Australian Universities Accord interim report
John Ross, Universities Accord’s interim report, Times Higher Education, July 2023
At a lazy 152 pages, the Universities Accord’s interim report takes a bit of digesting. If this is the draft version, what’s the final tome going to run to? Maybe the panel needs a bit of new blood. Someone called Tolstoy.
And with 70-odd “spiky” ideas to test out, the real work starts now, as Jason Clare explained yesterday at the National Press Club. “Between now and the end of the year, when the final report is due, it’s a chance for everyone here in this room and right across the country to test these ideas – pressure-test them, pull them apart, critique them, improve on or reject them, and suggest others.”
You’ve got to feel for the panel members. It’s not as if they’ve got day jobs, like running a university or an investment bank. But for all the work they’ve done to this point, some people already want more – particularly around the vexed issue of research funding. Research featured little in Clare’s presentation, and the report is light on proposals to sustain present efforts, let alone press for more investment.
And then there’s some of the other ideas, like financially supporting students on placements, or updating the demand-driven system so that it subsidises students for all the qualifications they want. Asked how much of all this the government can afford, Clare pulled out an oft-used phrase. “Not every great idea can be funded,” he said. “We won’t be able to do everything. We won’t be able to do everything right now.” The final report will feature a “timetable” with sequenced priorities, he explained. “What are the things that we need to do in the next four or five years? What do we need to do over the course of the next 10 years? What are the things that we need to do in the decade after that?”
Reform isn’t necessarily quick, or cheap. And it isn’t necessarily popular. There’s plenty in the report to rile people, not least the idea of a levy on international students’ fees. But the accord has offered a framework for discussions by articulating most of the big issues. And it’s got some runs on the board, with five largely popular measures already delivered. All round, a pretty good start.
John Ross, Asia-Pacific editor