28 February 2013
At the now traditional National Press Club address associated with the Universities Australia (UA) annual conference, outgoing chair of UA Glyn Davis observed that, at the last federal election, higher education was an afterthought:
Liberals, Labor and the Greens alike issued brief policy statements about higher education just days before the poll, long after the horse race overwhelmed any discussion of ideas. This was desultory and disappointing. We are determined 2013 will be different.
In this context, Universities Australia has published its first comprehensive policy manifesto – A Smarter Australia. The manifesto calls for a “partnership between the university sector and the next government” – of whatever hue – to establish a practical and pragmatic policy framework around five key actions :
- continued growth in Australians accessing higher education by maintaining the demand-driven system, better utilising the potential of the digital revolution and enhancing pathways;
- supporting the global engagement through expanding the export of international education;
- sustaining Australia’s research effort through support for research infrastructure, and an expanded research workforce;
- increasing investment in teaching over the next five years, by doubling indexation over the next five years; and
- reducing the regulatory burden on universities by for example, excluding universities from regulatory regimes where a strong public interest rationale and benefit tcannot be identified and reining in TEQSA.
To back up this policy agenda and encourage wider awareness of higher education, UA has launched a $5 million national campaign. The campaign is to be funded entirely from dividends earned by a company owned by Australian universities (presumably the commercial arm of UA). Davis was at pains to emphasise that “not one cent of student fees or Commonwealth grant money will be spent on this campaign”. It’s also non-party political and will end when the formal election period commences in early August.
UA has aready launched a campaign website, which includes a sample TV commercial. And if you’re a graduate of an Australian university and they have your email address, expect some electronic correspondence on the matter (your correspondent has had one already).
UA might be a little disappointed that this unprecedented foray into the broader public political process seems to have passed over the mainstream media, for the moment at least.