Busy agenda for ATN in Canberra including Ministerial meetings, committee hearings and #UAConf2023

23 February 2023

The ATN Universities team has been kept extremely busy this past fortnight in the nation’s capital. Our commitments have included the inaugural meeting of the Ministerial Reference Group for the Universities Accord, of which Executive Director, Luke Sheehy, is a member.

That first meeting was followed by the release of #UniversitiesAccord Discussion Paper by Professor Mary O’Kane AC, which includes 49 questions the sector has been challenged to answer in coming months. Prof O’Kane urged those providing Submissions to “be bold, be brave” and to provide lots of ideas, evidence and data. The Accord Chair also revealed that survey results show “a general call for a system where there’s opportunity for all students and staff, regardless of where they come from”. The main themes from the Submissions which guided the Discussion Paper included “improving access to higher education for under-represented groups and improving outcomes for equity cohorts with focus on retention, completion and success as well as participation”.

Our friends at Universities Australia this week hosted #UACONF2023, a key event on the calendar, attracting a who’s who of Higher Ed and hearing from Education Minister, Jason Clare, at the Gala Dinner in Parliament House, telling the large crowd:

“Every now and again there are moments, when just maybe, we get a chance to turn the country of our imagination into something real. This is one of them. This is a year for big ideas. It’s a year for big ideas in education.”

The Education Minister regaled the crowd with an account of his six-year-old’s love of the musical Hamilton, telling the gathering:

“There is a line in one of the songs that talks about “planting seeds in a garden you never get to see”. Writing this speech that line kept repeating in my head. Planting seeds in a garden you never get to see. That’s what real, long-lasting reform is. It grows with time. That sort of reform though, only happens, and only endures, if it is planted in good soil and if it’s tended to by bipartisanship. That’s my hope for this year. That we test each other and trust each other. That we forge a genuine Accord. A blueprint for real and long-lasting change. That we make the most of this moment.

One of the highlights of the night for ATN Universities was the recognition of Deakin University’s Professor David Boud, who was presented with the University Teaching Career Achievement Award.

We also had the opportunity to host a vibrant roundtable strategy session with the ATN Policy Group on Tuesday to assist us in refining our collective policy response, along with catch-ups of our DVCs-A and DVCs-R.

Luke also appeared before the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security on Tuesday which has been tasked with a review of the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme. There was also an appearance before the Senate Economics Legislation Committee on the $15B National Reconstruction Fund Bill on Wednesday and meetings with a wide range of stakeholders including the US, EU and Chinese Embassies, DFAT China, Pacific and EU desks, DFAT Foreign Arrangement Scheme Branch, the Accord Taskforce, the PM’s adviser on education, Minister Husic’ science adviser, ATSE and STA.

The over-riding mood in Canberra is optimistic, especially when it comes to opening of borders and return of international students. As always, ATN’s policy experience and insights were highly valued and influential, as evidenced by the Government’s decision to increase working caps and post-study work rights for international students. ATN has consistently advocated for an effective system which combines part-time work with studying, post-study work rights and permanent migration.