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Staff and student coalition calls for university governance reforms


A return to academic control and protection for research are on lobby group’s wish list

A national coalition of university staff and students has called for an overhaul of university governance in Australia to combat “corporatisation”.

Public Universities Australia proposes a “model law” that would see governing bodies made up largely of active academics and community members. Chancellors and vice-chancellors would be “democratically elected”.

It wants governing council meetings to be open and it advocates the full release of agendas and minutes. A new regulatory body would be set up to monitor universities’ financial performance.

Education commission

Research autonomy should be protected by a tertiary education commission, replacing the existing Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency, the group said in a manifesto published on its website. The commission would have “the ability to review and make recommendations concerning any financial and regulatory issues that affect these activities”.

The commission would be appointed by parliament in consultation with “a wide range of representative bodies from the tertiary and broader education and research sectors. Its role would include safeguarding and guaranteeing the nature and role of the different education and research providers against undue political interference,” the manifesto said.

Funding for academic work should be guaranteed, it added. “The pursuit of abstract knowledge must be preserved and protected to ensure foundational and transformative ‘blue-sky’ research. Each university should be funded to have an appropriate number of research institutes and centres. As well as involving academic staff, such research institutes and centres should provide ongoing positions for some research staff.”

Public Universities Australia was established in 2021. Its supporters include the National Tertiary Education Union, the National Union of Students and the Australian Association of University Professors.