What’s in an HE provider name – it depends on the Senate


Research benchmarks are going to matter, for existing unis as well as aspiring ones

Unlike the Job-Ready Graduates funding reforms, the Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Provider Category Standards and Other Measures) Bill 2020 has received almost no attention in the media and the sector has been largely silent.

The Provider Category Standards legislation has been examined by a Senate Committee and received support from Coalition members. Labor issued a minority report and the Greens provided additional comments.

The legislation will impact universities through the introduction of research quality benchmarks. The Group of Eight’s submission raised valid concerns that a number of universities do not currently meet the benchmarks proposed by Peter Coaldrake in his Review(or have only just met them) and could be under pressure in relation to maintaining their university status. Labor and the Greens argued for different safeguards on how the benchmarks would be set.

The likely introduction of research benchmarks puts enormous pressure on the Research Sustainability group advising on future research funding. With the Job-Ready Graduate package providing base funding only for teaching activities and the sector dealing with reduced international student revenue, some universities are likely to struggle to meet the proposed research benchmarks and could lose their status as a university.

The second issue which is vexing both Labor and Greens senators is the nomenclature for high performing non-university providers. The legislation refers to them as university colleges. Coaldrake recommended they be titled ‘National Institutes of Higher Education’. The Greens agree with Coaldrake. Labor appears confused – saying they support Coaldrake’s nomenclature but then referring to these “high-performing” providers by the generic “institute of higher education.” It is not clear if Labor actually supports Coaldrake’s ‘National’ Institutes.

How many universities, university colleges/national institutes, and institutes of higher education we end up with in the sector hinges on how the Senate deals with this legislation.

Claire Field is an advisor to the tertiary education sector.