Education Minister Jason Clare has announced a working group to advise state and federal ministers, “on the immediate actions we should take to improve university governance.”
It delivers on the fifth immediate action recommenced in the Accord’s Interim Report, “work with state and territory governments to improve university governance.” The Accord specified “having more people with expertise in the business of universities,” on governing bodies, a “focus on student and staff safety” and “making sure universities are good employers.”
Ben Rimmer, a deputy secretary in Mr Clare’s department, will lead the group.
Mr Clare’s intent will appeal to staff and student groups. The National Tertiary Education Union has long campaigned for fewer external appointments to university councils and more staff and students as well as pointing to cases of casuals being underpaid and denied continuing employment.
In the leadup to Mr Clare’s announcement, student groups renewed criticism of universities over dealing with sexual assault and harassment on campus. “The actions universities have taken to address this to date have not been good enough. We have the research. We have the evidence. We know the scope of the problem. We have to act,” the Minister said in parliament.
In response, Universities Australia all but conceded the minister’s point, stating it “is continuing to work with our members on ways to build and improve on our efforts to date, including around the collection of data, to make university campuses and our communities as safe as they can be.”
Mr Clare’s announcement of the working group was also met with meekness by UA, “we are committed to working with government around issues relating to governance to ensure we are providing the best possible work and learning environment for staff and students.”
Perhaps UA does not want to annoy the minister, lest he heed Greens senator Mehreen Faruqi, who says “It’s clear that universities cannot be left to regulate themselves to address sexual assault on campuses. We need an independent authority with powers to monitor and evaluate universities on their work to end sexual violence on campuses and we must impose serious consequences when universities fail to provide a safe learning environment for students.”