Economy

Review backs $6 billion university overhaul

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Australia’s university system should be given an extensive overhaul, according to the findings of a Government-commissioned report on tertiary education.

Australia’s university system should be given an extensive overhaul, according to the findings of a Government-commissioned report on tertiary education.

The report suggests providing bonus payments to institutions that meet specific goals outlined in the report, requiring institutions to use funds to help students with living expenses and providing more money for regional universities.

The report also suggests a more consistent system for accrediting higher education providers and lowering the age for Youth Allowance benefits from 25 to 22.

The author of the review, Emeritus Professor Denise Bradley, says Australia is lagging behind other countries in tertiary education institutions. “In 2020, Australia will not be where we aspire to be — in the top group of OECD countries — unless we act, and act now.”

But acting will not be cheap. The report, which is a product of a nine-month inquiry which received over 450 submissions, suggests changes to Australian’s university education system will cost the Government $5.7 billion over four years.

But some suggestions have already been attacked.

One major recommendation details a “demand-driven” system, where the allocation of publically-funded course places would be more competitive. In such a system, each student would receive a voucher-style entitlement allowing them to attend the university of their choice.

While the report argues this will enable more flexibility, critics say it will lead to more popular courses being favoured over others.

“We’re concerned it would lead to a skewed graduate outcome, for example a tripling of accountants and lawyers, but not enough people graduating in areas of national need such as maths, science and teaching or humanities,” National Union of Students president Angus McFarland told The Age.

But Swinburne chancellor Bill Scales says students would be drawn towards higher quality institutions, forcing improvements overall.

The report also recommends the development of more full-fee paying places, a suggestion the Government is likely to reject.

The Government is set to reply to the recommendations in February. Education Minister Julia Gillard says the Government’s response will be based on the principle that students should access university based on merit, not ability to pay.

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