A discrete Universities Act
NTEU believes that the only way to guarantee that Australian universities will be able continue to fulfil their unique functions is through a legislative framework which clearly defines the roles and responsibilities of universities as well as specifying the appropriate regulation and funding mechanisms. NTEU believes that the best and cleanest way of maintaining the distinctive character and role of our universities is through creation of a separate Universities Act.
Despite the differing nature of universities over time and in different countries, and missions between individual universities, Monotti and Ricketson (2003) conclude that modern universities, at least in the UK, USA and Australia:
…continue to share a continuity of meaning that makes them ‘special’ institutions and distinguishes them from other social and economic institutions. Above all, they remain at their core, institutions that foster free and open intellectual inquiry. Universities respect and promote a highly developed sense of ‘academic freedom.’ Independence, objectivity, systematic investigation and scientific rigour, are all aspects of this freedom, and have become firmly linked to each of their traditional functions of teaching, training, research and community service. (12.03 pp 545-55).
Defining the roles and responsibilities of universities
Any separate Universities Act should include amongst its definitions and objectives that a university is an independent and autonomous institution established by Commonwealth, Territory of State statute with a capacity to accredit its own courses at the degree and postgraduate levels.
In addition each university should:
- Govern its own affairs, including the composition and functions of its governing bodies.
- Provide degree and post-graduate education to serve the needs of industry and society.
- Advance knowledge through teaching and scholarly research promoted at the highest standards.
- Promote learning among its students and in society generally.
- Engage with its community in ways that enhance the social, economic and cultural life of the community.
- Commit to academic freedom and the right of its staff and students to comment on relevant issues.
- Encourage and support its staff and students to freely pursue and engage in research without undue interference.
Funding of universities
In addition to defining the roles and responsibilities of universities, a separate Universities Act would also need to regulate the funding and accountability mechanisms for universities and like autonomous self-accrediting not-for-profit institutions. Institutions which are eligible for either full or limited public funding would be clearly listed as separate specified and listed in the Act.