September 3, 2013

Labor delivers; now we need the Coalition to confirm its position

The Labor Innovation policy confirms the major improvements in the support for higher education and research outcomes over the past six years. The policy rightly emphasises the Government’s achievements and sets out further elements to be pursued if returned to Government.

The Coalition has stated its broad support for the major changes introduced by the Government. It now needs to release its higher education and research policy to confirm that support and outline the particular initiatives it proposes. This bi-partisan support is crucial to supporting universities as they provide the education and research that Australians need to underpin a prosperous and successful society and economy.

The IRU is pleased that Labor will continue to drive ahead with the demand driven funding system for university students. The IRU among other universities, made clear over past months that this major transformation must remain in place over the coming decade to ensure all capable and interested Australians can access a university education. As the Labor policy indicates there is no conflict between quality of university education and access.

However, the Policy is silent about the impact of the cuts to university funding in 2014 and 2015 and reductions in support for students. The next Government will have to legislate for those cuts – or decide not to pursue them as The Greens propose.

The major gap in Government programs and commitments from all parties is to address long term investment for university infrastructure both the everyday and useful, and for the major cross institutional research facilities needed to be part of international research.

Universities are rapidly taking up the opportunities to reshape everyday teaching through digital technology. This needs extensive reworking of teaching spaces designed for a past century and investment in the technology that underpins the changed approach. There is no Government investment in this, while the efficiency dividend simply reduces the capacity for base funding to support it.

Labor states a principled desire to continue with investment on research infrastructure which it will pursue through a review by the Chief Scientist to determine how to fund such facilities. This may be the mechanism to achieve the outcome needed – of a long term steady investment in research infrastructure. However, what we have now is widespread agreement of the need and no Party willing to commit the funding.

Labor is creating 12 Australian Innovation Partnerships, many of which involve IRU members. These are important initiatives to improve university interactions with industry. It is important that these are allowed to demonstrate their potential whichever party wins Government at the election.

The IRU endorsees the Labor commitment to ‘act on’ the Report on university regulation which identified major weaknesses in the application of quality regulation and the relationships among the various parties involved. Addressing the recommendations of the Report should be a prime focus for the early months of the next Government.

International education is a major contributor to Australia’s economic wellbeing and to our interaction with many neighboring countries. Labor will respond to the report on international education which the Chaney committee prepared. Support for international education needs a major refresh which the Labor commitments will support.

The IRU also welcomes Labor’s proposed support for international research engagement, which has been a patchy area for Government, with previous programs focused at supporting the universities already engaged in target countries rather than assisting all capable researchers to make the links that will advance their research.

Attached is a summary of the commitments to higher education, research and related areas from all parties to date in the 2013 election campaign.