Red tape strangling universities must be cut – Report

Australia’s universities are burdened by massive quantities of red tape imposed on them by federal and state government regulations, differing acts set down by parliament and the need to provide the same information to various government departments.

Last week, a report of a national review into higher education red tape called for a significant reduction, with the higher education sector’s main regulatory body having its functions sharply curtailed.

The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency was established in 2011 to act, along with a higher education standards panel and an Australian qualifications framework council, as an agency for maintaining quality.

But complaints from universities have become shrill over the endless paperwork and duplication required to meet the various standards.

Higher Education Minister Senator Kim Carr announced a review of the system in May and commissioned a former Melbourne University vice-chancellor, Professor Kwong Lee Dow, and Professor Valerie Braithwaite of the Australian National University, to undertake the task.

The review report

Releasing a report titled Review of Higher Education Regulation, Carr said the review had found that an “unnecessarily heavy reporting burden” had been imposed on higher education providers by the quality agency in particular and also by his department.

“This report provides an opportunity to further improve our systems, and the government will formally respond to it following consultations with the sector,” he said.

But the Labor government that commissioned the review is now in caretaker mode following a decision by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd last month to call an election for 7 September.

This means any action on the report and its recommendations will have to await decisions by whichever party wins the election. At present that looks likely to be a coalition of conservative parties replacing the Labor administration, which has held office since 2007.

For a report aimed at reducing red tape, the fact that it is 99 pages long struck some commentators as ironic. But its conclusions, that the higher education sector is over-regulated and that reducing the burden on universities is sorely needed, have been widely welcomed.

The report says the quality agency had been established in an “already crowded regulatory environment”, and it proposes a reduction in its functions and the number of its commissioners. It says the minister should issue a direction to the agency’s chief executive regarding allocation of resources so that the agency can accredit courses more quickly.

The report says there should also be a reduction in duplication across the various acts that govern university regulation and a better way of improving information sharing across agencies, to reduce the need for universities to report the same information multiple times to various bodies.

In addition, the report proposes the establishment of an overarching advisory council to consult with stakeholders and advise the minister, and calls for the speedy implementation of a single national higher education data collection system.

Universities happy

The chief executive of Universities Australia (UA), Belinda Robinson, said the report’s recommendations largely reflected the case put by the UA in its submission to the inquiry.

This included the need to clarify the agency’s application of the regulatory principles of risk, necessity and proportionality, and “a light-touch regulatory approach” for universities, in recognition of their independence and high degree of autonomy.

“It also supports the need for improving alignment and strengthening relationships within the regulatory community, critical to ensuring the removal of duplication”, Robinson said.

She said the report highlighted a number of important means for ensuring that the quality agency operated as a responsive partner with higher education rather than as an adversary.

“The report foresees that in the regulatory world of the future, universities will be primarily self-regulating, and acknowledges that academic culture is an important regulator of teaching, learning and research,” Robinson said.

Chair of the Group of Eight research-intensive universities, Professor Fred Hilmer, said the report had backed the Go8’s position, which it had been arguing for strongly – that the quality agency had lost its way and should focus on minimum standards. A major problem had been the way the agency had interpreted its functions and power, Hilmer said.

Professor Barney Glover, vice-chancellor of Charles Darwin University and chair of the innovative research universities group, said he was reasonably optimistic that the recommendations would result in policy change.

“The report is actually a very thorough, evidence-based analysis of the burden that has increased on the sector. The report nicely argues there’s a need for resetting,” Glover said.

“This review was initiated under a Labor government and the Opposition has made some strong comments about the regulatory burden on universities. I would be hopeful that, if there’s a change of government, the coalition would action these recommendations quickly.”

“The sector needs some stability and long-term support in terms of the regulatory burden but also allowing the sector to develop without having imposed upon it a continuous regime of major policy reform.”


Universities and red tape, not only in Australia...

Markus Laitinen on the University World News Facebook page

Also the uni's in Australia must curb their wasteful makes them look like untrustworthy fools to the Government here.

Christopher Weir on the University World News Facebook page