Stephen Parker’s case for a single post-school education system

When Stephen Parker stood alone among VCs against Christopher Pyne’s deregulation plan some asked if he had a vision of his own. He did and here it is.

Australians should have open access to a single post-secondary education system, designed to “maximise our potential for a future which is different in ways that are presently unknowable.” Stephen Parker, former VC of the University of Canberra, with consultants Andrew Dempster and Mark Warburton, set a ten-point plan to deliver this, in a KPMG report released this morning.

The plan builds on years of writing by Professor Parker on the potential for paradigm-shifting changes to education production and consumption. He now proposes a “move from binary system to ecosystem, with more diversity of providers, organised around the backbone of a revised Australian Qualifications Framework and legislative requirements which treat like providers alike.”

The plan would cost up to $2.4bn, on 2016 circumstances, which he describes as “a small price to pay for investment in a re-invigorated and coherent system which encourages innovation. The price tag for being wrong-footed by economic change would be a lot higher,” he writes.

For providers the plan proposes two fundamental changes, positioning the Australian Qualifications Framework, as a “central organising construct” and creating a new regulator to set course prices.

There are four elements to an enhanced AQF. Learners creating their own programs, with a possible mix of practical and theoretical learning, to meet their individual needs. Qualifications achieved through various learning pathways, including ones that are practical, employer-based, technical and discipline-based. Institutions recognising learning outside regulated tertiary education and an end to VET and higher education variations of the same qualification.

While the authors acknowledge the pricing authority would require expertise beyond the existing Department of Education and Training they are careful to point to precedents (for example the Independent Hospital Pricing Authority)  and the practicalities of what it could achieve.

“Decision-making would occur in a transparent, orderly way through the publication of draft findings, opportunities for stakeholders to comment and publication of a final decision which would then have effect. Advance notice would be given of any changes to pricing arrangements and student contribution arrangements to allow providers and students sufficient time to plan ahead.”

The overall ten points are.

* a single post-secondary system based on the AQF and funded by the feds

* restore and expand the demand driven system

* income-contingent loans for students at private, as well as public providers and for courses at all AQF levels

* Commonwealth funding for teaching spent on teaching with research funded separately

* an independent tertiary education pricing authority: “to determine the appropriate price for the teaching of various disciplines at different tertiary education levels, and set the maximum amount of student contributions that can be levied”

* a single loans scheme for “full range” of tertiary qualifications: annual and lifetime borrowings set according to “expected private benefits of the various qualifications”

* tighter regulation of voced providers

* teaching excellence assessment: with funding attached

* “further improvements” in information on providers: “to assist students in making the right choice for them”

“These nine recommendations would stimulate provision at all levels of tertiary education and training, and enable innovation, particularly in courses focused on practice and the workplace.”

The tenth is that “university” should continue to be protected as a name, but provider categories would be abolished, ending the divide between universities, which are required to research, and HE providers, that aren’t. “A freed up tertiary system with strong regulation to monitor quality would enable a level playing field between new entrants and established entrants, and between public and private providers.”


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