New ‘category standards’ adopted for HE institutions

The Australian federal government has adopted a set of new ‘category standards’ for the nation’s universities, with a new university created as a result and three other institutions reclassified as ‘university colleges’ under the changes.

This could mean that, in time, the colleges could also be renamed universities.

Under the government’s reforms to the national higher education regulatory framework, Avondale University College in New South Wales was reclassified as Australia’s first new university in almost a decade, while three providers became university colleges under a new category established as part of the changes.

They are the National Institute of Dramatic Arts, the Australian Film, Television and Radio School, and the Moore Theological College in Sydney,

Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge said the reforms “solidified the regulation of the higher education sector”, which would continue to deliver for students, industry, and the community.

“Congratulations to all successful providers; it’s an outstanding accomplishment to be registered as an Australian university and I look forward to seeing the valuable contribution Avondale will make to student outcomes, research quality and greater community,” Tudge said.

“Along with our new category standards, we’ve now rationalised the number of higher education provider categories from six to four and have put in place stronger research requirements for universities to make sure their research meets our world standards.”

Tudge said the changes would support greater diversity within the higher education sector, especially in regional areas and in specialised fields.

The minister also announced that a “distinguished group of higher education policy leaders” had been appointed to provide expert advice to the government.

Tudge said the group would offer advice on maintaining and improving the quality and standards of Australia’s higher education and research.

Peak group welcome announcement

Meanwhile, Universities Australia, the peak body representing universities in negotiations with government, welcomed another of Tudge’s announcements: that he would begin consultation on a “10-year whole-of-sector international education strategy”.

Catriona Jackson, chief executive of Universities Australia which represents all the nation’s universities in negotiations with the federal government, said she was pleased the minister had acknowledged the contribution of international education to the broader economy.

Jackson said 60% of the money generated by international students enrolled in Australian institutions not only boosted the nation’s bottom line “but also, supported 250,000 jobs across the continent”.

“The pandemic has accelerated innovation in education delivery models, with a combination of face-to-face and digital delivery gaining ground,” she said.

“These rich hybrid models present Australian and international students with new opportunities. They also present a competitive edge for our sector.”

Jackson said Australian universities welcomed students from more than 140 nations around the globe while the breakout of infections caused by the COVID-19 virus had presented significant challenges.

“We, like the minister, look forward to the time when we can safely welcome students back to our shores,” she said.

“Universities have been working closely with state and territory governments over many months to plan for the safe return of international students,” she said.

Support for a national plan

But, in a subsequent pointed comment, Jackson said universities would welcome “a national plan – drawing together efforts from all levels of government, and the sector – on this important matter.

“Long term vision is important, and we look forward to discussing the 10-year international education strategy. The consultation process for the new strategy will identify how best the sector can go forward in the post-pandemic era,” she said.

Jackson also made the point that international education was Australia’s fourth largest export earner, generating almost AU$40 billion (US$29.5 billion) a year.

“Australia has successfully leveraged its many advantages in a highly competitive marketplace to the point where we are third, only behind the US and UK in terms of international students choosing to study here,” she said.

“Universities around the country have been making careful plans, in collaboration with health authorities, government and industry, for the safe return of students from low-risk nations.”

Jackson said universities had been calling for a national plan involving the safe return of foreign students from “low-risk nations for some time, as part of a careful reboot of Australia’s economy”.

Meantime, however, Australia is facing a nation-wide lockdown because of the spread of the COVID virus which requires everyone to remain at home and only leave in an emergency or for essential supplies.