Release type: Speech


Association for Tertiary Education Management - University of South Australia


The Hon Christopher Pyne MP
Minister for Education
Leader of the House


Thank you, Professor Sarre, for that introduction.

I would first like to say that it is a pleasure to address you in a venue that honours the work of Professor Denise Bradley, whom I know well.

Professor Bradley’s contribution to higher education, of course, goes far beyond her ten-year tenure as this university’s first Vice-Chancellor. Professor Bradley also led the expert panel for the Review of Australian Higher Education that recommended the introduction of the demand driven funding system.

I was pleased to accept the invitation to speak today because I recognise the important and unique contributions the members of the Association for Tertiary Education Management (ATEM) make in support of achieving the goals of their institutions.

Chief among those goals is ensuring delivery of world class research, teaching and learning.

And that certainly reflects this Government’s ambitions for higher education.

In my recent speech at the Universities Australia (UA) conference, I said that we as a nation must work to make Australia’s higher education system the best in the world, and strive towards making some of our universities among the very best in the world.

Can I commend Universities Australia for their Keep it Clever campaign with its clear message that Australia must not be left behind in the face of intensifying global competition. There is intensifying global economic competition, and global competition specifically in higher education, including the rise of Asian universities.

To directly quote the Universities Australia campaign:

‘Our universities give us so many reasons to be proud. Not only do they deliver the highly skilled graduates our economy needs to prosper, their research and innovation has helped put Australia on the world stage.

‘However, global competition is intensifying and we risk being left behind.’

As the UA campaign also says, ‘I don’t want Australia to be left behind. … Highly skilled graduates are what our economy needs to prosper as global competition intensifies.’

In the most recent Times Higher Education world university rankings, released in October 2013, Australia’s top universities lost ground and Asian universities are on the rise.

Seven Australian universities in the top 300 went backwards from the previous year. The National University of Singapore overtook Australia’s top ranked university.

I understand that rankings do not represent the full picture, but dropping in global rankings is a warning that we cannot afford to ignore. There are enormous gains being made by Asian universities, and Australian higher education institutions need to be at the top of their game to compete in the region.

In the Times Higher Education 2014 World Reputation rankings, Australian universities have lost ground with only one, the University of Melbourne, in the top 50 compared with three last year. Universities in Asia held 8 spots in the top 50, including universities from Japan, Korea, Singapore and China.

We are at risk of being left behind.

We must therefore confront the questions: How do we ensure that Australia isn’t left behind? More ambitiously, how do we ensure that Australia has the world’s best higher education system, with some of our universities among the very best in the world?

In a recent article on ‘The determinants of quality national higher education systems’, Ross Williams and colleagues stressed the importance of autonomy and resources as fundamental to high performing higher education systems.

Other reports also provide food for thought on our higher education system – such as the Grattan Institute’s recent report on strengthening the Higher Education Loan Programme, and the Group of Eight’s report on ‘Graduate Skills and National Productivity’. The report of the Review of the Demand-Driven Funding System undertaken by Dr David Kemp and Mr Andrew Norton will be released soon, and should help encourage informed discussion of how we expand opportunities for students and help to ensure our higher education system prepares them well for the jobs of the new economy.

Today I want to focus on how we go about ensuring freedom for universities – ensuring that they are unshackled from burdensome red tape and regulation that limits their ability to focus on high-quality teaching, learning and research.

We can start by working together to identify how we can appropriately reduce the regulation and compliance burdens that constrain universities.

I’d like to discuss with you the strong action the Government is taking to reduce the burden of regulation and reporting requirements in higher education, and how I believe this will benefit universities.

We are implementing all the recommendations of the Lee Dow-Braithwaite Review of Higher Education Regulation, and the PhillipsKPA Review of Reporting Requirements for Universities.

Important steps have already been taken towards reducing red tape.

We are:

  • working to simplify data collection
  • eliminating unnecessary reporting requirements
  • reforming the governance and functions of the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA)
  • simplifying ARC grants processes
  • abolishing the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission
  • consulting on ways to improve the Education Services for Overseas Students framework, and
  • streamlining visa processing for international students.

But this is just the beginning and there is much more to be done.

I know that there are many challenges to running a good university.

Universities are large, complex and costly organisations.

And they must be effectively led, managed and administered if they are going to achieve excellent outcomes.

Universities cannot be drivers of innovation and excellence without first-rate professional staff.

It is my hope that the changes we are already making will assist you in your roles as managers, and that they will help our universities to be more efficient and productive, and encourage them to exercise their independence.

In my recent address to Universities Australia, I spoke of a new era of autonomy for our universities.

I’m conscious that everyone here can contribute to this agenda, as you:

  • plan for, and support the future direction of your institution
  • support all members of the academic community to realise the potential of the community and foster the spirit of your institution
  • introduce innovative practices, and
  • make limited financial and other resources stretch as effectively as possible.

I want to invite everyone here to work with us to reduce universities’ regulatory and compliance burden, in line with our commitment to university freedom.

I’d like you to share with me your views on what more we should do to help higher education through deregulation.

Your input is vital.

As professional staff, you know where the burden is, and you see the avenues of escaping it—or to repeat a phrase from my Universities Australia speech: only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches.

Let me pose a question:

  • How can we eliminate all the burdens of regulation, compliance and reporting that are not needed or can be simplified or reduced?

So please think about how you might address this question. I look forward to a fruitful discussion at the end of my remarks.

Why we should deregulate

Let me say that this Government is a deregulatory government.

When Tony Abbott spoke to the Universities Australia conference last year, he said that ‘good universities deserve… as much freedom to run their own affairs as can reasonably be managed’.

Deregulation is the Government’s practical expression of our respect for that freedom.

Last month, the Prime Minister, in his own words, set the ‘biggest bonfire of regulations in our country’s history’.

The Australian Parliament held its first regulation Repeal Day on 26 March. Repeal Day was a decisive move to abolish regulation and legislation that has outlived its usefulness, or is doing more harm than good.

The Prime Minister said that cutting red tape is at the heart of this Government’s mission — to build a strong and prosperous economy for a safe and secure Australia.

On Repeal Day, the Government introduced legislation and tabled documents to repeal more than 10,000 pieces and more than 50,000 pages of legislation and regulations. This will save over $700 million in compliance costs across the economy.

In speaking about the Day, the Prime Minister asked:

‘Why should Australian medical researchers collectively put 500 years of work into preparing grant applications – of which only 20 per cent succeed?

‘Likewise, why should every Australian university be required to report more than 50 sets of data to the Commonwealth Department of Education and a further 50 to other government entities.’

It is extraordinary. The Prime Minister noted that this is time and money that’s not directed to teaching and research.[2]

This may not be the first time you have heard me say this, but no university was ever regulated into excellence.

It is only through respecting the freedom of universities that we can have the competition that drives the excellence, diversity and innovation that we need.

The necessity for that freedom was well expressed by the report of the Murray Committee, asked by the Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, in the 1950s to undertake the first national review of university education in this country.

The Committee’s report said:

Universities … are accorded a high degree of autonomy and self-determination on the ground that the particular services which they render, both to their country and to mankind in general, cannot be rendered without such freedom.

Our higher education institutions have suffered the growth of over-regulation in recent years. This was in effect confirmed by the Lee Dow-Braithwaite and PhillipsKPA reviews.

The PhillipsKPA Review of Reporting Requirements for Universities said that, for example, the ‘typical’ Australian university applies more than 2000 days of staff time and spends $800,000-$900,000 in meeting department reporting requirements.

So I know that your day-to-day work is directly affected by duplication and unnecessary reporting requirements from government.

But there is far more to deregulation than reducing reporting requirements. It is about reducing, wherever appropriate, the various regulatory interventions and compliance burdens that affect how universities operate.

Deregulation is now a standing item on the COAG agenda, and higher education is one of four priority areas, along with early childhood education, manufacturing and small business.

This Government is committed to working with States and Territories to reduce the requirements on higher education institutions.

PhillipsKPA Review of Reporting Requirements for Universities

The Government has accepted all the recommendations of the PhillipsKPA Review of Reporting Requirements and has already started implementing them.

For example, this year’s Institutional Performance Portfolio or IPP —
an important document that provides universities with benchmark data on student load, student outcomes, equity and access, research performance, infrastructure and staffing levels — is the first to be provided without the need for a separate information collection.

In addition to other information it received, my Department previously required descriptive information on financial sustainability, community engagement, and a range of equity reports for the IPP. It also asked for additional research and innovation indicators.

These requirements have now been eliminated.

Universities also no longer have to submit Capital Asset Management surveys for the IPP.

These surveys required information on the size, use, management and maintenance of the institution’s assets and spaces including lecture theatres, seminar and tutorial rooms, laboratories, academic offices, computerised student work spaces, and general support offices.

Instead, results from surveys by the Tertiary Education Facilities Management Association (TEFMA) will be used.

The fact is we trust universities to know that they have buildings, where they are, and how to use them.

It is estimated that the reduced IPP reporting requirements will save universities $500,000 per year.

Plans are also underway to automatically generate the IPP from the Higher Education Information Management System, so as to reduce the time you spend verifying data.

Looking ahead, there are more recommendations that we will deliver. These include:

  • establishing a register of annual reporting requirements to enhance the understanding of the scale of reporting and to identify areas of duplication
  • simplifying equity reporting
  • revising universities’ obligations to report to the Tuition Protection Service, and
  • consulting with universities on a single higher education research data collection.

In December this year Universities Australia will provide an assessment of how my Department is progressing in its implementation of the review’s recommendations.

We value opportunities such as these for feedback on not only what we are doing well, but also on what we can do better.

Lee Dow-Braithwaite Review of Higher Education Regulation

The Lee Dow-Braithwaite Review of Higher Education Regulation identified further opportunities to remove impediments to the way universities conduct their business.

The Government has accepted all of the recommendations.

The Review was undertaken in response to concerns raised by the higher education sector about the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) and their approach to requirements of universities and other higher education providers.

In line with the recommendations of the Review, I gave a Direction to the Chief Executive Officer of TEQSA in October, to:

  • consult the higher education sector in the formulation and execution of its strategies
  • to improve the focus and timeliness of its activities, and
  • to advance appropriate deregulation for the sector.

TEQSA is now required to report directly to me on progress in achieving these goals.

To give effect to the Review’s recommendations, the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Amendment Bill 2014 was introduced into Parliament by me on 27 February.

This is an important piece of legislation that will enable TEQSA to focus on its core functions of provider registration and course accreditation, and implement more efficient and effective processes around these functions.

The key elements of the Bill are to:

  • remove TEQSA’s thematic quality assessment function
  • increase the ability for decisions to be delegated, so as to improve efficiency and appeal opportunities,
  • separate the roles and responsibilities of the CEO and Chief Commissioner
  • remove the strict requirements relating to the number of Commissioners and the full-time or part-time basis of their appointment, and
  • allow TEQSA to extend the period of registration or accreditation on its own initiative.

The Bill removes TEQSA’s thematic quality assessment function. This means it would no longer be able to compel institutions to participate in thematic assessment reviews, such as the April 2013 Third Party Arrangements survey.

The TEQSA Amendment Bill has now been referred to a Senate committee, not reporting until June —an unnecessary delay by Labor. I am in full agreement with Universities Australia that has urged the Committee to complete its work expeditiously. Universities are looking forward to streamlined arrangements being delivered as soon as possible.

Minimising regulatory intervention will allow more time for creative and imaginative leadership. A key recommendation of the Review was to establish an Advisory Council that will consult stakeholders and provide advice to me and to TEQSA on a way forward.

TEQSA Advisory Council

Deregulation is central to the terms of reference for the TEQSA Advisory Council.

The Council will advise the Government on every aspect of how to minimise regulatory intervention in higher education consistent with ensuring accountability for quality and standards.

It will closely consider the operations of TEQSA including its strategic objectives and plans to ensure that their approach is consistent with principles of necessity, proportionality and risk, and that its approach is deregulatory in nature as much as possible.

Members of the Council will represent a range of perspectives on higher education, international education, and risk management.

I am confident that the TEQSA Advisory Council will formulate advice with a strong understanding of, amongst other considerations, the freedom that universities need to deliver on their specific ambitions on the local, national and global stage.

Other steps

There are, of course, other aspects of reducing the burdens on higher education institutions and their staff.

For example, the Australian Research Council knows it has a role to play in reducing red tape and it is currently consulting and working with universities to:

  • simplify ARC funding rules,
  • reduce the compliance cost of grant reporting, and
  • extend the duration of ARC grants, where justified.

As part of the Government’s response to the PhillipsKPA Review, my department and the ARC are consulting towards the development of a single higher education research data collection. This addresses the duplication between the Higher Education Research Data Collection and the research data requirements for the Excellence in Research for Australia evaluation.

This has the potential to reduce substantially the burden of research reporting.

International students

We are also very committed to doing all we can to help our higher education providers to attract international students, and to eliminate unnecessary obstacles to this.

We have already begun the process of improving the international student visa regime through simplifying the Assessment Level framework and extending streamlined visa processing.

Stakeholders have been calling for changes to the Education Services for Overseas Students framework for some time.

My Department is consulting on ways we can improve the ESOS framework that underpins the higher education sector’s activities.

We will remove unnecessary obstacles to growth and efficiencies for education providers.

Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission

This includes abolishing the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission.

In their submission to the Commission of Audit, Universities Australia said:

The Australian Charities and Not-For-Profits Commission (ACNC) has imposed a new, inefficient and unnecessary layer of regulatory and reporting burden on universities.

And they went on to say:

Universities are now required to provide detailed annual financial reports to the Commission, notwithstanding universities are already required to supply such information to at least six other Government Departments.

Again, the Government is in agreement with Universities Australia on this impost, and we intend to abolish the Commission.

Universities Australia told the Commission of Audit that abolition of the ACNC ‘would satisfy our [UA’s] concerns in this area’.

Across all portfolios we will work to reduce the cost of the regulatory burden on businesses, community groups and individuals by $1 billion this year and we intend to continue to reduce costs each year thereafter.


The work you do is essential as universities grapple with:

  • fiscal constraints,
  • diverse student needs, and
  • competition for the most talented researchers.

Looking to the future, the higher education landscape promises to be one where universities will be free to set their own path.

Let’s return to the core questions:

  • What burdens and constraints on higher education institutions can be simplified?
  • How can we streamline regulation and reporting requirements?
  • What can we eliminate?

We want to reduce red tape.

We want to allow you greater freedom to innovate and to be responsive to the specific needs of your institution.

Institutions can then focus on the important things to them – on research, teaching and learning.

We do not want Australia’s universities to be left behind. We fully support UA’s Keep it Clever initiative to ensure our universities remain competitive and are among the best in the world.

There are, of course, other aspects to this, and I will speak more about them over the coming weeks and months. But there can be no doubt that less time spent on unnecessary compliance will mean more time to create the higher education system we aspire to - one that is the world’s best, with some among the very best universities in the world.