Universities Australia launched their national campaign “A Smarter Australia” on the 27th of February. “A Smarter Australia” is a public awareness campaign to inform Australians on the importance of our universities and a policy document directed towards the next government. The project is structured around four central goals for Australian universities; increasing participation levels, strengthening global engagement, supporting research and innovation and making sustainable investments and better regulation. The document also calls for an annual incremental increase in public funding of universities by 2.5% over 5 years.
This call for more government support is in response to a growing disparity between the value Australians and their politicians place on Universities. In his address to the National Press Club the chair of Universities Australia and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Melbourne Professor Glyn Davis announced that 88% of Australians would encourage their children and other school leavers to attend university. Despite this overwhelming popular acknowledgment of the importance of universities, tertiary education was noticeably absent from the 2010 pre-election debate, something Universities Australia aims to change in this election year.
The growing desire of young Australians to attend university coupled with the new demand driven system of tertiary admission heralds a rise in demand for university places. Currently Australia, despite its high standards of university education and research, is well bellow OECD averages for public funding of these areas. The proposed funding increases would bring Australia in line with these international averages.
The Vice Chancellor of every university represented by Universities Australia, including the ANU’s Ian Young, sent out a university and alumni wide email on the 27th informing recipients of the campaign launch. At the launch professor Glyn Davis stressed that this is a non-partisan campaign with a policy document directed to any incoming government but it is clear that Universities Australia aims to make university funding a major policy area and inform the electorate to hold the major parties accountable.