia said that the Accord final report is comprehensive but still incomplete. “The significance of the Australian Universities Accord Final Report is in its very nature, it is institution-centric and doesn’t put students at the heart of the higher education sector,” said Troy Williams, ITECA Chief Executive. “The report’s focus on public institutions offers little for students who want to achieve their life and career goals as a result of studying with an independent higher education provider”. Data shows that around 10 percent of the 1.6 million students in higher education chose to study with an independent provider.

© michaeljung, Adobe Stock

Professor Theo Farrell, Vice-Chancellor of La Trobe University welcomes the release of the report. “We support the proposed needs and location-based funding model for equity students, fee-free enabling and preparatory courses, improved student income support and financial support for compulsory placements in critical areas of nursing and teaching.  We strongly welcome the report’s ambitious targets to significantly grow participation of undergraduate students from underrepresented backgrounds by 2035, including linking the new attainment targets with Closing the Gap targets for First Nations students.” 

Monash University Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Sharon Pickering saidMonash applauds the panel for taking a significant step towards 3 per cent GDP spending on research to support Australia’s economic future and the critical commitment to the full funding of the cost of research. Australia needs the very best minds and facilities to undertake research that will improve the lives of Australians, drive innovation, create and transform industries and this requires long term investment that catches up to the best in the world.”

The NSW Teachers Federation has strongly endorsed the Accord recommendation to introduce paid practicums for students studying teaching. Amber Flohm, NSW Teachers Federation Deputy President, said the reform was long overdue. “The Teachers Federation has long argued for paid practicums both because it’s the right thing to do, but also because it makes so much sense. If we want to continue to address the challenges of attracting people to the profession, we need to minimise the financial barriers to entry.”

Independent Education Union – Queensland and Northern Territory (IEU-QNT) Branch Secretary Terry Burke agrees the change was overdue. “In a sector currently facing an attrition crisis, many potential teachers are deterred from the profession due to the reality of undertaking months of unpaid work,” Mr Burke said. “Providing financial support for student teachers is crucial to ensure the future of the teaching profession, particularly during a cost-of-living crisis. Practicums consist of many, many hours of commitment and take students away from the part-time jobs required to support themselves. No one should have to fall into poverty because of mandatory university requirements. The government must acknowledge this and provide adequate funding to ensure we have a new generation of enthusiastic and well-prepared teachers,” Mr Burke said.

You can access the Australian Universities Accord Final Report here.

Shannon Meyerkort

Shannon Meyerkort is a freelance writer and the author of "Brilliant Minds: 30 Dyslexic Heroes Who Changed our World", now available in all good bookstores.

Related Articles

Back to top button
SchoolNews - Australia