Accord future: what can govt afford not to do?

Accord architect Professor Mary O’Kane told the Universities Australia conference this week that after an exhaustive review process she was ‘energised about the thought (the Accord) might be implemented.”

When asked about the cost, Professor O’Kane said the question was not about whether the nation could afford reform, but rather, “Can we afford not to do it?”

The Accord consultation process had unearthed many examples of good practice but said universities often seemed to underappreciate their impact on the nation and would do well to tell the story better. “It’s such an important part of the story of Australia,” she said.

Dropping a key hint as to how increased support for universities could be sold to the Australian electorate, Professor O’Kane said that strengthening universities was important for the sovereignty and security of Australia.

She also hinted that governments might achieve savings in other areas if the Accord resulted in improved outcomes for equity students.

“Highly educated societies tend to look after themselves better in terms of housing, education and health,” Professor O’Kane said.

Universities Australia chair Professor David Lloyd, interviewing Professor O’Kane, described Recommendation 43, suggesting the establishment of the Higher Education Future Fund co-funded by Government and universities as “the spiciest recommendation of all.”

In a beautifully-crafted speech to a room with its fair share of Claries (borrowing from the Swift phenomenon: devoted fans beguiled by the Education Minister’s charm offensive), Education Minister Jason Clare told the crowd that “we need a better and fairer education system across the board.”

The stark divide in higher education attainment between wealthy families and low SES families provides a clear reason to pursue the Accord.

“69 per cent of young people from wealthy families have a uni degree, and only 19 per cent from very poor families do,” Mr Clare said.

This speech provides a narrow avenue forward to connect with voters and sell the accord to cabinet – calling out a previously-ignored class divide, helping to convince Cabinet how extra investment in the Accord squares with Labour values and the public how change is needed if we are to chase the illusion of being the land of a fair go – as Stephen Matchett points out in his analysis.

In a brief rebuttal speech the following day, Opposition Education spokeswoman Sarah Henderson welcomed some aspects of the Accord but criticised the proposal to overturn the Coalition’s Job Ready Graduates scheme and singled out the Accord’s proposed support to boost completion rates.

“It should not take a bonus payment to universities to ensure a student completes his or her degree,” she said.



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