From January onwards Government and universities will be implementing the very significant changes arising out of the Job-Ready Graduates (JRG) legislation that passed the Parliament in October 2020. There is broad-scale change to Commonwealth Grant Scheme funding and student contributions for government-subsidised places designed to deliver an extra 39,000 domestic students on university campuses by 2023. New places funded in last year’s Budget will also be allocated.
JRG also introduced the $900 million National Priorities and Industry Linkage Fund (NPILF) to encourage engagement between universities and business. A working group of university Vice-Chancellors has been established to provide advice on the design of the NPILF, with the final metrics and allocation framework to be introduced from 2024. The sector can expect the working group to make its recommendations in 2021.
A scoping study on the commercialisation of research was also one of the initiatives announced in the 2020-21 Federal Budget. The Department of Education, Skills and Employment will undertake the study in 2021. Universities perform around 90 per cent of the fundamental research undertaken in Australia and 43 per cent of all our nation’s applied research.
Last year, the Government also established the Research Sustainability Working Group to advise on short and long term issues in research funding. Nine university Vice-Chancellors comprise the working group, who will advise the new Education Minister Alan Tudge on sustainable approaches to research funding for universities during COVID-19 and beyond. This process will play an important role in finding longer-term solutions to sustain university research.
In 2021, universities will continue to implement the Guidelines to counter foreign interference in the Australian university sector, which were developed by the University Foreign Interference Taskforce (UFIT) and will be refreshed in 2021. Universities Australia will continue to coordinate activities across government and the sector and support the implementation of the guidelines. Universities Australia will continue to advocate for balancing national security considerations with the large economic and social benefits of international research partnerships.
The Council for International Education has recently agreed that a new Australian Strategy for International Education is its priority for 2021. The new strategy will reaffirm that Australia is an effective, trusted global partner of choice in international education, training and research. Australia’s universities have consistently said the gradual return of international students requires careful coordination between governments, universities, health and immigration authorities and should only happen when it is safe to do so.
In early 2021, the sector expects a decision from the Copyright Tribunal of Australia on the equitable remuneration universities pay to Copyright Agency for the use of statutory licence material. Universities Australia manages the agreement with Copyright Agency on behalf of its member universities and has been managing representation of the sector with Baker McKenzie throughout the Copyright Tribunal process. Universities Australia is seeking a framework that is fair and reasonable for authors and the sector.
In the next stage of Universities Australia partnership with Our Watch and the Victorian Government, 2021 will release an evidence-based, whole-of-institution model to address the gendered drivers of violence against women and LGBTIQ people. Called Educating for Equality, this project is the first of its kind in the world and builds on the promising results of a two-year pilot with four universities. This partnership is a key part of the sector’s enduring role in preventing and addressing violence against women – with a potential ripple effect for the community at large.
Universities Australia has also commissioned the Social Research Centre, in partnership with Associate Professor Anastasia Powell from RMIT University, to conduct the next national student safety survey in 2021 to collect information on the scale and nature of students’ experiences of sexual assault and harassment. This will provide the sector with essential information that will help to keep students safe.
Universities Australia plans to revise and release an updated sector-wide policy statement in the first half of 2021. This builds on the first sector-wide policy statement, A Smarter Australia: An agenda for higher education 2013–2016 and its follow-up document, Keep It Clever in 2016. This will provide an important platform for advocacy on behalf of the sector.
Universities Australia is working to refresh and relaunch its Indigenous Higher Education Strategy in mid-2021. Originally launched in 2017, the strategy is a sector-wide initiative that brings all member universities together to achieve common goals to advance Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation and success in higher education. Indigenous student enrolments have more than doubled since 2008. Despite this significant growth, Indigenous student enrolments only represent 1.9 per cent of all domestic enrolments, despite being 3.1 per cent of the Australian population.
The Universities Australia annual conference, which usually happens at the end of February in Canberra, has been postponed to 2-3 June for 2021. The conference is the scene-setter for the discussion and debate around higher education in Australia. The 2021 conference will be a hybrid event – including both online and in-person components. We hope to see you there.
As always, Universities Australia will continue to highlight the essential role that higher education and research play in Australia’s prosperity and universities’ potential to do even more to help the nation recover from the pandemic and its economic and social challenges.