A Charter for University Renewal
Australia’s universities matter. As centres of scholarly research and teaching, universities advance knowledge, foster critical thinking and public discourse, train our high level professions and provide life long learning for students of all ages. Universities are a direct investment in Australia’s people and society, and are central to Australia’s cultural, social and economic development.
The signatories to this Charter believe that the Rudd Government must make universities an essential part of its Education Revolution. Two key initiatives are needed.
Significant increases in Commonwealth investment from 2009 onwards
In the last two decades most developed and emerging countries have boosted real funding for their universities, but public investment in Australian universities has been steadily falling since the early 1990s, in real terms and as a percentage of GDP.
Australia’s future international competitiveness requires a highly skilled labour force, research and innovation capability and cultural dynamism. Our universities can make a major contribution to these objectives but only if the falling public investment trend is reversed.
New Commonwealth investment should deliver higher funding per student place, and full funding for competitive research initiatives, programmes and grants. Particular priority should be given to upgrading teaching and research infrastructure, promoting new academic and research careers and improving student services.
A new planning and funding framework for Universities
The current planning and regulatory framework for universities needs urgent review. A key feature which distinguishes universities from other higher education institutions is their role in research and research education – particularly, the education of postgraduate research students at Masters and PhD levels. This is critical in the creation of new knowledge as well as new scholars.
A good case can therefore be made for a discrete Universities Funding Act which recognises the distinctive role of Universities in a wider higher education system. Scholarly teaching and research, a high degree of institutional autonomy, academic freedom and University contributions to economic, social and cultural development should be key objects of any new planning framework.
A discrete Universities Funding Act can be consistent with a larger and more integrated higher education system. Other further and higher education institutions could be funded through an additional discrete Further and Higher Education Funding Act, with a new statutory commission having a planning and funding distribution brief across both sub-sectors.
Any new university funding and planning system should encourage diversity and collaboration within and between universities and the wider community. New financial incentives should focus on the development of distinctive missions for each University based on an appropriate mix of undergraduate and postgraduate teaching and research, community engagement, cross-sectoral and inter-institutional collaboration and course innovation. At a wider level funding incentives should promote direct university engagement with local and regional communities in areas such as economic development, climate change, environmental management, Indigenous social justice and labour market needs.