Setting standards: what will define an Aus university

Peter Coaldrake will undertake the review of higher education provider standards announced in March.

What’s going to happen: Education Minister Dan Tehan named the recently retired QUT vice chancellor yesterday. This will be a big job, with the potential to put non-research universities and sub-degree issuing institutions which provide pathways to universities on the policy agenda. Certainly, Mr Tehan has a shakeup of the system in mind. “It’s important the provider categories can accommodate changing practices in higher education and encourage choice of educational offerings to students, while continuing to provide the quality education the Australian community expects,” he said.

A discussion paper is expected before year end, to be followed by consultations and a report to government in the second half of 2019.

Professor Coaldrake’s appointment was welcomed yesterday, he is widely considered an astute analyst of higher education policy. His most recent book on the future for HE (with Lawrence Stedman) set out the challenges all providers face (CMM August 14 2017).

For anybody interested in his initial thinking on the issue he is on a panel discussion at the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency conference next month

Why this matters: This review was first announced in the 2017 budget papers which called it “an opportunity to ensure a coherent tertiary education sector with clear but permeable demarcations to reflect changing VET and higher education requirements and expectations. Even if no change flows from this examination, it is timely to consider the effectiveness of the provider category descriptions,” (CMM February 9 2018).

There is a bunch to examine but the issue which will attract attention is how Australia defines a university. To be a university under the existing rules as well as teaching an institution must undertake original research in a minimum of three disciplines. Dropping the requirement would make it possible for teaching-focused institutions to get on with what they are best at with no loss of title or for now non-university providers to lift their branding. This would not happen quickly, there isn’t a vice chancellor in the country who would willingly give up a research programme. But it might over-time if private providers titled universities started to take market share from public institutions where research investment reduces teaching quality. As Stephen Parker and colleagues put it in their recent KPMG Reimagining tertiary education report, “There is no reason why Australia … might not have a university predominantly devoted to teaching but also with a single world-renowned research institute attracting Australian Government research funds. There is no reason why it might not have a university devoted to teaching excellence or mastery in a field such as music, engineering or design.”


to get daily updates on what's happening in the world of Australian Higher Education