Universities Australia Pushes for Radical New Higher Education Strategy
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Universities Australia Pushes for Radical New Higher Education Strategy

Universities Australia Pushes for Radical New Higher Education Strategy

Universities Australia has launched a new policy statement called “Keep it Clever”, urging for major investment in research and innovation throughout Australia’s higher education sector.

The organisation released a pre-election blueprint in a speech to the National Press Club that did not mention fee deregulation or higher student fees, but did declare that the sector’s recent “funding limbo” has produced “intolerable instability”.

Universities Australia, the peak body representing the country’s universities, published newspaper advertisements that pledged for the government to “fund our future” as a result of Australia’s public funding currently ranking 24th out of 25 advanced economies as a share of gross domestic product, dramatically dropping from sixth place to second last.

In 1995, public investment was1.2 per cent of GDP; a figure that fell to just 0.74 per cent in 2011. The OECD average was 1.13 per cent.

In his speech, Barney Glover, Chair of Universities Australia, warned of the danger of Australia being the only OECD country without a national strategy for research and innovation. Australia is number 17 in the world for innovation on the Global Innovation Index, and 29th out of 30 in the OECD’s ranking of business-university collaboration.

Glover emphasised his point using research from consulting giant Deloitte, which showed that the value of knowledge generated from university research last year was AUS$160billion; the equivalent to ten per cent of the country’s GDP, which completely subverts the value of Australia’s mining industry, which contributes AUS$121billion to the Australian economy each year.

Glover’s speech called for an end to the “intolerable” uncertainty universities have faced since last year’s budget, when the Australian government announced its plan to deregulate university fees.

Professor Glover said: “Australia is in the early stages of a period of seismic change; change at a pace and magnitude not seen since the industrial revolution.

“To remain competitive and indeed grow our competitive advantage, we must invest properly in research, innovation, skills and critically in research infrastructure.”

In order to compete in the global economy that is fast-paced and constantly changing, Australia will need at least 3.8million new, skilled graduates entering the economy over the next decade.

Universities Australia noted that as economic activity centres more and more around Asia, there is a need for Australia’s HE institutions to better engage and communicate with the region.

Australia’s university sector has highlighted recent findings that demonstrate that as technology transforms industries, 40 per cent of existing jobs are likely to die out within the next two decades.

Professor Glover, who is also Vice Chancellor at Western Sydney University, said: “Notwithstanding the recognised private benefit that might accrue to individual students, universities have a public purpose,” adding that Universities Australia will call for a, “radical re-think and commitment from government to create the conditions for prosperity to flourish.”

Universities Australia funded research by Deloitte Access Economics to uncover how the higher education sector contributes to Australia’s prosperity. It found:

  • The sector employs more than 120,000 staff and backs the education of 1.3 million students
  • The sector contributed approximately AUS$25billion to the Australian economy in 2013, accounting for 1.5 per cent of the country’s overall GDP
  • International education is Australia’s third largest export and largest services export, generating revenue of AUS$18billion in 2014-15, with higher education       producing two thirds of this revenue
  • The value that university education added to Australia’s productive capacity last year was AUS$140billion- Australia’s GDP is approximately 8.5 per cent higher due to impact of university education on productivity

Along with agribusiness, natural gas, wealth management and tourism, Deloitte categorised international education in its predicted five most significant drivers of the next wave of Australia’s growth and prosperity.

“We face a stark choice. We either make this investment or we fall behind those that do,” Professor Glover said.

Observing that Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has made innovation the “central organising principle” of his cabinet, Universities Australia has pushed the government to authorise:

  • An extensive program that focuses on technology and innovation- similar to the UK’s Catapult Centres– to form strong networks between universities and businesses
  • An “Innovation Board” that links government, industry, university and research community leaders to drive a unified and inclusive national approach to research and innovation
  • A “Student Innovation Fund” that will encourage entrepreneurial spirit among university students
  • A premium tax concession rate for businesses working with universities on R&D

Glover accentuated that HE institutions should not be funded purely on the basis of their economic contribution, but should promote creativity and the general pursuit of knowledge, including in the too often undervalued realm of the humanities.

Ian Chubb, Australia’s Chief Scientist, claims that in the 21st century world, the quality of higher education institutions is critical to a nation’s prospects.

Chubb says: “Australia too needs to look to its universities, as part of a national strategy that puts innovation at the heart of everything that our businesses and governments do.

“The ideas, skills and attitudes which fuel economic growth, as well as social progress, come increasingly from centres of learning and research.”

Image via Shutterstock.

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