For centuries, our universities have generated and transmitted knowledge and skills that have transformed societies for the better, producing the pipeline of skilled workers who power almost every sector of our economy. Australian researchers and scientists, meanwhile, have produced some of our most important innovations – from medical marvels to technological breakthroughs we can’t live without.
In 2021, nearly a third of Australians aged between 15 and 74 had a university degree – up from just one per cent of the population in the late 1960s – thanks to our high-quality, publicly funded education system. Australia’s economy has performed strongly over this period, with 28 consecutive years of economic growth prior to COVID-19 and a world-leading economic recovery on the other side of the pandemic.
University-educated workers make our economy $185 billion larger than it otherwise would be, while for every $1 invested in research – of which the majority is undertaken in our universities – $5 is returned to the economy. That is serious bang for buck. Future investment in universities would pay for itself with the extra economic activity they help generate.
Today, Australia is a leading global economy and democracy. Universities have helped deliver that, but we cannot take this status for granted. We must use these valuable national assets, our universities, to maintain and grow our competitive advantage, to tackle the great challenges before us and to make the most of new opportunities that will take us forward – bolder, stronger and better prepared for the future. After all, more than half of all the new jobs expected to be created in the coming years will require a university degree.
Universities are ready to work closely with government, through the 2023-24 budget and the current review of the higher education sector (the O’Kane review), to ensure our institutions can continue to best serve Australia’s interests. Getting the policy settings right will support our universities in the vitally important endeavours they undertake on behalf of our nation.
Universities acknowledge the significant challenges the budget faces, including increasing consumer prices, energy costs and interest rates, a severe labour shortage and other significant global challenges. The 2021 Intergenerational Report showed that productivity growth and a carefully designed and managed migration system are effective ways of dealing with these challenges. These strategies are effective because they involve making better use of our existing resources, plus carefully adding new resources, skills and talents to our economy. Universities stand as crucial partners with the government as it pursues these strategies.
As history has shown us, universities are the builders of our future. They are just as important now as ever.
SUMMARY OF RECOMMENDATIONS
- Ensure the funding framework for government-subsidised university places is adequate to meet future student demand due to changes in population and the labour market.
- Extend the Transition Fund Loading for at least another year or until new, long-term funding arrangements are introduced.
- Extend demand-driven places to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, not just those from regional and remote areas.
- Extend eligibility for the Higher Education Loan Program (HELP) to Australians undertaking non-award microcredentials.
- Support sustainable clinical education and placement capacity.
• Expand clinical placement capacity including in non-traditional settings.
• Grow and support technology-assisted clinical training.
Better harness health professional students in the workforce through support for paid final year assistant roles and degree-apprenticeship models.
- Increase funding for university research to at least the OECD average to drive innovation and boost productivity.
- Government works with universities to realise the full potential of the National Reconstruction Fund and ensure that the program boosts industry’s capacity to innovate.
- Redirect Research and Development Tax Incentive (RDTI) funds towards targeted, direct-funding programs.
- Re-establish the Endeavour Leadership Program.
- Raise investment in activities that counter foreign interference in universities to levels in similar jurisdictions such as Canada.