Monday, March 07, 2005
University chiefs have urged caution over plans to open up the nation`s higher education system to more competition from overseas colleges and private universities.
Warning that the push to allow more education providers to claim the tightly regulated title of “university” could damage the reputation of Australian universities, vice-chancellors yesterday suggested these new entrants could use a different name, such as college.
The ALP accused the Howard Government of preparing to unleash on students hundreds of `McDegrees” that were not “worth the paper they are printed on”.
The Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee yesterday rejected the claims of private providers that it was acting as the “gatekeeper” to the lucrative education market, maintaining that it would support plans to allow universities to specialise. At present, universities are required to demonstrate strong credentials in the areas of both teaching and research to qualify for the status of university.
“A fundamental point which must not be lost in the debate is that not every higher education provider should necessarily be termed a `university`,” AVCC president Di Yerbury said.
“There are many risks in undermining the confidence and certainty attached to Australia`s universities through any misuse of this meaningful title. We are certainly not trying to stop fair competition.”
In a new report, revealed yesterday, Building University Diversity, had urged a radical overhaul of the existing national protocols that determine which institutions can claim the title of university and what academics can teach.
It warned that Australia`s free trade agreements with the US, Singapore and Thailand required reforms to ensure overseas universities and private colleges were not discriminated against.
However, any changes require the agreement of the states and territories, which are likely to strongly oppose measures to open the floodgates to foreign universities but may agree to break the historic link between teaching and research, allowing universities to choose to specialise in one area.
National Tertiary Education Union president Carolyn Allport warned yesterday that the best way to ensure Australia`s higher education system was internationally competitive was to retain “strict requirements” for accreditation.
“Lowering standards by removing the obligation on potential university aspirants to engage in research and offer a broad range of disciplines will only reduce quality across the sector and confuse both Australian and overseas students about the nature of Australia`s university system.”
University of Wollongong vice-chancellor Gerard Sutton said it was timely to have a national debate as “the global situation has changed with a number of free trade agreements signed”.
“I also think that competition is healthy but the real danger in this is the devaluation of the title university.”
Melbourne University vice-chancellor Glyn Davis said: “At the end of the day, it`s going to be a matter of political negotiation between the commonwealth, states and territories.”