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Public investment in higher education would pay off for the whole nation

By Deryck Schreuder - posted Tuesday, 15 October 2002

The future of Australian higher education is poised at a significant moment.

The Federal Government’s Review is nearing completion. Final submissions in response to the seven issues papers released by the government are now before those who will determine the future of our system.

The Australian Vice-Chancellors’ Committee has declared its position, in some detail, as to where we see the sector heading, but also why it is such a critical part of the fabric of this country.


Fundamental reform is now a real possibility.

Importantly, the Federal Government has added higher education to its nine key policy reform areas for its third term of office. Indeed the Prime Minister told the Federal Parliament in June this year that, as it relates to the review:

"We are going to have a proper examination and, when that examination is completed, we will be announcing policy which will be to the long-term benefit of the tertiary education institutions of this nation and to the long-term benefit of current and aspiring tertiary education students."

The Federal Education Minister, Brendan Nelson, has acknowledged the significance higher education plays in shaping this country, saying: "what is done about higher education will determine what Australia will be like 20 to 30 years from now. It’s about our future." (Australian Financial Review, September 16)

The need for reform to the sector has been well and truly recognised. The challenge is to turn aspirations into working policy and funding. In the 15 years since the last comprehensive review of higher education the demands on the system have altered dramatically. In numbers alone, there are 56,000 more students attending Australian universities than there were in 1995. Yet this increased growth has not been matched with investment.

There are almost twice as many universities as there were 15 years ago, and competition within the sector is at an all-time high as we compete for research dollars and more institutions – not just universities – are eligible to receive Commonwealth funding.


Funding the broader sector

The AVCC has an ambitious vision for our sector serving the nation – one which is underpinned by the knowledge that the sector will deliver on the investment placed in the system. It is a vision which sees the sector working in partnership with Government to deliver quality at all levels – whether it is through our research programs, or our learning and teaching environments.

Australia has, essentially, a public system of higher education. Yet our universities have shown themselves to be creative and entrepreneurial in building budgets and programs, both in this country and overseas.

We need a policy that supports both increased direct public funding and also self-reliance.

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This is a transcript of a speech given to the 16th Australian International Education Conference, Hobart, 30 September - 4 October, 2002.

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About the Author

Professor Deryck Schreuder was Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Western Australia. A scholar of modern international history, he has a special interest in colonial and post-colonial societies, as well as in modern educational policy.

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