Opposition leader Tony Abbott has flagged he will undertake significant higher education reforms, including an strong emphasis on online learning, should the Coalition win government in September.
In a speech to the Universities Australia Higher Education Conference, held in Canberra today, Abbott said the Coalition is forming a higher education working group chaired by Alan Tudge.
Tudge is a member of the Parliamentary Education and Employment Committee and the Coalition’s Economics and Education Committees and Gambling Taskforce.
The working group will examine how online courses can expand access to university education for all Australians, as well as improving the attractiveness of Australia’s higher education sector to overseas students.
“Most importantly, what should government do or undo to enable universities to make the most of the potential that new technologies create?” Abbott said.
The working group will report to shadow education minister Christopher Pyne. It is expected to issue its report in April of this year.
Abbott highlighted the importance of higher education for both the quality of life of all Australians, as well as an export item for the Australian economy.
“In 2011-12, for instance, personal tourism brought $12 billion into our economy while education (particularly higher education) brought in more than $15 billion,” he said.
He noted government should have a hands-off role when it comes to the running and administration of higher education institutions.
“Higher education is one area where government’s role is more to be a respectful listener than a hands-on manager,” he said.
Abbott expressed the desire for Australian researchers to deliver world class work that is well targeted. He said much of the time spent by academics is on writing research grants, and intimated that time could be better spent doing actual research.
“There are credible claims that researchers typically spend 30 percent of their time making grant applications that normally have a 20 percent success rate. One way to help here might be to offer longer-term research grants,” Abbott said.