Australian universities often boast the high employability rate of their graduates, but they also take great pride in the ground-breaking research they produce.
However, there are fears that the quality of education in Australia is in decline and impacting on Australia’s attractiveness as a study destination for international students. To combat this, the Federal Government is seeking tighter standards in classifying the nation’s higher education providers.
The Review of Australia’s Higher Education provider Category Standards has also asked these institutions to increase their course and research offerings.
“Along with teaching, the undertaking of research is, and should remain, a defining feature of what it means to be a university in Australia,” a recommendation in the review read.
“[A] threshold benchmark of quality and quantity of research should be included in the Higher Education Provider Category Standards.”
But the Federal Government’s fears may be unfounded if a recent poll reflects the reality on the ground.
The 29th ANUpoll, exploring the public attitudes to universities, found there is still a high level of public confidence in educational institutions. A little under eight in 10 Australians said that they trust universities, teachers and university lecturers as well as schools as institutions for learning.
Likewise, eight in 10 Australians said they have confidence in university researchers as sources of information.
The poll also found that nine in 10 Australians said the role of universities is to develop new ideas and train young people to be ready for the workforce. Nine in 10 Australians also said the role of universities is to provide a venue to express and debate controversial ideas.
Around six in 10 Australians also believe that universities are teaching young Australians what they need to know. However, just five in 10 Australians said they believe that universities are preparing students properly for the current and future workforce.
What the poll means for universities
ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt said the poll shows what universities have to address, as educational institutions exist for the benefit of the society.
“It is vital we understand the perspectives of the millions of people who live their lives beyond our campuses every day – so that we can ensure we help our nation move forward, whether it be extending knowledge, driving innovation, training future leaders and workers or enhancing public debate and decision making,” Professor Schmidt said.
“If we are to design the best possible universities for 21st century Australia, we need to make sure we understand and meet the needs of 21st century Australians. And that we are places of higher education open to and valued by all Australians.”
But while universities enjoy a high trust rating, other sectors aren’t as lucky.
Only two in 10 Australians said they trust the press. The poll found that more Australians trust the public service sector, major Australian firms, the government, as well as banks and other financial institutions more than the media.
ANU Associate Professor Nicholas Biddle, the lead researcher of the poll, noted that Australia’s trust in institutions have always been in steady decline.
“But clearly, universities and their researchers and lecturers are resisting that broader trend. It points to universities providing society with something people value and are confident in,” Professor Biddle said.
He also noted that the low trust ratings reflect society’s concern about the country’s political and fiscal systems.