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On the 25th of February 2024, the Australian Government finally released the University Accords Final Report. The TLDR version is: it’s been dubbed a ‘once in a generation’ reform/consultation process of what universities should be and how to support students.

So why didn’t I know about this, and how was my voice heard, you may ask?

In short, it indirectly has affiliation with the peak bodies, the UQ union and the Association of Postgraduate Students, the National Union of Students (NUS), and the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA).

I can speak from personal experience. I have written to the University Accords consultative meetings on the rising cost of living, PhD stipends, unaddressed sexual misconduct on campuses and the numerous other inequalities and barriers found at universities.

So here is a quick rundown of a 408-page policy document for normal people.


The Good

Recommendations include:

  1. Removing the infamous Job-Ready Graduates policy of 2020 and removing the policy that hiked domestic fees for Arts and humanities degrees by up to 113%!
  2. Financial support for work placements
  3. Establishing a National Student Charter covering the obligations of universities to ensure student welfare, safety, and well-being as a priority.
    • establishing a National Student Ombudsman, students can complain and fine universities for not properly addressing sexual misconduct on campus.
  4. Increasing PhD stipends, but falls short of mentioning how much it should increase by ๐Ÿ™
  5. That income support should vary to take more consideration for moving out/regional students.

The Bad!

Recommendations not included or were too vague on the details.

  1. The Age of Independence remains at 21 and has not reduced to 18
  2. Expanding Austudy to all postgraduate students was not a recommendation
  3. A recommendation for Universal Public transport concessions.

The Downright Ugly

So, unless you are a university, it won’t be apparent how the proposed reforms will negatively impact you. However. Here’s why international students took a beating in this report.

Most of the positive aspects coming out for international students are more protection of their working rights and a clearer pathway to permanent migration.

That’s all there is. Not to mention, it’s actually a Department of Home Affairs’ Migration Strategy policy.

The most concerning policy could be the recommendation for a Higher Education Future Fund (HEFF).


What is HEFF?

So it sounds like a hedge fund managed and co-funded by the government – this is good. Universities are to contribute based on their broad revenue streams.

This sounds all good and well, but contributing a fraction of your revenue (income stream) is another word for a tax, and other media outlets have gone as far as calling this a Robin Hood tax.

The other point to consider is that international student tuition fees are the largest income stream for big universities. At UQ, we’ve heard reports that international fees have increased by a whopping 20% in the past year.

Simply put, a ‘tax’ on the university income streams will likely result in the cost being passed on to customers and international students, and frankly, it sounds like it has already begun here at UQ.

So, whilst the HEFF is a good idea in principle, the absence of price regulations on international student fees may only result in skyrocketing fees for international students.

Either way. Let’s remember that the University Accords Final Report presents recommendations, and we’ll have chances to actively lobby and campaign against them before they undergo finalization over the next 12 months leading up to the next federal election.

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Author

  • Errol Phuah

    Errol studying a Masters of Educational Studies. He has a keen interesting in reporting on Higher Education news and is one of your Deputy Chief Editors of Semper Floreat in 2024.

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