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Attributable to Universities Australia Chief Executive Catriona Jackson:
Good morning and welcome to the Universities Australia Conference 2023.
I’d like to start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land we are gathered on today, the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, and I pay my respects to elders past and present.
It’s wonderful to be back gathering as a sector, meeting again at the start of the academic and parliamentary year.
So many of us together in one place.
Can I also extend a warm welcome to the many delegates joining us online – it’s great to have you joining us from all around the country.
We have a busy couple of days ahead – full of thought-provoking discussion and debate.
To lead the big conversations, we are fortunate to have an impressive range of leaders from Australia and across the globe – bringing academic, government and industry expertise and insight.
My thanks in advance to all those speaking.
This year’s conference, of course, is being held against the backdrop of the all-important Universities Accord.
A little later we’ll be hearing from Professor Mary O’Kane who is leading the review, and we welcome the release today of the Accord discussion paper.
Through the review process, we will be working with the independent panel and government, in genuine partnership, to shape our sector’s future and that of the nation.
This is the biggest opportunity for policy reform in our sector in decades.
We must grasp it with both hands and be bold in ambition and rigorous in process.
We must take up the opportunity to demonstrate the value of universities and reinforce the impact we have everywhere, every day.
There is an abundance of evidence.
Our institutions, on behalf of the nation, bear enormous responsibility:
- educating one and a half million students every year
- producing skilled workers to fuel the economy
- employing hundreds of thousands of Australians
- generating export revenue that pays for essential services
- producing life-changing innovations and breakthroughs
- boosting our diplomacy and soft power,
- and so importantly, broadening minds and lifting our eyes above the horizon.
We have a strong university system that enables this, and more.
I know everyone in this room, and those of you online, understand the importance of this opportunity that the Accord presents.
To make the most of it, we must come together as a sector, not uniform, but unified.
That is what government expects, and it will serve us well through this process.
We are thankful for the Albanese Government’s focus on higher education – and indeed the support we receive across the full political spectrum.
The Accord aside, there is plenty happening.
In the last couple of weeks, the Defence Strategic Review was handed to government.
UA, on behalf of the sector, made a comprehensive submission to this review, focusing on how universities can partner with our defence establishment to meet our nation’s security needs.
Universities, of course, train the skilled workers that our Defence Force, defence industries and complementary sectors so desperately need.
The current review of the migration system is another forum we have to partner with government to meet the nation’s needs.
Our world-class universities attract hundreds of thousands of international students each year, yet very few of them remain here after they graduate.
Australia’s complex and outdated visa system is to blame, and the current skills crisis has laid bare the challenges this brings.
Yesterday, we received some welcome news on this front with the government’s announcement that it would be extending post-study work rights for international students.
On behalf of members, Universities Australia advocated strongly for this change, and we congratulate the Albanese Government for its strong leadership and solutions-driven approach to meeting our workforce needs.
Work on the review of the Australian Research Council is nearing its pointy end and just last week the government responded to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security’s report on foreign interference, strongly noting the front-foot approach we have taken.
Our sector is high on the national and political agenda – which is exactly where it should be.
We are front and centre in meeting national priorities – productivity, economic modernisation, and reinforcing Australia’s place in the world.
Working together as a sector, we can turbocharge our efforts to maximise the contribution universities make to society and the nation – not just here in the coming days but in everything we do.
I urge you to make the most of conference and make a full-throated contribution to debate in a year that is full of promise.