As the mining investment boom recedes, we face an urgent task to broaden growth and diversify the economy.
Decisions taken now will shape Australia’s living standards, job security and social cohesion in the years ahead.
Around the world, constrained public budgets and global uncertainty have become fixtures. Governments at home and abroad are wrestling anew with budget priorities.
Yet, despite these challenges, smart nations continue to invest strategically in higher education, research and innovation.
They are doing so to ensure their citizens aren’t left behind by sweeping forces of globalisation and technological change.
Such investments are a down payment on a future with more higher-wage jobs, skilled and smart workforces and greater productivity gains.
They are also indispensable to the major research breakthroughs needed to create new jobs and new industries for Australia.
Amid forecasts that 40 per cent of today’s jobs will not exist within two decades, the race is on to equip Australians for further dramatic changes in the job market, the economy and the workplace.
The types of skills and knowledge acquired through a university education will become increasingly essential.
This is true not just for individuals – but for communities, companies, industries, and the national economy.
Having a highly-educated workforce is essential to lift overall national prosperity and the living standards of all Australians.
It is a key ingredient in the government’s desire to diversify the economy, stimulate long-term growth and deliver jobs in the cities and the regions.
In this context, universities are the engines of Australia’s future economic growth.
They are the essential infrastructure of this new era.
And they sustain Australia’s third largest export sector, with the education of international students now contributing a record $20.3 billion a year to the national economy.
To play their crucial role in securing Australia’s future, universities need a more stable policy and funding environment.
Australia’s universities have faced an unprecedented level of uncertainty in recent years.
We welcome the Government’s assurance that it wants to end that uncertainty in 2017.
We await with interest the Turnbull Government’s future announcements, including in the 2017–18 Budget.
While there may be a case for modest changes, the sector does not see a need for a dramatic overhaul.
Universities understand there are Budget constraints. We are not asking for significant increases.
However, we do ask that current funding is maintained across all areas including research and teaching infrastructure, and equity and participation programs.
Any proposals put forward by Government would need to achieve several objectives:
- Maintain high levels of access and participation, while guaranteeing quality;
- Make a Commonwealth-supported university place available to every Australian capable of completing a degree, regardless of their background;
- Ensure adequate levels of resourcing for teaching and research;
- Address universities’ infrastructure and maintenance costs;
- Strengthen Australia’s $20 billion education export industry; and
- Support universities to continue to improve their efficiency and attract revenue from a variety of sources, such as philanthropy.
The sector stands ready to work with stakeholders to agree on the investment required to ensure Australia’s universities can fulfil their crucial role in the nation’s economic growth.
We want to ensure the return on the investment is maximised, and the global reputation of Australia’s university system is maintained.