| Research

ABS proposal to redevelop the Business Characteristics Survey – IRU Response

The IRU supports the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) proposal to redevelop the Business Characteristics Survey (BCS).

The goals of the proposal and the four drivers for change outlined in the ABS’s proposal are sound.

  1. User information requirements are not fully being met
  2. International comparability is currently limited
  3. There is increasing user demand for more granular information
  4. Provider burden and cognitive load.

There is an increasing need for greater detail, granularity and international comparability on innovation metrics. For the higher education sector, this includes metrics that extend beyond the standard co-publishing, co-patenting and co-funding with industry partners. Specifically, this includes the potential to better utilise BCS data on universities and the public research sector as sources of ideas for innovation.

More granular information at a state/territory, region and industry (sub)division would be helpful, particularly if made publicly and easily available. Greater levels of granularity may allow universities to better understand the R&D intensity of industries in their locality, build up their absorptive capacity for ideas for innovation, and deepen universities’ contributions to their local economies.

Improving international comparability is also important. Some BCS metrics feed into OECD data on university-industry collaboration which show Australia near or at the bottom of the OECD. However, if the BCS data is not internationally comparable (e.g. single year reference period versus two or three year reference periods in the EU’s Community Innovation Survey), it distorts interpretations of Australia’s performance. Greater granularity at an industry level would also facilitate more valid international comparisons, such as how Australia compares to other resource-based economies for university-industry collaboration in the resources sector.

The IRU is not aware of the provider burden associated with the current survey due to its length or complexity, but minimising provider burden is likely to improve the quality of data gathered by ensuring the most relevant persons complete the survey.

Review of Provider Category Standards

The IRU has responded to the Department of Education, Skills and Employment review of Higher Education Provider Category Standards.

The review of the Provider Category Standards had two main objectives:

  1. to confirm the meaning of University in Australia, with requirements for research, teaching and engagement, that would distinguish Universities from other providers; and
  2. determine a way to identify and recognise the more capable of the other higher education providers, as leading teaching-focused institutions.

The review delivered on these objectives with its proposed tightening of the requirements to be a university and the proposal to create a category of National Institutes for the leading teaching focussed institutions, including university-owned colleges. It also simplified the Standards overall reducing the number of formal categories. The categories are about which organisations are permitted to offer higher education. They do not address funding issues which are a distinct question and not necessarily tied to the categories. The categories, however, can create ways in which to shape funding incentives into the future, as the Government comes to grip with the need to ensure that all Australians have post-school qualifications, whether higher or vocational education.

The pressure ahead is clear. The main feeder cohort of young Australians is growing, due to the baby boom of the 2000s, and we now face the post-COVID-19 challenge to reignite the economy in a safe and effective way.

The Minister for Education, Mr Tehan, largely endorsed the Review’s proposals but with the unfortunate decision to rename the new National institute category as University Colleges, immediately maintaining the potential for confusion between a University and other providers.

Read the IRU’s full response to the review