From the Vice-Chancellor
In her speech to the Australian Financial Review Higher Education Summit in Melbourne last month, Education Minister the Hon. Julie Bishop said the Federal Government was committed to "less red tape, less regulation and greater flexibility" for Australian universities.
Personally, I don't see any evidence of that. Although Ms Bishop was speaking about university governance in that context, it seems like an odd statement to make at a time when the Government is not exactly leading by example.
If anything, the red tape - that is, the amount of extra administrative work the Government demands of us - appears to have increased in my time here. You need only to look at the Government's new Research Quality Framework (RQF) for an example of that.
I should point out that I agree with the basic aims of the RQF - that is, a framework designed to ensure that Australia's universities are conducting quality research. I fully support the idea of ensuring that all research is quality research.
However, it's difficult to understand why the Federal Government is persisting with this particular model, which is costing the taxpayers millions of dollars, costing universities large amounts of money and time, and ignores the basis on which most of our research funding is provided.
We compete for most of the funding we receive, and industry will only fund quality outcomes that are relevant to their needs. Funding from the Australian Research Council and the National Health and Medical Research Council is both competitive and peer reviewed. So we compete for the money, we win the money, and then after we're done, under RQF, somebody says: "Now we want to conduct another process to see how good you are." We've already won the money - we must have been quite good to get it in the first place. Certainly, a peer review process only recommends further funding on the basis of excellence.
What the Government seems to be saying is that a framework used by the British 10 years ago, which they are abandoning, is good enough for us to try now. Unfortunately the RQF in its current form is too complex and too expensive.
The Government has, of course, committed substantial amounts of money to helping universities prepare for the RQF, but that won't come close to covering the costs. Australian universities everywhere are already incurring large costs preparing for the RQF.
If the Government wants to make universities and research groups more accountable for their research, there are several ways of doing it. The Government already has all of the metrics that we supply about our research, and I think you could get pretty close to making a judgement based on the information we provide.
According to the newspapers, the Labor Party says it might abandon the current scheme in favour of one that is metrics driven, with a bit of peer review and a balance between the disciplines. I'd have to say that's a better idea, and that's what the Group of Eight universities have been saying all along. And it certainly would involve less red tape.
I wish that research were the only example of bureaucracy soaking up money in an already under-funded university system. Regrettably it is not.
PROFESSOR JAMES A. McWHA
Vice-Chancellor and President