Comment by Interim Vice-Chancellor, Professor Simon Evans

UNE is today hosting the Australian Universities Accord Panel. It is an opportunity to show off Australia’s oldest regional university in its autumn clothing, and to present ideas on how this institution can continue to serve its student and geographical communities for another 70 years.

As I have written before, the Accord process seeks to put the nation’s higher education environment on a robust footing for the next 20-30 years. The panel wants to understand how the entire system might be reformed in the national interest.

Broadly, UNE’s submission to the Accord proposes that policymakers better recognise institutional diversity, including student diversity and geographical differences, and embed the principle of diversity in a coherent national architecture for higher education.

UNE’s first Vice-Chancellor, Robert Madgwick, identified UNE’s core challenge in 1955 when he told a graduation ceremony that, “this University must be different if it is to justify its existence”.

Difference is difficult when policy is built on a one-size-fits-all approach modelled on metropolitan universities catering to the school-leaver student market.

UNE’s Accord submission argues that Australia’s higher education needs will be best served by a diversity of public education institutions, each resourced to provide education and research in ways that serve the long-term national interest and that reflect the costs of their distinctive and complementary missions.

This University has an established record of excellence in distance education – a mission that has been evolving since 1955 – and in supporting regional students with unconventional paths into university study.

Regional universities like UNE are also anchor institutions in their communities, playing a civic role alongside their educational role.

The sector is strengthened when this diversity is recognised and valued for the contribution it makes to the national interest.

UNE argues that the Accord should recognise that ensuring equity and access to education is core to the mission of all universities, and should be resourced as such.

Moreover UNE draws attention to distinctiveness of its student cohort – its median student is not a school-leaver studying at a metropolitan campus close to full time, but an older student, studying online and part time, with different education and support needs.  

Our submission also asks that a more inclusive concept of “the national interest” also be applied to research funding. UNE believes that better acknowledgment of place-based research and the value of collaboration with industry and government is needed.

Regardless of the Accord’s ultimate impact, UNE will continue to pursue these concepts as part of its mission as a regional university.

I will elaborate on other elements of our submission in future editions of Pulse and, in the meantime, continue to advocate for our university at every opportunity.

Image: UNE Chancellor James Harris with Australian Universities Accord Panel Chair, Professor Mary O’Kane.