National Science Statement, a commitment for the future

The Innovative Research Universities (IRU) welcomes the release of the National Science Statement, which sets out the Government’s commitment to support Australia’s scientists and their work over the coming decade.

The challenge ahead is to make good the Statement through effective, long-term Government programs supporting research across all Australia.

Through the National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA) the Government set out many good initiatives, most of which are now in place.  It now needs to address the next set of issues to give life to the Statement’s ambitions.

The priority of these is funding for the National Research Infrastructure Roadmap.  The signature NISA investment to support existing National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) facilities does not provide for new research infrastructure.  The remnant $3.7 billion in the Education Investment Fund (EIF), should be earmarked for this.

The government should also adopt an intentionally national approach to the distribution of research infrastructure and innovation programs.  This will help create regional research systems across Australia fulfilling the potential of the breadth of the country and reducing pressure on living in the major cities.

The Government should respond positively to the Finkel, Ferris, Fraser proposals to improve the Research and Development Tax Incentive, particularly the premium of up to 20 percent for research undertaken with universities and other publicly-funded research organisations.

Together with the leadership from Innovation and Science Australia and the thoughtful targeting of the Medical Research Future Fund, addressing these major issues will enhance Australia’s future well-being.

 

END

For comment contact

IRU Executive Director, Conor King M: 0434 601 691

Proposed changes to the publication of TEQSA’s decisions

The IRU supports the proposals for fuller and earlier publication of TEQSA decisions, including rejections.
A more open approach to the publication of TEQSA’s decisions, is the most effective way to ensure greater scrutiny of all aspects of the system, including of the regulator itself.
The creation of TEQSA was an intentional balance to the potential risks of a significantly larger higher education sector, both as universities have grown but also the growth in other providers, including a greater number of for profit bodies.
To assess how well the quality arrangements supporting higher education are working it is essential to understand what TEQSA is doing, how often higher education providers are deemed by it not to meet requirements for registration or for courses to be accredited, and whether those judgements stand up to later scrutiny.
Hence the proposals from TEQSA are not just concerning the individual provider about which decisions have been made, but about TEQSA’s good operations and the strength or not of the quality system.
Fairness is important in a model that releases decisions as they are made, where a review from the affected providers remains possible. It should be managed through the use of categorization or classifications.
When a decision is being formally challenged, TEQSA should indicate this in the public record, so that a dispute from the provider on the decision is clearly recorded and the outcome of appeals can also be listed. A half way point would be to await the outcome of an appeal internal to TEQSA which has set time frames to be complete.
The risk from waiting for the full appeal processes to be complete is that any organisation whose operations are threatened will be advised to pursue all legal means to defer sanctions. That can mean, as the discussion paper indicates, that a final decision can be several months and potentially a question of years.
The use of media releases to highlight decisions would assist in making the system more accessible and visible. It is not an easy system for students to engage with. Many prospective and current students would be unaware of its existence. Media releases, proclaiming decisions about providers would build public awareness and empower prospective students and ultimately assist them to make better and more informed choices. Equally, media releases should also be used to highlight where decisions have been overturned and the regulator has got it wrong. TEQSA would need to ensure that releases focussed on provision of information about decisions and were not inflammatory in cases at dispute.
Consultation Questions

Read the full submission attached.

New research block grant data requirements: IRU response

The New research block grant data requirements consultation paper proposes eight sets of changes to update the reporting requirements. The changes follow on the redesign of the programs into the Research Support Program and Research Training Program.
Overall, the changes proposed are consistent with the intent of the two new programs and the need for data to focus on demonstrating the outcomes of the programs and adherence to program requirements, while avoiding unneeded complication.
In seeking to have a better grasp of research student enrolments the data collection will need to balance gathering a wider range of data with acceptance that some data items cannot be as precise as others such that they should not be collected or used consistent with their nature.
The IRU responds below to each of the proposed areas for change.
1. To abolish the register of eligible grant schemes for Category 1 with universities including all grants that meet the criteria.
It is time to let the register of eligible grant schemes for Category 1 go.
Bringing Category 1 into alignment with Category 2, 3 and 4 via the income self-assessed model is a desirable and efficacious change. The second option of a sector maintained model, requires universities to list the schemes they think qualify, leaving it unclear what happens if there is disagreement.
To avoid any prospect that universities choose whether to claim in Category 2 or 3 rather than Category 1, the rules may need to state that all grants eligible for Category 1 should be included.
2. Better data on HDR completion times.
The proposition that it would be more useful to know the period of active enrolment and load rather than just crude time from initial enrolment to completion or withdrawal is sound.
The proposal requires some amendment to HEIMS, which will incur a cost.
Of the four proposed data item changes the first three are supported: thesis submission date, completion date, and an EFTSL estimate.
The fourth change as proposed is not supported. It confuses research students using their standard leave each year with suspensions of enrolment. The former should not be considered a period of non-study; the latter should. Hence, the reporting should focus at periods of enrolment and the proportion of one EFSTL involved.

Read full submission attached.

IRU response to the consultation draft of a revised National Code of Practice for Providers of Education and Training to Overseas Students

The IRU submission to the ESOS framework review in 2014, focused on the need to consider the interaction of ESOS with the newly developed national quality frameworks in higher education and vocational education and training. Our key argument was the need to target ESOS to the requirements specific to international students only. The national frameworks protect both international students and Australian students for the large number of factors relevant to all students.
The final step in the update of ESOS is the revision of The National Code of Practice for Providers of Education and Training to Overseas Students. The National Code is the major instrument for defining the requirements specific to international students.
IRU is disappointed that the proposed changes to the National Code maintain extensive duplication across the separate regulatory frameworks for international and domestic students. It does not sit well against the Government’s commitment to pare back regulation to clear, consistent requirements.
The IRU response:

  • first addresses the duplication across the Higher Education Standards and the National Code and then,
  • on the basis that the revised National Code will be the confirmed along the lines of the current draft indicates:
    • the important improvements included in the draft;
    • areas within the draft that should be amended.

Read full submission attached.

IRU submission to Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade consultation on the development of a Foreign Policy Whitepaper

This submission to the consultation on the development of a Foreign Policy Whitepaper sets out the issues of importance to higher education. Central to these themes is the importance of International Education to Australia, as a quality export, but also as a job-creator. Austrade, International Education 2025 stated, “International education is currently one of Australia’s top service exports, valued at $19.65 billion in 2015 (including fees and associated expenditure) and supports over 130,000 jobs in cities and regions throughout Australia”.1 In any period of economic uncertainty, education or re-tooling will always be sought after. From an outward facing prism, the role education plays in transforming lives should not be underestimated. Australia’s National Strategy for International Education stated two global trends to be mindful of in this context. Firstly, that with an increase in global development and industrialisation in the Indo-Pacific region will increase demand for skilled workers2 . Secondly, that with a global economy increasing mobility across the workforce, there is an opportunity for Australia’s education system to play in offering lifelong learning opportunities to students, professionals and researchers.3 In this context, this submission addresses the questions of most concern to universities, namely: 1. Which countries will matter most to Australia over the next 10 years? Why and in what ways? How should we deepen and diversify key relationships? 2. What steps should be taken to maximise our trade and investment and expand commercial opportunities for Australian business? How can we ensure Australia is positioned to take advantage of opportunities in the global economy? 3. How can Government work more effectively with non-government sectors, including business, universities and NGOs, to advance Australia’s interests?

For recommendations download the submission.

IRU Pre-budget 2017-8 submission

This 2017-18 pre-budget submission sets out the IRU’s recommendations for reworking the Government’s higher education reform package and the next stages needed to ensure effective research outcomes across Australia.

Without adequate funding however, universities will struggle to continue delivering the excellence in teaching and learning and research.  This excellence is underpinned by adequate and world-class research infrastructure.  As various reports and reviews have shown, it pays for governments to invest in higher education and research.

The points summarised below are detailed in the IRU’s response to the Government’s discussion paper outlined Driving Innovation, Fairness and Excellence in Australian Higher Education’ and the IRU input to the development of the National Research Infrastructure Roadmap.

The IRU’s central objectives for the medium term

  1. Retain demand driven funding as the core mechanism for supporting Australians gain the higher education they need, expanding it to include sub-degree enrolments.
  2. Ensure base university revenue is at a level which is sufficient to sustain universities’ core capabilities to deliver student learning outcomes and research to meet future needs
  3. Allow universities to opt in to changes with long term significance, testing out changes and encouraging incremental take up.

Key Recommendations

  1. A commitment to support each Australian achieve their potential with an initial expansion of sub-degree places, targeting regions of under attainment.
  2. Incorporating an effective Higher Education Participation and Partnerships (HEPPP) program into the Commonwealth Grant Scheme (CGS) with sufficient funding that it encourages universities to focus on enrolling students from all backgrounds and rewards those who do so best.
  3. Targeted support for universities with outer metropolitan and regional bases to support the effective Australia-wide access to university education and research.
  4. Reworking of the Commonwealth Grant Scheme (CGS) and student payments.
  5. Adjust HELP repayment arrangements in ways that speed up repayment but which do not affect the core elements of HECS-HELP.
  6. Committing to long-term funding for research infrastructure across Australia through the establishment of a national research infrastructure fund.
  7. Continue to strengthen incentives for industry driven research.

Read the full submission below.

Long-term funding is the missing piece of the Research Infrastructure puzzle: IRU’s response to the 2016 Draft National Research Infrastructure Roadmap

The 2016 National Research Infrastructure Roadmap identifies the priority research infrastructure for the coming decade in nine focus areas that will underpin research in which Australia excels. This should deliver long-term national benefit and foster strategic international partnerships for Australia.
IRU supports the Draft Roadmap’s nine overarching recommendations and the nine identified national research infrastructure focus areas. Two issues remain.
1. Long-term funding is the missing piece of the Research Infrastructure puzzle. For this Roadmap exercise to be meaningful, the Government must resolve the funding issue. The $3.7 billion from the Education Investment Fund (EIF) should be part of the equation.

2. Hosting for world-class research infrastructure should intentionally be spread across Australia.

An abridged version of the document below was submitted by the IRU to the consultation on the 2016 Research Infrastructure Roadmap.

Students and innovation foremost for new IRU chair

The new chair of the Innovative Research Universities (IRU) network Flinders University Vice-Chancellor Professor Colin Stirling has named student experience and educational outcomes, and innovation as priorities for his term.

Professor Stirling says he has accepted the chair at a pivotal time of disruptive global change and significant debate around policy settings for the sector.

“The IRU will continue to play an active role in the political and policy considerations around higher education to ensure that our members can continue to deliver teaching and research that makes a difference to our communities” Professor Stirling says.

“Amongst the many priorities of the sector – from funding and internationalisation to student outcomes and research impact – I will be determined to ensure there’s a particular emphasis on innovation and enterprise.”

“It is, in my view, the key to the sector’s growth, relevance and impact, and for guaranteeing the continued influence of universities in shaping our economic, social and intellectual growth and development.

“As we await Senator Simon Birmingham’s proposal for a package of changes in early 2017, IRU will maintain a clear focus on ensuring good education outcomes for students.

“In its response to the Government’s discussion paper, IRU set out some possible ways ahead that could increase revenue for universities within the agreed parameters of set maximum charges for students.

“IRU also looks forward to contributing to Mr Greg Hunt’s plan for university-led geographical clusters, which complements the recommendations the IRU made in its recent research policy statement on ‘Building Regional Research Systems Across Australia’.

Professor Stirling thanked his predecessor La Trobe University Vice-Chancellor Professor John Dewar for his leadership from 2014 to 2016.

More below.

Paying extra to not pay now: the issues with a loan fee for the Higher Education Loans Program

Andrew Norton and Ittima Cherastidtham of the Grattan Institute have released Shared interest: a universal loan fee for HELP.  It proposes that the Government introduce a common 15% loan fee for each element of the Higher Education Loans Program (HELP).

The proposal needs to be taken seriously to think through its implications.  Mr Norton is one of Senator Birmingham’s four higher education Counsellors. It is reasonable to assume his argument will have influence.

The major weakness is the reliance on the exaggerated estimates of the cost of supporting HELP on Government borrowings.

The comment below targets the implications of a loan fee and the case made for it. It then considers the transformation in how Government underwriting of student payments is portrayed from being a ‘contribution’ to being a ‘loan’.

Whether a loan fee should be part of the Government’s next package is an open question.

We need to assess a whole package to see what a loan fee, if included, contributes.  As a means for some reduction in the cost of higher education for Government a loan fee is better than cutting into university funding or imposing real interest in HELP balances. It is worse than directing any additional payment from students to their education now.

Impact of a general loan fee

HELP pays for students their student charges or fees on the basis that the student later pays the charge or fee when their income is sufficient.  There is no fee for the Government paying for the two largest groups of students:

  • undergraduate and postgraduate students in Government funded places, accessing HECS-HELP for their degree studies and OS-HELP for overseas study and work experience; and
  • postgraduate students using FEE-HELP to pay their fees.

There is a loan fee for:

  • undergraduates using FEE-HELP, primarily at the few non-funded private universities and non university providers – a 20% loan fee; and
  • vocational education and training students using VET FEE-HELP – a 25% loan fee.

The loan fee is added to the base fee.  It increases the student total debt.  For example, a $10,000 undergraduate course fee attracts a 20%, or $2000, loan fee if the student uses FEE-HELP rather than pay upfront.

Under the Grattan 15% proposal, the cost for most university students would increase by 15%.  For students in Government funded places, the increase would be between $938 and $1,566 a year on 2016 student contribution rates (see Table One and full comment attached below).

IRU students excel as New Colombo Plan 2017 scholars

The Innovative Research Universities (IRU) congratulate the twelve IRU students awarded New Colombo Plan Scholarships for 2017.

IRU scholarship winners will be supported to study and experience an internship in:

  • China: Elizabeth Dowrie, Griffith University and Georgia Toft, Griffith University;
  • Fiji: Katie Hicks, Charles Darwin University;
  • Hong Kong: Molly Jackson, Griffith University, Kimberley Johnson, Griffith University, Anna McKenzie, Charles Darwin University and Shaun Milligan, Griffith University;
  • India: Sidney Mason, La Trobe University;
  • Indonesia: Karis Erceg, Murdoch University and Hannah Sutton, Murdoch University; and
  • Singapore: Leah Brokmann, Griffith University and Rebecca Thorburn, La Trobe University.

The scholarships were presented to recipients by His Excellency General the Hon Sir Peter Cosgrove the Governor General at a ceremony last night [28 November 2016] following their announcement by the Hon Julie Bishop, Minister for Foreign Affairs.

The scholarships build off IRU members’ foundational commitment to engagement with Asia, exemplified by the creation of Australia’s first Asian Studies degree at Griffith University in the 1970s and our partnership with the Malaysia Research University Network.

IRU members enjoy long-established links with Asian counterparts. As opportunities for Australian interaction with Asia grow across all disciplines and areas of activity, IRU members lead the way in collaborative teaching, language, research and policy initiatives.  To learn more see http://www.iru.edu.au/asia/