2005 – Building Better Foundations for Higher Education in Australia

Attachment: CAPA Submission

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) welcomes the opportunity to contribute to Minister Nelson’s debate on Australia’s future higher education governance. We submit the following response to the issues paper Building Better Foundations for Higher Education in Australia: A discussion about re-aligning Commonwealth-State responsibilities on behalf of all students enrolled in Australian postgraduate degrees.

CAPA is the national peak body representing Australia’s 247,000 postgraduate students. It has affiliated postgraduate associations in 34 of Australia’s public higher education institutions and in all States and Territories.

CAPA believes that whilst there are at present concerns with the way State Governments govern universities under the enabling legislation, this is nothing compared to what concerns we would have with Commonwealth governance of universities. The Commonwealth is not in a position to foster, promote, respond timely and have an intimate understanding of the needs, concerns and public interest of the States’ own urban and regional universities.

CAPA is also concerned that even though DEST has commissioned two government reports and one report which involved the in-depth interviewing of most of Australia’s university Vice-Chancellors, the government is still insistent on engaging in a debate on an issue that has previously been canvassed and responded to in submissions to Crossroads with almost unanimous lack of support for such a move.

CAPA believes it is crucial that universities’ mission remains to provide scholarship, teaching and research for the public benefit. CAPA believe the best means of achieving this in the current funding environment is to follow best practice models such as the NSW University Act. CAPA recommends this as the way forward for States and Territories.

CAPA does believe that there is room for improvement to universities’ governing bodies and has previously expressed concern that most universities have not detailed the processes and operations of councils in the modern university world where responding to the commercial realities is paramount to ensure legal, financial and public risks are minimised. There have been a number of commercial deals with universities that have led to impropriety and a lack of transparency and accountability of a publicly funded entity.

Whilst we believe that there are changes that need to be made at the State level, these can be conducted without a change in jurisdiction. Indeed, a number of contributors to this debate have expressed this same view. CAPA have long been favourable to the establishment of a National Universities Ombudsman (NUO). A national ombudsman is needed to ensure that universities’ commercial activities, and other non-traditional practices, meet appropriate auditing standards, and are subject to adequate measures of probity. The NUO could monitor the implementation and / or review of the National Protocols through the Australian Universities Quality Agency (AUQA) with arrangements regarding the National Protocols remaining as they currently are.

In our submission, we address those consultative questions asked in Building Better Foundations of most relevance to our postgraduate constituents and postgraduate students generally. In the process, we have made some recommendations regarding governance that are consistent with the recommendations made by the Government’s own consultants and other stakeholders.