Universities Australia welcomes the Review of Australian Higher Education and will be pleased to help the Committee in any way that it can. We consider the future of our universities to be critical for the future of Australia. Universities educate the leaders of the future, the professionals and managers, the innovators and creators. They perform the research that is necessary for Australia to develop innovative industries, to grow our economy, to adapt to and mitigate climate change and to improve health and social outcomes. They build international links which encourage trade, cultural understanding and even help world peace and security. The ABS has estimated that international education earns Australia $11.7b p.a. placing it ahead of tourism and far ahead of other service industries and traditional agricultural exports.
Universities have contributed much to Australia's achievements. In recent decades the flow of ideas, the bright and capable graduates, and the benefits to community and regions have been many. The sector has emerged as one with a $15 billion turnover, 100,000 staff and a million students. It provides Australia's third largest export industry after coal and iron ore.But more still could have been achieved, because the last twelve years have also been a constrained time for our universities with:
- decreased government funding, by about 30% per student for each Commonwealth Supported Place in real terms and a deficit of around $1100 per student even when increased private contributions through HECS are taken into account. Infrastructure support similarly has languished as has block grant funding for research
- increased regulatory, compliance and other transaction costs, particularly those associated with increased proportions of university income derived from growth in use of specific purpose programs with increased compliance, all perhaps best summarised by a series of acronyms - CDP, WPPP, LTPF, VSUAF, CASR (later DASRF) and others
- the growth of opportunistic funding arrangements and decision-making where universities were able to attract sporadic additional allocations outside normal funding rounds by special pleading
- increased rigidities even in core or block funding where the Commonwealth Grant Scheme became highly prescriptive with requirements for precise numbers of students in each of 12 discipline clusters and major penalties for divergence.