“In a fast-changing strategic and economic environment, we need more of what universities offer, not less,” Universities Australia Chief Executive Catriona Jackson said.
“A decade of tweaks to our settings have resulted in caps on university places, confused market signals being sent to students, the abandonment of infrastructure investment initiatives and government expenditure on research plummeting to an all-time low.
“The consequences of these actions are leaving our institutions financially vulnerable, and our vulnerability becomes the nation’s vulnerability.
“A combination of funding certainty and flexibility is needed so that universities can best serve their communities as well as their strengths.
“We are calling for mission-based partnership agreements that include an element of base funding and other funding, related to national and local priorities and place.
“The current funding model has not kept pace with the evolving student and national need as well as lifelong learning.”
Analysis by Universities Australia found that overall federal funding for universities between 2009 and 2019 has failed to keep pace with increases in general operating costs, placing strain on institutions.
Expenses from continuing operations per enrolled student increased by 35 per cent in this period, while government funding per enrolled student rose by just two per cent (excluding HECS-HELP loans).
This represents a jump from $17,358 per enrolled student to $23,371 in expenses, compared to government funding rising from $8,025 per enrolled student to just $8,176.
“Universities are wearing the cost of a decade of constant change to policy and funding settings,” Ms Jackson said.
“Government investment in our institutions has been stagnant for some time. The Australian Universities Accord is an opportunity to fix this.
“We need policy settings and funding mechanisms that will enable universities to continue serving Australia’s interests. We need stability and certainty.
“More jobs in the future will require a university degree while demand for research and development, to guide national priorities like the energy transition and AUKUS, is only growing.
“Substantial and sustainable government investment in university activities is needed to meet current and future needs of the nation. We can’t continue doing more with less.”
In its response to the Australian Universities Accord interim report, UA is calling on government to:
- establish a new funding model to support the ongoing operation of universities through mission-based partnership agreements
- enhance connectivity between higher and vocational education to drive lifelong, student-focused learning experiences
- develop a National Lifelong Learning Strategy with government, industry and unions
- adjust policy settings to facilitate better availability of and access to compulsory work placements, and
- allocate greater funding to support universities’ research and development activities, teaching and community engagement.
Read Universities Australia’s full response to the interim report here.