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Government, universities and students must work together to find the right balance for a revitalised economy

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The Group of Eight (Go8) represents Australia’s leading research-intensive universities.

The Go8 Board will work with the Australian Government to lead the nation out of recession, acknowledging the necessity for change across industry sectors, including Higher Education.

The announcement on the first phase of the Government’s post-COVID higher education reforms provides both opportunities and challenges for the sector.

  • The Go8 accepts that taking the nation out of a recession requires a fresh approach from all sectors and higher education is no exception and therefore must expect to see changes of emphases going forward.
  • We welcome the commitment from Government to work with the sector to build a stronger, more productive partnership as we tackle the challenges of this post-COVID era. Australia must leverage the talent residing in every single Australian through the provision of high-quality education and research, enabling them to participate in a new and revitalised economy. This will require an enhanced commitment to build the nation’s capabilities through graduates, new knowledge and innovation.
  • The Go8 welcomes the Government’s commitment to increased domestic student numbers in such constrained financial times, and to ensure those students have the opportunity to contribute to specific areas of economic and community need. However, the Go8 is concerned that the Government is hardwiring in a relative disinvestment in Higher Education as students will now be responsible for an increased share of funding for the sector.
  • The Go8, while concerned, as every educator would be, that some of our students will now pay considerably more for their degrees, is also very relieved that some two-thirds of students will pay less, and especially that the new policies, which will require legislation, will at least only apply to new students and not to the many who have already chosen their graduate career pathway.
  • The Go8 is especially pleased to note in the Minister’s speech a direct commitment to ensuring that the value of the critical research we carry out (70 per cent of Australia’s university research) and its financial security is in line with the solid working relationship we have forged with both the COVID Commission, Australia’s Health Minister and his Chief Medical Officers – as a result of the expert advice we have provided on bushfire recovery and COVID-19.
  • In the same way as the Minister has committed the Government to aligning funding for teaching with the cost of delivering that teaching, the Go8 looks forward to progressing discussions so that the same applies for the cost of delivering research – whether that research be in partnership with government or industry.
  • The Go8, which educates more than 40 per cent of Australia’s engineers (critical for defence projects and our energised national focus on niche advanced manufacturing) will stay closely involved as the detail expands on how research funding is managed via the National Priorities and Industry Linkage Fund and the Minister has asked us to do so.
  • We are seeking more students in science and engineering – areas in which the Go8 performs high quality research to underpin the growth of the smarter economy we will increasingly rely upon. However, this investment will be wasted unless there are jobs ready and waiting when they finish their studies. This reiterates the importance of supporting research partnerships between universities, industry and Government.

“The Go8 begins its discussions with the Minister on securing the nation’s research future next week, and we are confident this will be a much more measured and understanding series of discussions than those of previous years,” says Vicki Thomson Go8 Chief Executive.

“It is important to stress that the Go8 and Government are working from the base that the world has changed and we all have a part to play in ensuring we come through the next few years even stronger economically than we entered the COVID pandemic. Australia’s university research is critical to this outcome.”

Ms Thomson said that the Go8 wanted to stress that it was disappointed to be advised that some Australian students would incur significantly increased financial burdens from their chosen areas of study.

“Far from being comfortable with this policy decision, we disagree strongly with the idea implicit in the changes for Law, Economics, Business and particularly the Humanities that these students should miss out on Government support and should have to pay over 90 percent of the cost of their degrees. But, we recognise that out of COVID has come the need to embrace a level of pragmatism for the long-term national good. This is one such moment in time.”

Source: Go8

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