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

IRU Equity to the fore as two leaders awarded NCSEHE Equity Fellowships 2017

The Innovative Research Universities (IRU) congratulates its members who were awarded two of the three National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE) Equity Fellowships for 2017.

IRU award winners are Associate Professor James Smith, Program Manager of the HEPPP ‘Whole of Community Engagement Initiative at Charles Darwin University (CDU) and Mr Matt Brett, Senior Manager of Higher Education Policy at La Trobe University.

The Equity Fellowships are funded by the Department of Education and Training under the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Programme (HEPPP) ‘to undertake strategic, high-impact, high‐profile leadership projects targeted, sector-wide, at improving the access, participation and success in higher education of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.’ (NCSEHE 2016).

The awards were announced today by Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham at the ‘Facilitating an Innovative Future through Equity 2016 National Research Forum’ hosted by NCSEHE at the National Press Club.

Associate Professor Smith has extensive experience working in executive and senior management roles in health and education sectors in government and non-government settings across the Northern Territory. Much of this work relates to improving Indigenous health and education outcomes.

Mr Matt Brett’s Fellowship will focus on equity performance and accountability systems and approaches. Mr Brett is co-editor and co-author of ‘Student Equity in Australian Higher Education, 25 Years of A Fair Chance for All’.

Ms Louise Pollard, Manager of the Aspire Program at the University of Western Australia, was also announced as an Equity Fellow for the coming year.

Through their year-long Fellowship, the Equity Fellows will work with the Department of Education and Training and the sector on projects that will identify equity issues that affect the Australian higher education system and develop approaches to address these issues.

As the university group most focused on ‘inclusive excellence’, the IRU is proud of its support and record in striving for equity and excellence in higher education for all.


Ensuring all Australians make an informed choice about the best course for them

The Innovative Research Universities (IRU) supports the thrust of the Higher Education Standards Panel’s report to ensure that all students are firmly at the centre of the admissions process, able to access clear and comparable information about their options.

All potential students need to understand how universities will decide whether they are suitable.

As the report outlines, it is families with less experience of higher education, who are economically disadvantaged or who live in regional Australia who find the current admissions processes harder to navigate.  This is not sustainable.

The Australian higher education system has changed.  We have “varied entry standards and pathways…giving greater numbers of students the opportunity to benefit from higher education than ever before.”  The information for prospective students must therefore also change as the Panel recommends.

It is crucial that all Australians with the capability and desire for higher education can gain admission to the course that best meets their needs. Tired assumptions about who should go to university and the difficulty of entry must be countered with clear information about what the requirements are for all the bases for entry to university.

IRU agrees with the Panel’s conclusion that an overstated focus on the 31% of applicants chosen by ATARs can be misleading.  As the report shows 37% apply based on previous higher education and vocational education study.  Indeed, the non ATAR applicants are judged directly on their capability rather than their relative standing to other applicants.

Nevertheless, good information about school leavers’ ATARs will show the breadth of entrants to most courses.  Already one IRU member has published data on ATAR selection standards for 2016.

For most applicants the focus for admission is now each individual’s capability and readiness.  It is why over 30% apply directly to the university of their choice.  The role of the State based admission centres is not being challenged by the need for a national replica but are being rendered superfluous by most applicants accessing their course of preference at the university they choose.

There is much detail to be worked through to create the proposed national admissions information platform in a way that allows potential applicants to find what is relevant to them.

The Panel’s Recommendations should apply to all courses, including all Commonwealth- supported post graduate professional qualifications as much as to undergraduate courses.

The proposed templates will need work to ensure they work for all, avoiding implications that non-school leavers are secondary.

Building Regional Research Systems Across Australia – IRU Research Series Publication #3

Driving Sustainable National Prosperity: Building Regional Research Systems Across Australia, published today by the Innovative Research Universities (IRU), sets out a framework for Australia’s universities to fuel national economic growth and prosperity across all regions of Australia.
Regions are important drivers of sustainable national growth.
There is an urgent need to make better use of the potential from the breadth of the country, for example from its northern regions, to reduce the pressure on the major cities and create positive outcomes for all current and future Australians.
The creation of major new research infrastructure and the use of the Medical Research Future Fund are two crucial coming decisions for the Government where it must ensure a whole of Australia focus to get the most value from both.
Building Regional Research Systems Across Australia makes 7 recommendations for regional research systems that ensure that valuable research is conducted throughout Australia (see below).
Acting on these recommendations will provide the base for IRU members to create stronger clusters of researchers and research end users across Australia outside of the large capital cities. This will give substance to Greg Hunt, Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science’s ambition for more clusters (CEDA State of the Nation Address, 10 October 2016).
IRU members are embedded in the outer metropolitan areas of the State capitals and in Australia’s regional areas. Our research is crucial to building regional research systems and clusters across Australia.
Through the creative mix of local issues and global research challenges, IRU members across Australia generate research with benefits for communities and industries around the world.
Driving Sustainable National Prosperity: Building Regional Research Systems Across Australia is the third publication in the IRU Research Series.

It is available for download here.
Previous publications in the IRU Research Series are Industry Driven Research and Strengthening Research Across Asia – An Asian Research and Innovation Network.

For an overview of the seven recommendations download full statement below.

Indigenous Student Success Program: designing to improve outcomes

IRU supports the aim of the new Indigenous Student Success Program (ISSP) to raise outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students through integration, simplification and better use of three current programs.  We are very concerned that the draft Guidelines do not support the latter two of those aims.

There is no sense of simplicity or flexibility that would support the aim of a performance focussed program encouraging universities to improve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student outcomes. The performance basis integral to the new program, whereby university funding is dependent on their success in enrolling Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and supporting then through to completion, is buried within extensive rules about how funds can or cannot be used. The ISSP Guidelines are more prescriptive than any other under the Higher Education Support Act.

Read IRU feedback in full below.

Impact of the TEQSA Act on the higher education Sector: IRU submission

The IRU considers that the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Act 2011 has worked effectively since the 2014 amendments to the Act as the legal basis for Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) and the Higher Education Standards Panel.

The area for improvement to legislation is to streamline the Education Services for Overseas Students (ESOS) Act and the supporting National Code to remove duplication of the Higher Education National Standards and to make registration of courses for international students an administrative listing not a distinct legal decision.

The 2014 amendments followed concerns that the initial operations of TEQSA were not consistent with the principles set out in part 2 of the Act of regulatory necessity, reflecting risk, and proportionate regulation.  The amendments were in response to the Lee Dow and Braithwaite Review of higher education regulation which strongly argued the importance of an effective partnership among the relevant bodies – providers and quality agency – for a quality assurance system to work well in practice.

That requires a constructive tension across:

  • higher education providers, notably universities, which are responsible for determining how to provide higher education to students, with a strong future focus for how higher education should be delivered to meet prospective needs;
  • the Higher Education Standards, which attempt to define the key threshold requirements for good higher education without dictating in detail how it should be delivered.  The Standards inevitably have a current day feel; and
  • TEQSA, charged with using the Standards as the guidance marker to test whether higher education providers are living up to their responsibility, in which it should both avoid constraining new developments of value and be effective in acting where delivery is clearly not effective.

The following sections consider the six questions the Discussion Paper asks. Read full submission below.