Despite strong public support for a well-funded university system, the sector has faced major funding uncertainty and frequent policy change in recent years. Public investment in tertiary education has remained at around 0.8 per cent of GDP, despite the introduction of the demand driven funding system. The budgets from 2011–12 to 2013–14 included policy changes that have yielded over $1 billion a year from the sector over the forward estimates.
The uncertainty associated with a range of unlegislated policy proposals and the protracted debate on higher education is imposing unnecessary adjustment costs on universities and affecting their ability to plan in the best interests of their students. It has slowed the investment needed to improve the quality of education services, and has constrained research capability and prospects for successful collaboration, joint investment, research translation and innovation.
In Keep it Clever: Policy Statement 2016, Universities Australia argued strongly that resources for both teaching and research need to be sufficient, sustainable and predictable to enable universities to deliver on the expectations of students, employers, the community and governments.
Currently, this is not the case. Universities Australia acknowledges the budgetary pressures being confronted by the Government but does not accept that ongoing cuts to the level of public investment in higher education and research is in the nation’s best long term interests, or consistent with the Government’s ambitions for an innovation-driven future.
The Government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA) is a positive step forward in providing the necessary policy architecture for enabling Australia to evolve into a globally significant innovative nation. The modest level of funding provided to support the NISA represented a welcome and prudent investment in Australia’s future productivity and prosperity.
The current debate on higher education policy would greatly benefit from an injection of the same longer-term, whole-of-government aspirational thinking that led to, and underpinned, the development of the NISA.
Universities comprise the social, cultural, intellectual and ideas infrastructure upon which Australia’s wealth creation, and position in the world, depends and are critical to positioning Australia for long-term and enduring success.
In this submission, Universities Australia has made recommendations for the short to medium term across the breadth of higher education activity. We acknowledge that not all of these may be addressed in the 2016–17 Budget but should be addressed as budget circumstances permit.