Statement | Universities Accord

Posted in Statements on 26 February 2024

The Australasian Council of Deans of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities acknowledges the work of the Universities Accord Panel culminating in the Final Report released on 25 February 2024. 

DASSH members were highly engaged throughout last year and contributed strongly to the consultation process. 

There were several key recommendations made by DASSH that have been adopted in the Final Report. They include: 

  • The scrapping of Job-ready Graduates because of the onerous impact of student contributions for those studying arts, social sciences and humanities, among other disciplines, and the limited impact on student choices 
  • That a new needs-based funding model be established 
  • That the government make changes to Youth Allowance and provide greater support to regional and part-time students and that further supports are provided to non-traditional students 
  • The establishment of a First Nations Council which would advise ministers and the proposed Australian Tertiary Education Commission 
  • That a First Nations review be undertaken with the aim of improving participation and strengthening Indigenous learning and research 
  • An increase to investment in research and development to fund the full economic cost of research 
  • To improve the quality of university education with a focus on student safety and wellbeing as well other measures such as paid placements. 

The report points to the fact that higher education provides essential benefits to Australian society beyond increasing the number of skilled workers.  

The Report says: “By encouraging intellectual endeavour, creativity and personal accomplishment, higher education adds to the quality of our lives. By pursuing truth through free discussion, higher education promotes democracy and civic values.”

DASSH is pleased to see that the Panel has recognised these important points, along with the Panel’s National Tertiary Education Objective which set out some highly commendable ambitions.  

These include that the sector must underpin a strong, equitable and resilient democracy and drive national economic and social development and environmental sustainability. 

In order to meet these objectives Australia must invest in the full range of academic disciplines, such as the arts, social sciences and humanities as well as more vocational education. 

Our members strongly welcome the opportunity to bring a focus onto skills in the arts, social sciences and humanities through the recommended National Skills Passport. 

We also urge the Minister for Education Jason Clare to give full weight to the Panel’s comments about the importance of knowledge and transferrable skills in a modern economy. 

To take a purely vocational approach to higher education risks sidelining the critical role universities and their graduates play in providing the necessary knowledge and skills that a successful, modern society requires as the Report states. 

The Panel has also recommended the establishment of an Australian Tertiary Education Commission which would report to both the Minister for Education and the Minister for Skills and Training and have a very broad remit: 

“Its initial remit will extend to policy development for higher education and research, future planning, making mission- based compacts, pricing, funding allocation, accountability, data collection and transparency, quality and performance.” 

It would also incorporate the Australian Research Council and the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency which would retain their status as independent statutory bodies. 

In our response to the Interim Report DASSH outlined several potential challenges arising from a Tertiary Education Commission, drawing on some of the experiences of our Aotearoa New Zealand colleagues. 

If the recommendation that a TEC be established is adopted, we urge the Minister to consider the risk of administrative burden on universities, high costs, of possible mission creep that undermines the independence of universities and the possibility of a narrowing view of what higher education is.  

Ultimately the Final Report provides a vision of a more equitable, well-funded and student-focussed tertiary education sector. We strongly applaud that ambition, one for which DASSH members advocated over the course of 2023. 

Consultation around the Universities Accord was in depth and broad ranging and we thank the Panel for the opportunity to contribute to this process. 

Professor Nick Bisley
President, Australasian Council of Deans of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities