Claire Field warns the higher education landscape is being reshaped


And the future for VET depends on the federal election

COVID-19 makes it impossible to confidently predict the future of the sector over the next 12 months, but 2022 starts with a number of challenges already in play.

At 20 December 2021 – half of all international higher education visa holders were offshore, compared to just 10 per cent in VET. These figures highlight the challenges the higher education sector has faced during COVID, and while superficially they indicate VET is in better health – recent media reports suggest this is not the case.

In addition, changes to the ESOS Act flagged in the new International Education Strategy will require providers to achieve an optimal mix of international students (presumably fewer students from China, India and Nepal) and to have an optimal mix of domestic and international students at the classroom level. These reforms will challenge international education providers as they seek to rebuild.

And with universities using international education revenues to fund research –the ESOS reforms are likely to have a wider impact.

Research will also be affected by Minister Robert’s ‘Letter of Expectations’ to the Australian Research Council stating that future research grants should be more closely focussed on National Manufacturing Priorities, and that the ARC should “fast track” the development of new measures of the quality and impact of research. According to the minister, these new world class research benchmarks should “set a rising standard over time.”

With six Australian universities (two public and four private) not meeting the current research quality benchmarks required to maintain their status as a university under the revised Higher Education Provider Category Standards, and with universities potentially having less money to spend on research as they diversify their future international student cohort, the higher education landscape is being fundamentally reshaped.

Meanwhile in VET the future shape of the sector hinges on the Federal election outcome. Labor has articulated a pro-TAFE agenda (albeit with some potential challenges for TAFE), while the coalition can be expected to continue their focus on efficient pricing and funding contestability.

Claire Field is the host of the free ‘What now? What next?’ podcast. She examines the challenges facing the sector in more detail in the latest episode.