Australia’s universities have been concerned for some time about the impacts of the pandemic on our continued ability to undertake important and life-saving research on behalf of the nation. A wide range of research is at risk, including research helping the community and government respond to the crisis. I would like to applaud the Federal Government’s Federal Budget response, providing an additional $1 billion to support university research capability through the pandemic. This injection of funding will keep more scientists and researchers in jobs, utilising their expertise for the benefit of the nation.
To the matter at hand. The bill before us makes amends legislation in order to implement the Government’s response to the review of Provider Category Standards conducted by Professor Peter Coaldrake last year. The Standards are a set of threshold requirements with which higher education providers must comply, and are differentiated for provider types, or categories. We supported Professor Coaldrake’s findings and we welcome the Government’s implementation of this review.
Australia’s universities are required to be active in both research and teaching, and for their research to inform their teaching. Their outstanding research and scholarship has earned the Australian university sector an enviable reputation for quality and excellence, making Australian universities into institutions of choice for both domestic and international students. This connection is strongly backed in the review.
However, the one element that seems out of place here is the Government’s intent to allow institutions that are not research-active to be named ‘University Colleges’. This risks compromising the system’s reputation for quality – quality that Australian universities and the community are rightly proud of.
Any institution that could be construed to be university-like should be active in both research and teaching, consistent with the findings of the Coaldrake review.
However, as the Government has made a policy decision to implement the University College category, the Bill under consideration provides important protections on use of the word ‘university’. On this basis, Universities Australia supports the Bill. We note that many of our members have called for additional consultation on how the new research benchmarks will work.
These matters are outside the direct changes made by this Bill and we are confident that the Government will continue to work constructively with the sector on these matters.
We have suggested two minor matters to improve operation of the legislation. These minor amendments would aid in efficient administration of the Bill and continue to promote quality and excellence in the higher education sector. I thank the Committee for its consideration of our submission and will be happy to answer your questions.