USyd ‘strongly supports’ Accord in final submission

The University urged the Albanese government to “fix the worst elements of the Job-ready Graduates Package,” in its submission but stopped short of recommending its repeal.

The University of Sydney has entered its final submission to the upcoming Universities Accord, setting out its priorities across seven areas corresponding to what it sees as the “priority issues” facing higher education in Australia. 

The University said it “strongly support[s] the concept of an Accord, to facilitate a national discussion and consensus building around the role that the tertiary education and research sector should play in Australia’s future,” in the introduction to its submission.

The submission emphasised the need for Australia to “lift educational access and attainment,” to meet the growing need for university degrees to attain employment. It said that while HECS loans “[remove] upfront tuition fees upfront tuition fees as a direct barrier to access to higher education,” a lack of support for students while studying posed a barrier to accessing university. 

“The burden of covering basic living expenses such as housing, food, transport and utility costs continues to prevent too many students from accessing and succeeding in their tertiary studies,” the University said. It recommended a review of Australia’s current system of student income support, which as it stands fails to prevent large numbers of students, particularly of disadvantaged backgrounds, from living in poverty.   

The University urged the Albanese government to “fix the worst elements of the Job-ready Graduates Package,” in its submission. The Package, which causes wide-ranging and inequitable harms, was criticised in the submission for being “based on flawed assumptions,” and for creating “perverse incentives for providers and the Commonwealth when allocating places.” The University said the government should undertake an “assessment” of the Package’s impact on students, regarding its raising of student course payments and its impact on the funding of university places for First Nations students. 

The submission stopped short of demanding a repeal of the package — the view of the National Union of Students and the National Tertiary Education Union. It failed to mention other negative impacts of the Package on students, including changes to the course discontinuation options available to students and time-limit restrictions on degrees. 

The submission was critical of the Job-ready Graduates Package’s impact on research capacity, saying its “effective separation of funding for higher education teaching and research … [has] exposed a major structural gap in the way Australian university research is funded.”

The University also called on the government to increase Australia’s Research and Development intensity. 

The submission noted that universities’, including USyd’s own, reliance on international student revenue, to make up for a lack of funding for research “is a critical issue which needs to be addressed.” It followed this submission with a recommendation that the government should “strengthen the role of international education,” both for international students coming to Australia and for Australian students studying overseas.

The separation of research and teaching, through USyd’s threatened changes to the 40:40:20 model for academic work and its introduction of “Education Focussed Roles,” is a key reason for the NTEU’s ongoing industrial action campaign at the University

The concluding submissions made by the University recommended the government “deliver a simpler and more transparent system,” by reducing regulatory complexity and to “improve the way tertiary education policy is made,” by improving the “quality, transparency and likelihood of evidence-based decision making.”

Lia Perkins, President of USyd’s Students’ Representative Council, told Honi “It’s unsurprising that USyd is excited about the Accord, because they have such a large seat at the table and ability to influence the government.

“Yet their statements about JobReady and teaching and research are ironic considering the University invited police on campus to arrest students who were protesting the bill in 2020, and are currently taking a hard line against NTEU members who have a proposal for a better University. 

“Unlike USyd, we believe that JobReady needs to be completely repealed and replaced with fully funded, free education.

“It’s been almost 3 years and USyd has the ability to protect students from some of the worst elements of JobReady, by preventing students from failing units and fixing their problem with Special cons and academic integrity wait times. This is what’s in the best interests of students, and it’s clear our interests don’t align with management’s.”