Universities Accord: Major changes proposed for Australia’s higher education system

Universities Accord: Major changes proposed for Australia’s higher education system

Australia’s higher education system will undergo “bold, long-term change”, with sweeping changes to the way universities prepare young people for the jobs of the future.

The Australian Universities Accord Interim Report, announced today by Federal Education Minister Jason Clare at the National Press Club in Canberra, is the first broad review of Australia’s higher education system since the Bradley Review in 2008.

Among the aims of the Accord, led by Panel Chair Professor Mary O’Kane, are to optimise education, enhance accessibility, review funding, improve governance, bridge education gaps, address COVID-19 challenges, and promote innovative research.

The latest review into Australia’s higher education sector has largely been motivated by reports showing that just 1 in 2 young people in their 20s and 30s currently hold a university degree, and in some parts of Australia, this number is lower.

“The changes happening in our economy right now means this has to change. If we don’t, we won’t have the skills and the economic firepower we need to make Australia everything it can be in the years ahead,” Minister Clare said.

To achieve this, Minister Clare said the Federal Government will act on all five of the immediate actions the Accord Panel identified.

This will include establishing up to 20 additional Regional University Study Hubs (formerly Regional University Centres), building on the 34 existing Regional University Study Hubs currently operating across the country, and establish up to 14 Suburban University Study Hubs.

The government will also abolish the 50% pass rule, introduced as part of the Job-ready Graduates Scheme, which has had a disproportionately negative impact on students from poor backgrounds and from the regions, and require increased reporting on student progress.

To boost opportunities for First Nations students, the government will extend demand driven funding to all students who are eligible for the course they apply for. Currently this only applies to First Nations students in regional and remote Australia.

The Higher Education Continuity Guarantee will also be extended for a further two years to provide funding certainty to universities as the Accord process rolls out, and as part of this, require universities to invest any remaining funding from their grant each year on additional academic and learning support for students from poor backgrounds, from the regions and from other under-represented groups.

Minister Clare said the government will work with its State and Territory counterparts to improve university governance. This will include university governing bodies “having more people with expertise in the business of universities”, and a focus on student and staff safety and making sure universities are good employers.

In addition to the five immediate actions, the report identifies more than 70 policy ideas the Accord Panel is considering including in their Final Report and it seeks feedback on them.

“Higher education is essential to our national prosperity – it is the foundation upon which a more equitable and fair society, and a stronger economy, can be built,” Professor O’Kane said.

“Higher education is a powerful vehicle for transformative change at individual, community and societal levels. A strong and fair Australia needs the skills, new knowledge and socio-economic outcomes that higher education provides.”