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News & Trends - Pharmaceuticals

Can the Accord deliver an economy powered by science and technology?

Health Industry Hub | April 14, 2023 |

Pharma News: The government committed to establishing an Australian Universities Accord to drive reform in the higher education system, with a review led by the Minister for Education, Jason Clare MP, and advice from Professor Mary O’Kane AC and a panel of eminent Australians. Professor O’Kane is a former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Adelaide and NSW’s first Chief Scientist and Engineer as well as the first woman to be a Dean of Engineering at an Australian university.

The Australian Universities Accord, announced last November, is the first broad review of the higher education system since the Bradley Review conducted in 2008. It is an opportunity to look at the funding and access, affordability, transparency, regulation, employment conditions, and how higher education and vocational education and training can and should work together.

In its consultation submission, the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE) outlined new ways to reform universities and transform the research sector for stronger national outcomes. 

ATSE President, Dr Katherine Woodthorpe AO FTSE, said the Universities Accord is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ensure the university system genuinely equips students for a future, increasingly driven by technology. 

“Australia urgently requires a culture change in higher education. The incentives that drive our universities are outdated and unfit for setting up Australian students for success. It is difficult for researchers to move from industry into academia, and those that do often suffer delayed career progression. We need to measure the success of our researchers in a way that reflects our modern expectations of universities,” Dr Woodthorpe said. 

She added “This involves resetting expectations for universities to deliver high-quality research and teaching in their areas of expertise and to an increasingly diverse domestic student cohort. The quest for ever more international students to cross subsidise their research has led Australian universities to try to teach everything. 

“Adopting a specialist approach, where universities teach areas of their strength and collaborate with other universities to support students to access different areas of expertise, will create better educational experiences. This must be supported by a funding and fees paradigm that drives these outcomes. Currently, funding for tertiary education in Australia rarely meets the actual teaching costs of degrees. This is particularly true for regional universities. We need to see a resourcing standard in higher education for better educational outcomes including enhanced accessibility across fields of study, location, and student demographics.”

Science & Technology Australia President Professor Mark Hutchinson, said “The case to ramp up investment in Australia’s universities to boost R&D is clear and compelling. We stand on the cusp of an era of scientific and technological development on a scale and pace unlike any before it in human history. Australia must match our global competitors with a bold plan to escalate public investment in R&D to avert a decline in Australian living standards over the next decade.

“The Universities Accord is the most effective and logical place for the Australian Government to start to implement its 2022 election pledge to push investment in R&D closer to 3% of GDP. Australia’s world-class university system generates 90 per cent of the country’s discovery research.”

Research Australia noted the need to ensure researchers can transition successfully into a range of roles in government, industry and broader society where their skills and expertise are increasingly required and tremendously valued.

“Supporting researchers to be as effective as possible in their careers within and outside universities is critical. Research Australia believes this needs to be a shared endeavour, and a subject of the Universities Accord.

“The Commonwealth and universities also have shared responsibility for the funding of research; both the direct and indirect costs. There needs to be a clear understanding of the drivers for Government participation, with at least two separate principles for government involvement articulated. The first is the effective funding of the direct and indirect costs of Commonwealth funded research and the second is the rationale for the Commonwealth contributing to the indirect costs of research funded by universities themselves and others, including industry. The future structure for Commonwealth funding needs to adequately address both these principles and the Accord provides the opportunity to achieve this,” Research Australia said in its submission to the consultation.

Dr Woodthorpe adeed “For a modern, diverse and strong university system, we also must do better at improving gender equity in Australian universities. While there is some progress, it will take a decade to reach parity in leadership positions and women are far more likely to languish in casual roles than men. 

“The government must take an evidence-based approach to dealing with this gender disparity, and support and expand programs that are demonstrably effective at reducing inequality in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.”

The panel will report to the Minister for Education, providing an interim report on priority actions by June 2023, with a final report to be delivered by December 2023.

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