Now that the Gala Dinner celebrating our 25th birthday has ended, the accolades sung and the people who brought us to this moment suitably recognised, the party decorations have been swept into the skips of history and we look ahead to the next 25 years.
For those of you who weren’t with us for the dinner we had a glittering evening, wonderful speeches, live music courtesy of James Morrison, even acrobats and some fine wine that may have caused some of the kinds of photographs that, used judiciously, could yet add money to our scholarship fund.
Almost 900 people gathered to help us celebrate, includinga multi-talented group of staff, students, alumni, corporate partners, donors and members of government.
This was a gathering with one purpose – to raise money for our scholarship fund ($250,000 and counting) so that more students can have access to the wealth and opportunities that education brings them.
And as we looked over the achievements of the past and looked ahead to the many initiatives that are underway currently – from the Great Hall to expanding our online education footprint and forging new industry partnerships with the likes of Calvary hospital – we recognised that our institution is growing fast. We are going to ‘need a bigger boat’ as was famously said in Jaws.
This is also of course a time of significant change in the sector. Elements of what we as a university confront are shared. And in this context, the responses to the government’s current discussion paper which will guide much needed policy development in our sector, are important.
We need to not lose sight of the first principles in this debate. The development of this nation is dependent upon having a more equitable, cohesive and economically successful society. That can only come through education.
Public universities – those which receive government support – have a broader public purpose: not just to extend human understanding, but to contribute to economic growth. To produce educated, salary earning, tax paying citizens who are more fully engaged with their communities while also raising the skill level and productivity of the Australian and global workplace.
We need to remember that public investment in education also leverages significant private revenue and investment, and drives Australia’s largest service export industry.
We do need to decide how we want public investment in education and research to benefit the national economy.
We need to set realistic expectations and to structure schemes to deliver the expected outcomes.
As outlined in our submission and that of the Australian Technology Network, I believe we need an equitable cost distribution between the Commonwealth and the individual that recognises the value that education delivers to both.
We do need to ensure that education remains a high quality, internationally attractive offering, which is firmly plugged into the national innovation agenda. And for that we need certainty in funding.
Our submission proposed five key principles:
1. Ensuring a sustainable higher education system. This must remain affordable and accessible to all who are eligible regardless of background or circumstance. We recommended that the Government and the learner should share the costs of education 50:50.
2. Expanding opportunities for students. We recommended the retention of the demand-driven system and its expansion to include sub-bachelor programs to provide greater opportunities and choice for students. This creates a fair and transparent higher education system that ensures equity of access, enables flexibility and innovation for institutions and produces highly-skilled graduates needed for a knowledge and service-based economy.
3. Ongoing support for disadvantaged students. The government has cut funding to the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program (HEPPP) and will be undertaking an evaluation of the program. Our position is that HEPPP funding should be maintained. The positive impact we have had in supporting disadvantaged student access, participation and completion can only be sustained with additional funding support.
4. Maintaining some postgraduate coursework places in the demand driven system. In recognition of the significant role postgraduate coursework programs have in the up-skilling and re-skilling of Australia’s workforce, we recommended that the allocation of subsidised postgraduate places continue, but that the allocation process be evidence-based, consistent and transparent.
5. Investing in world-class research. The government proposed a 10 per cent reduction per annum in funding for the Research Training Scheme, which we oppose. The full cost of research is not covered by existing grants and the shortfall is not made up by research block grant funding.
We are very proud that the University of South Australia leads the way in realising potential – the potential inherent in our students, our research and our ability to catalyse social and economic growth and development in this State and beyond.
Looking towards the next 25 years we will keep true to our mission of offering the benefits and opportunities of education to everyone, not just the privileged few.
And just like us, the higher education sector must maintain a focus on equity and access, on enhanced educational offerings, on innovation, on industry and end-user informed research, on being globally engaged and engaging more fully with our communities. Just like us, the sector itself needs ‘a bigger boat’.
Professor David Lloyd
Vice Chancellor and President
Chair of the Australian Technology Network of Universities