10 Accord Issues beneath the radar – for now

Sunday 25 Feb: Cue trumpets and photographers. Minister Clare and Professor O’Kane release Accord Final report.

Monday 26 Feb: Cue suppressed sighs of relief (no international student levy) and applause (we love you Jason, because you say you love us).

Monday 11 Mar: Accord? What Accord?

Two weeks on from the release of the document that was supposed to plot the greatest reform of higher education in a decade and the Australian Universities Accord is, well… not forgotten; but barely a blip in the nation’s heart monitor.

By being so broad – with so many worthy objectives and so few prioritised costings – the Accord architects have left Jason claire with a restaurant menu rather than a roadmap.

With a rationale of change being expensive and the Accord revolution unfurling slowly, Jason Clare has been provided with cover for the duration of his stint as Education Minister – able to choose low cost wins from the Accord laundry list without blowing his political capital with the Expenditure Review Committee or the sector, on the understanding that more will always be done next year.

If Clare wishes to be remembered as a generational engineer of constructive change alongside Dawkins, then he will need to move fast across a range of fronts, given Professor O’Kane’s torch has illuminated so many areas of the post-school sector requiring reform.

While the Education Minister bides his time to unveil his next move in responding to the Accord, here is a sample of 10 of the less-discussed issues that the Accord has highlighted which we believe are worthy of further consideration.

  1. Degree pricing – The Australian Tertiary Education Commission would have pricing authority and funding authority for the HE sector (Recommendation 30 pp32-33). The ATEC is tasked with achieving something that no university has so far managed – bulletproof pricing models for degrees. (what is the cost of maintaining a sandstone brand and old school tie network to underpin the value of their degrees? Is pure research in philosophy apportioned only to the cost of arts degree delivery or to all degrees? How do we account for the invisible unpaid work of staff in delivery?) Good luck, team ATEC.
  2. Student contributions should reflect future earnings (Recommendation 41f pp.39). Given that on recent figures just 1 in 12 law students practiced law, what does that mean for the cost of a law degree? And what of the starving fine arts graduates? Do their collective earnings reduce the price of a fine arts degree to a handful of beans and a well-pressed barista shirt?
  3. Proving HE is critical (pp1). The Accord report asserts that, “The major problems we face – including threats to our social cohesion – are ultimately problems for which a big part of the answer is tertiary education.” The sector agrees, but how many voters believe that?
  4. ‘Equity … provides an answer to meeting Australia’s skills needs. (pp2.) Does it really? Did anyone stop to ask the equity students? Is the aspiration campaign (Recommendation 11 pp.23) supposed to transform their aspirations from would-be panel beaters to aged care workers?
  5. What about the robots? The report mentions the importance of AI and new technologies in improving teaching and learning, but what about replacing the dreary jobs and reducing our need for a vast human workforce? The estimates of future workforce demand bear far greater scrutiny.
  6. A Jobs Broker is proposed (Recommendation 7, pp19) to help tertiary students find work and placements – a service to be paid for by employers. Given the majority of students already have to work to make ends meet, and there are careers offices at most institutions, the viability of the Jobs Broker seems dubious.
  7. Early offers are banned until September each year until 2026 (Recommendation 20, pp26)– this one really was surely dreamed up by people who have never worked at the recruitment coalface. So I can’t give Charlotte an early offer right now, but here is a conditional place/prospective scholarship/picture of an empty seat with her name on it/ actual empty seat with her name on it; any or all of which means that Charlotte knows she will get an offer in the mail on 1 Sept. Impact on admissions integrity: zero. Number of appeased headmasters of expensive schools for about six months: hundreds.
  8. Tax on high fee courses – Recommendation 17c (pp25) proposes that higher education providers charging more than $40,000 for a EFT load course be required to invest an (unspecified) proportion of income earned back into scholarships and bursaries. Given many providers offer scholarships and bursaries to some international students to offset / discount high fee costs, is the intention to make this approach more widespread?
  9. Needs-based funding impact – The report recommends (Recommendation 13 pp23) that Universities are to get more funding for each student from regional areas, low SES backgrounds, Indigenous students and/or students with a disability. Will that lead to city universities seeking to poach more students from rural areas? Should universities without adequate support services get an equal crack at the high value student market?
  10. A National Regional U? – The Regional Education Commissioner has to work out whether we need a shiny new National Regional University by June 2025 (recommendation 39 e) at the same time as regional universities are slung more money to address the higher delivery costs in regional areas. Given that RUN unis have already opposed the new regional mega-uni, and given that city unis may also compete more heavily for high value regional students. This will be a complex task for the Commish.

Yes, we did read past page 40, (41 was a ripper) and we did make a list of other page turners, but will save that for another week. The Accord is labyrinthine – we do it a disservice not to dive into its depths.

Future Campus will be hosting more online panel discussions with key experts to look at the future of the sector in coming months, creating a space to hold new conversations about the Accord and its implementation.



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