26 September 2023

WA universities’ performance under review

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The Department of Education has announced that an Expert Independent Panel is to conduct a review of the State’s public university sector.

The Minister for Education, Tony Buti said the reviewers would investigate what changes may help to better support the performance and financial sustainability of the State’s four public universities.

Mr Buti said WA’s universities played an integral role in the State’s society and economy.

“The sector generates an estimated $2 billion in economic activity, employs more than 10,000 people and, on average, caters for the annual enrolment of 35,000 domestic students and 14,000 new international students,” Mr Buti said.

“In recent years, WA’s university sector has become increasingly constrained. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, it experienced declining Australian Government funding, relatively low growth in student enrolments and a declining share of Commonwealth-funded competitive research grants.”

He said that between 2010 and 2019, WA had the smallest percentage growth in university enrolments in Australia (13.6 per cent compared to 32.3 per cent across Australia).

He said that in 2020, WA attracted only 5.5 per cent of Australia’s international student revenue.

“To attract world-leading academic staff and to gain a technological edge, universities need to be at the forefront of research and innovation,” Mr Buti said.

“These all contribute to better learning outcomes, technological advances and greater student attraction,” he said.

“Unfortunately, the WA university sector has experienced a more significant decline in its share of Australian competitive research funding than any other Australian State or Territory, falling from 11 per cent in 2001 to 2.9 per cent in 2022.”

He said that while the Commonwealth funds the nation’s universities through conditional grants, universities are established as statutory corporations under individual State legislation providing for their governance.

Mr Buti said the Lead Reviewer of the Expert Independent Panel would be former Vice Chancellor and President of James Cook University, Sandra Harding (pictured). Other Panel members would be John Williams, Ian Watt and Peter Shergold.

The review is expected to explore the various structural change options available to WA’s university sector, and whether these changes would deliver improved performance and financial sustainability for the local public universities.

A final report from the panel is expected in the second half of this year.

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