The Business Council of Australia (BCA) welcomes the opportunity to comment on the discussion paper for the Australian Universities Accord. Universities are a central pillar in Australia’s economic and social development.
At an economic level, universities play a key part in training Australia’s future workforce and driving new industries through innovative research, noting that research also has a key discovery purpose that goes beyond commercial application.
They also play an important role in our relationship with other countries, through their collaborations with overseas institutions and education of international students. Similarly, industry partnerships through Work Integrated Learning and research collaboration are important.
The BCA acknowledges the value of learning and discovery. This is not always directly aligned with a commercial approach, but is an essential foundation for innovation. Universities have a key role in fostering the sense of discovery to find the new big ideas that will position Australia as a frontier economy and to encourage the quest for knowledge.
Universities also play a key role in creating a culture of learning. This enhances the value of learning throughout a person’s life, breaking down the perception that the ongoing attainment of knowledge is only through school and directly post-secondary education. The jobs of the future will require ongoing adaptation and learning, and this will be best achieved by a university system which promotes this pattern of renewed learning.
The Universities Accord provides a welcome opportunity for a reset on our university system. It is important to grasp this opportunity for reform, focusing on improving skills of our workforce, increasing research collaboration, improving opportunity for more Australians and ensuring that the system is appropriately funded.
While the Accord discussion paper rightly references 10-, 20- and 30-year horizons, the Accord should also take this opportunity to set out a ten-year reform agenda and map out what must be done now and over the next decade.
But the Accord should not be viewed as a one-off process. As noted in the discussion paper, the Accord aims to drive lasting alignment and develop a shared, long-term commitment among stakeholders. Collaboration between businesses and universities is vital to provide the innovation necessary to make Australia a frontier economy.
To achieve that degree of collaboration will require expanding how we think about partnerships and creating multiple pathways towards forming the relationships necessary for successful collaboration. This means partnerships in skills development, research, consulting and brokering, alongside increased usage of Industry PHDs and embedding and co-locating academics and industry together.
It is also important to establish a mechanism to drive that commitment. To do so, the government should establish a permanent Forum for ongoing discussion between industry, higher education, and governments.
The Forum could meet biannually, with representatives from industry peak bodies, the higher education sector, and state and territory governments (including relevant government agencies such as Jobs and Skills Australia), to ensure that feedback from is shared in a timely manner and to evaluate the progress of reforms that flow from the Accord process.
- The Accord should reset the fundamental goals of universities, their role in the economy and key aspects of their business model.
- The federal government should establish a permanent Forum for ongoing discussion between industry peak bodies, representatives of the higher education sector, and state and territory governments (including government agencies such as Jobs and Skills Australia).