Labor’s election win means unis can reset their relationship with government

16 June 2022

Tim Dodd | The Australian

Labor’s election victory gives universities a chance to reset their relationship with government and offer answers to the challenges facing Australia, University of Sydney vice-chancellor Mark Scott says.

Speaking on a Group of Eight universities podcast, Professor Scott said universities needed to be “in the solutions business for government”.

Universities are hopeful that the testy relationship they had with the Morrison government will change.

“It’s a good opportunity for reset and a bit of a fresh start,” Profesor Scott said.

He said part of the challenge for universities was “to think very carefully about the problems government are trying to solve, the problems that government needs to engage in, and to bring the deep disciplinary expertise and capability, particularly of our research universities, to bear around those problems”.

Professor Scott said there were many opportunities for universities to help in areas such as climate, energy transition, aged care and mental health.

“Those who’ve studied the area for years, those who understand what works and what hasn’t worked, how changes need to be made, they will be found within the universities,” he said.

Professor Scott said it was not simply a case of asking government to “give us more money”.

“I suspect we are more likely to get solutions and engagement around the problems we have as a sector when we are seen to be leaning in and helping government deal with the pressing issues that they face,” he said.

Other universities back the call to offer government solutions to the current challenges.

The six-member Australian Technology Network of Universities said the sector was there to help solve the current skill shortages. With both the Innovative Research Universities grouping and with the Australian Industry Group, ATN has proposed a university, industry and government partnership to deal with skill shortages. Ideas include stepped up short courses for those wanting to enhance, or change, their career.

“This is an opportunity to create a skills system that is accessible and relevant to people throughout their post-school life, allowing them to get the education they need when they need it,” ATN executive director Luke Sheehy said.

He said universities could also play a role, through international education, in increasing the supply of skilled workers.

However, Mr Sheehy said universities still needed to make the case to government that they were part of the solution “to Australia’s skills and labour challenge”.

“With vocational education and higher education in separate government) departments, a holistic approach to skills seems little further away than in previous Labor governments.,” he said.

Meanwhile, Labor’s new Education Minister Jason Clare has made his first visit to a university since his appointment to the job.

He visited the construction site of Western Sydney University’s new vertical campus in Bankstown, in the heart of his electorate.

“Growing up western Sydney, I had to travel hours each day to get to and from university,” Mr Clare said. “This development, which is right across the road from my electorate office, means young people who grew up here can go to uni here.”

The new WSU campus, due for completion at the end of 2022, will have space for 10,000 students and 1000 staff and is near the future Bankstown metro station.