“I think this is partly due to the large amount of discretionary funding they rely on from government, and their hopes of next week in the budget they would get some additional research support.”
University of South Australia vice-chancellor David Lloyd rejected suggestions the sector had been muted in its response to the changes and acknowledged the government’s central role in funding.
“We can’t lose sight of the fact that the federal government funds 35 per cent of our operation,” he said.
“We’re 100 per cent regulated and we’re 100 per cent legislated by the [government] … so, it’s in their interest… to seek to put a base of policy which allows them to dictate terms.
“We will be recipients of legislation and we’re going to have to work with governments and governments of [the] day as that goes through.”
The package, which is set to be voted on in the Senate next week, seeks to change the subsidy mix for university courses to encourage students down educational pathways the government thinks will make them more “job ready” and more relevant to the economy.
“The best thing we can offer our young people impacted by COVID-19 is a pathway to a realistic job and the economic conditions where jobs are created,” Education Minister Dan Tehan told the summit.
University of Auckland vice-chancellor Professor Dawn Freshwater said universities were more than their contribution to the economy.
“We are the critic and conscience of society. It’s really important that we continue to ask questions of ourselves and about ourselves, and that we respond to questions of ourselves in terms of our purpose,” she said.
“I think it’s interesting that purpose has got conflated somewhat with contribution to the economy.”
Professor Lloyd argued that universities were already producing job-ready graduates. “There’s nothing in the legislation which is going to shift that production of job-ready graduates,” he said.
The change comes as universities struggle with the loss of $1.5 billion in research funding in 2020 and $7.6 billion by 2024, due to a collapse in international student revenue resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.
Earlier in the summit, Mr Tehan said that next week’s budget will inject an additional $1 billion into higher education – $326 million for 12,000 new domestic university places and $750 million for research.
Despite Mr Tehan declining to reveal if the research money was new or brought forward from future years, Professor Norton said it was a sign the sector’s approach was working.