While peak university bodies, including Universities Australia and the Group of Eight, have called for the veto power to be scrapped, other academic bodies have argued it should be used rarely and with increased oversight such as requiring the minister to provide an explanation to the Parliament detailing why projects were rejected.
Clare also vowed to reset the relationship with universities and foreshadowed he would soon appoint a “small group of eminent Australians” to lead Labor’s promised Universities Accord, bringing together academics, businesses, unions and political parties to “build a long-term plan for our universities”.
Universities Australia chair John Dewar identified a looming shortfall of 19,000 student places within the next five years as one of the key challenges facing the sector, saying an extra 46,000 places were needed to supply graduates to meet the country’s key skills shortages.
“We estimate that just taking into account the impact of projected population growth, the university system will be three per cent short in 2027,” chair John Dewar said in a speech to the National Press Club on Wednesday.
“This equates to about 19,000 places. This is before we even consider future growth in demand for a highly skilled workforce.”
Dewar, who is also vice-chancellor of Melbourne’s La Trobe University, said the Costello-era baby boom of the early 2000s would need places when they graduated from high school around 2027.
“We are pleased that the Albanese government has committed to an extra 20,000 places in the next few years, but this is a one-off, we need a longer-term solution,” Dewar said.
Former Coalition finance minister Mathias Cormann, now the Secretary-General of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, used a keynote speech to stress the importance of universities in addressing the labour shortages coming out of the pandemic.
“The [National] Skills Commission suggests that five out of 10 jobs created over the next five years will require a bachelor’s degree or higher,” Cormann said.
He also echoed the long-sounding alarm, raised by the previous government, about the reliance by universities on international student fees to subsidise research.
“The internationalisation of higher education must be put on a more sustainable footing,” he said.
“Before the pandemic international students accounted for 28 per cent of total enrolment in tertiary education in Australia, which is comparatively high by international standards. It compares to less than 19 per cent in the UK, 16 per cent in Canada and just 5 per cent in the US.”
Cut through the noise of federal politics with news, views and expert analysis from Jacqueline Maley. Subscribers can sign up to our weekly Inside Politics newsletter here.