Message from the Vice-Chancellor
Australian higher education is facing a period of rapid change and expansion with government reforms aiming to increase the proportion of 25-34 year-old Australians with bachelor level qualifications to 40% by 2025. The scale of the increase in student demand, and wider diversity in the student body, means that the one-size-fits-all policy framework inherited from the Dawkins reforms has outlived its usefulness.
The students of the future need a broad range of study options offered by different types of institutions.
There are many examples from around the world of universities that have intensive teaching environments, and many countries where private universities (whether or not they are operating on a profit basis) play a large and expanding role.
You have to wonder why we couldn't do that in Australia. If we did, there would be no requirement to fund every university for research which, even today, many of them don't do as they simply haven't the capacity or inclination. In reality, competitive research income accounts for less than 10% of total income at a third of all Australian universities, while at the University of Adelaide, for example, it accounts for more that 35%.
There are two ways to address this situation. We could perpetuate the notion that all of our universities need to have extensive research activities. This would demand a huge injection of funds into the expanding system. Or we could simply say that universities are not required to undertake research and recognise that different institutions have different purposes.
We should be able to have research intensive AND teaching intensive universities in the one higher education system. Students would still get the same quality of education. It would be different but not necessarily superior or inferior.
Universities are not all the same, nor can they be. The concept of everyone engaging in research, as espoused by Humboldt in the 19th century, is no longer relevant as we have moved from a very elite system to one of mass education where knowledge itself is no longer controlled and safeguarded exclusively by universities and their libraries.
The future can be a high quality system in which different institutions do different things well.
Both research and teaching deliver enormous social and economic benefits to the nation as demonstrated by a range of economic assessments. It is vital that we have a flexible and responsive system to maximise those benefits.
As alumni of one of Australia's and the world's most renowned research-intensive universities, you play an important role in shaping the future of the University of Adelaide. As such, I encourage you to engage in the broader public discussion on the kind of higher education sector we would wish for the next generation.
PROFESSOR JAMES A. McWHA
Vice-Chancellor and President