In its submission to Driving Innovation, Fairness and Excellence in Higher Education, Universities Australia said the options paper marked the beginning of a longer process of consultation, debate and analysis.
“The options paper has stimulated much debate and a richness of policy ideas which lend themselves to further discussion and exploration in the consultation process,” said Chief Executive Belinda Robinson.
The submission acknowledges the challenge of sustaining a world-leading and accessible mass higher education system in a constrained budget environment.
“The 12 recommendations put forward in our submission strike a responsible balance between financial prudence and securing a university system that meets the quality and accessibility expectations of students, families and the community,” Ms Robinson said.
They also reflect the fact that the release of the options paper marks the beginning, not an end, of a process of consultation and consideration.
While the sector maintains that proposed cuts of $3.2 billion over the forward estimates are at odds with the government’s innovation and transformation agenda, it contends that the savings challenge can be alleviated through careful policy adjustments.
“Australia’s world-class university system is evolving to support the dramatic transition underway across the economy and workforce – a process that cannot be achieved while making cuts on this scale,” Ms Robinson said.
“However, we do acknowledge the very difficult challenge that governments face in juggling the many competing priorities for public funding and the need to demonstrate to the public the value that is delivered for every taxpayer dollar that is spent.”
The submission notes that while the university system is not broken, policy attention is needed in a number of areas to ensure it can continue to deliver the skilled graduates, research outcomes and innovation needed to secure Australia’s future prosperity.
The submission’s recommendations include:
- no reduction in the overall level of per student funding;
- careful design of policies to improve retention, completion and employment outcomes;
- establishing a timetable over five years to address the underfunding of research;
- ensuring the viability and sustainability of the HELP student loan scheme;
- better targeted support to improve participation by disadvantaged groups.
“UA would be pleased to facilitate further consultation and discussion around the key policy areas flagged in the options paper,” Ms Robinson said.