ATN supports focus on outcomes in higher education reforms

9 May 2017

The Australian Technology Network of Universities (ATN) supports those proposed reform measures outlined in the Budget aligned to the delivery of sustainability and long-term growth of the sector, but argues that the proposed cuts will undermine the sector’s ability to enact such reform.

After a twelve month consultation period the ATN is pleased that the focus of higher education reform is on education outcomes, improved industry linkages and accessibility of education, noting that successful universities are critical to the successful delivery of the aims outlined in the National Innovation and Science Agenda.

ATN Executive Director, Renee Hindmarsh says “Universities are the largest non-resource contributor to the Australian economy and a global success story, with international education contributing $22 billion per annum”.

“The ATN has long advocated that Australia should have a sustainable, world-class higher education system that remains affordable and accessible to all who are eligible, regardless of background or circumstance.

“Although there is much that is positive in the package, our strong view is that the proposed cuts to universities, although less than the 20% cut proposed in previous budgets, will put detrimental pressure on universities that have already contributed $3.9 billion to budget repair since 2011/2012. The Deloitte review reflects only some aspects of university operations, and in no way can be used as a justification for further cuts to university funding,” Ms Hindmarsh says.

“Given the ATN’s strong focus on equitable outcomes and longstanding advocacy in this area, we do applaud the decision by Minister Birmingham to enshrine the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program (HEPPP) in legislation, thereby protecting support for disadvantaged students”.

“The HECS/HELP system is one of the greatest features of Australia’s tertiary education system. While we accept the sustainability of this system is of utmost importance as it means that higher education is accessible to all, regardless of their financial circumstances, the ATN is wary of any measures to place increased financial burden on students. The ATN is committed to providing the highest quality education to all of our students. However, the combination of ongoing cuts to funding and a focus on performance improvements can only lead to diminishing returns.”

The ATN strives to be the network of choice for industry. Work integrated learning is a key component of this so the inclusion of a supplement to encourage more industry/university collaboration is welcomed, a shift that is consistent with the recommendations of our 2015 PwC report ‘Innovate and Prosper’.

The ATN is also pleased to note the extension of the demand driven system to include sub-bachelor places, effectively expanding higher education to a new cohort of students. We particularly welcome the requirement to ensure that the courses respond to industry needs, guaranteeing that universities continue to deliver the highly skilled graduates sought required by our transforming economy.

We look forward to working with the Government to ensure a postgraduate system that is student-centric at its core, although recognise that this requires a careful and nuanced approach.

“The ATN will take any opportunities to actively participate in the consultations between government, parliament and the sector on the details around the implementation of these proposed reforms to ensure that there are no unintended consequences,” Ms Hindmarsh says.