In general, increased institutional autonomy increases flexibility, which in turn increases productivity and efficiency. Universities are one of, if the most, regulated organisations in Australia. Complying with these regulations should lead to universities having earned autonomy. Earned autonomy is where by complying with the relevant regulatory and governance structures and having good systems in place to continue this compliance a university earns the right to a lighter regulatory touch. Reducing the workload in both the university and regulator can result in greater efficiency and innovation.
Giving earned autonomy to universities as a class of providers reflects universities self-accrediting status and track-records of regulatory compliance and performance. It is also justified given:
- checks and accountabilities for university performance provided by university establishment Acts of Parliament that establish formal governance requirements and other legislation;
- internal university quality assurance and governance structures;
- Internal and external peer-review and benchmarking activities; and
- the highly competitive environment within which universities operate - with 39 public universities competing for domestic and international students within a demand driven system - and competitively allocated research grants.
Government regulation is most effective and most efficient when it is coordinated across portfolios for institutions as a whole. Universities cross several areas of government and are central in much of Australia’s social and economic life. Universities perform research essential Australia’s economic development and solving many problems in society. Universities provide people with skills and knowledge that drive their careers and future lives, as well as supporting labour markets. Companies and other organisations require skilled people to operate, and universities are central in developing such people. Universities also provide a place for social interaction and act as key intellectual centres of society. The regulation of universities should reflect this breadth of impact and importance.
Academic quality and standards are best maintained by academic experts, and external peer review is an appropriate method for assuring the public that appropriate standards are maintained. This time honoured and sophisticated practice is the best way to ensure efficient and effective academic quality. These processes ensure universities are independent repositories of ideas and free thought that are an indispensable component of civil society.