November 2, 2020

National priorities and industry linkage fund (NPILF) consultation – IRU response

The IRU has submitted its response to the Government’s consultation on the National Priorities and Industry Linkage Fund (NPILF), a fund introduced under the Job-Ready Graduate package to support enhanced engagement between universities and industry.

Over the past decade, universities have strengthened work-driven learning and activities across all degrees. This has extended work-based learning from the traditional professions that have previously included placements through to the full suite of courses on offer. Doing so has transformed the large generalist degrees like arts and commerce and business.

Universities have done this to ensure degrees prepare students better for their careers (that they are job-ready graduates). Government has encouraged universities to do by supporting industry partnership initiatives and measuring graduate employment outcomes.

The National Priorities and Industry Linkage Fund (NPILF) will be resourced by funds moved from the annual Commonwealth Grant Scheme payment per student.

The risk for NPILF is that universities are subjected to a time consuming and administratively cumbersome mix of performance metrics and a need to highlight certain projects. Taken together this could distract from, rather than enhance, the focus universities already have on improving future workplace outcomes for graduates.

NPILF needs an effective means to bring employers into active engagement with universities, with sufficient time to test out and identify the better practices that all can consider.

It also requires a more detailed discussion about how indicators are used to assess performance in ways that lead to better outcomes and avoids discouraging diverse approaches with potentially less predictable outcomes.

The IRU response addresses:

• NPILF aims, principles and approach;
• ensuring that employers want to be involved;
• best practice approaches – development and sharing;
• future allocation of funding;
• equity and work-driven learning; and
• using performance metrics more effectively.

It concludes with highlight examples of existing IRU work driven learning including an innovative suite of eWIL (e-Work Integrated Learning) projects across three government departments.

IRU Recommendations

To ensure the best return from the new program the IRU recommends eight improvements:

1. The STEM priority should remain focused at the STEM degrees and units that provide the broader generalist skills at issue and which current do not lead consistently to the desired economic outcome.

2. The program should focus on nine core indicators only, removing the need for three additional choices.3. Financial incentives for industry to partner with universities under NPILF, through additional funding for an industry incentives payment.

4. The program structure be altered such that:
− the pilot phase be organised as a three-year assessment with annual feedback, with the three-year approach to be routine once the NPILF model is implemented in 2024;
− the entire process be greatly simplified from 2024 with less emphasis on multiple reporting indicators to remove the considerable administrative burden on universities for the initial 2021 to 2023 period;
− the concept of withholding funds from universities which do not meet their stated NPILF goals be removed. Publication of each university’s outcomes would be sufficient.

5. Support for universities to expand and adopt good practices highlighted through NPILF agreements.

6. That the banded allocation of funding based on CSP EFTSL used between 2021 and 2023 should be continued from 2024 and beyond to provide the most realistic support, taking account of institutional needs and the spread of students across universities.

7. The metric indicators should be contextualised for the different composition of the student group at each university.

8. The following revisions to indicator performance measurement:
− universities can meet the NPILF metric requirements if successful on any metric within a priority;
− an ongoing discussion between the Department of Education Skills and Employment and university representative bodies about the use of performance indicators to ensure they are well suited both to encouraging improvement and recognise currently high-level performance that need not be the focus for immediate improvement.

Read the full IRU response