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[Set of principles to develop our higher education system: Federal, State and Territory Education Ministers joint statement]



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FEDERAL SHADOW EDUCATION MINISTER JENNY MACKLIN AND AUSTRALIA’S STATE AND TERRITORY EDUCATION MINISTERS

JOINT STATEMENT

Investment in higher education is the key to securing the well-educated, highly skilled workforce vital to Australia’s future as an internationally competitive economy. In the interests of building a higher education system that will secure this future for Australia, we have developed a set of principles that should underpin much-needed reforms.

Funding Public funding for higher education is an investment in the future wealth and prosperity of the community as a whole. This prosperity has been jeopardised by the more than $3 billion cut from Commonwealth investment in universities since 1996. We demand increased Commonwealth investment in higher education.

Student Fees In light of the large private contributions already being made to the cost of tertiary education by Australian students and their families, we oppose deregulation of tuition charges. Deregulation would allow universities to increase the number of students being charged upfront fees and to increase the level of HECS, which would:

• result in a further increase to the financial burden on students; and • allow more established universities to benefit at the expense of others.

Regions Universities play a vital economic, social and cultural role in the smaller states and territories and in rural and regional communities. They are often the largest employer in these areas. Their valuable contribution should be protected by:

• ensuring that resources are distributed fairly, not concentrated in a handful of large, metropolitan universities; • recognising that all universities have research strengths that must continue to be supported and allowed to flourish; and • rejecting the creation of ‘teaching only’ or ‘undergraduate only’ universities.

Unmet demand Australia cannot afford to waste its talent and potential by denying a place in post-school education to the 54,000 qualified students identified by the AVCC this year. Increasing participation rates at all levels of education is in the interests of every Australian. The high level of unmet demand for university places must be addressed, particularly in areas critical to the community, such as teaching and nursing. The supply of teaching graduates is also essential to maintain strong and effective primary and secondary education systems.

Equitable Participation The nation as a whole benefits when people from diverse backgrounds have an opportunity to attend university. The Howard Government’s proposed reforms - particularly the deregulation of HECS and up-front fees - would exacerbate the disadvantage already being experienced by people from low income, indigenous or remote communities. Bandaid measures such as scholarships are not a solution.

Educational quality Australia’s hard-won international reputation for quality higher education is in jeopardy because of declining Commonwealth investment. This is threatening standards and undermining public confidence in university quality. Any reforms should enhance the quality of teaching, learning and research and ensure all Australians have access to a broad range of courses irrespective of location.

Research A strong and diverse research effort is fundamental to Australia’s future. It builds community wealth and is essential to informing and enhancing teaching and learning. Of great concern is the fact that since 1997 national expenditure on research and development as a proportion of GDP has declined 8 per cent. Research capacity should be developed according to discipline and merit, rather than on an institutional basis, and be fostered through co-operative, as well as competitive, funding systems. Research and research training is an essential function of all universities and should remain that way.

National System of Higher Education The Commonwealth’s proposed reforms threaten Australia’s national system of higher education. Those reforms should instead be directed at building on existing strengths through strategic collaboration and networking, not fragmentation and contrived specialisation. The range of each university’s activities should be based on excellence and potential, not limited by its history.

Vocational Education and Training Australia benefits when students can move easily and effectively between the VET and higher education systems. Improved links between the two systems must be developed, including clear and consistent procedures for Recognition of Prior Learning between the two sectors, while retaining their distinctive roles.

Internationalisation The successful internationalisation of higher education can create important social, cultural and economic links between Australia, our region and the world. The Crossroads reform agenda sells the nation short by focusing almost exclusively on the income generated by Australia’s position as a leading exporter of education services, at the expense of social and cultural benefits.

Jenny Macklin Federal Shadow Minister for Employment, Education, Science and Training John Watkins Minister for Education and Training, New South Wales Lynne Kosky Minister for Education and Training, Victoria Anna Bligh Minister for Education, Queensland Alan Carpenter Minister for Education, Western Australia Jane Lomax-Smith Minister for Employment, Training and Further Education,

South Australia

Paula Wriedt Minister for Education, Tasmania Simon Corbell Minister for Education, Youth and Family Services, Australian Capital Territory Syd Stirling Minister for Education, Employment and Training,

Northern Territory

Tuesday October 8, 2002