Vice-Chancellor urges visiting inquiry to address lack of investment

Monday, 2 July 2001

Adelaide University Vice-Chancellor Professor Mary O'Kane has urged the visiting Senate committee of inquiry into higher education to address the lack of public investment in Australian universities.

"The university system is one of the treasures of Australia and is a key element in moving Australia to a knowledge society," she said. "There is a deep irony in the fact that we talk about wanting to be a knowledge economy but won't invest properly in this crucial asset. In the interests of Australia's future, it's critical that the Committee address this fundamental issue."

Professor O'Kane said that Adelaide University accounted for 2% of Australia's total research effort in 1998/99. The university sector as a whole accounted for 29.4%. She said universities were helping to turn knowledge into wealth through such spin-off enterprises as BresaGen and GroPep, two publicly listed companies which developed from research activity at Adelaide University. Tertiary education was also one of Australia's major exports, she said.

As part of its inquiry into the capacity of public universities to meet Australia's higher education needs, the Senate Employment, Workplace Relations, Small Business and Education References Committee is conducting a public hearing at Adelaide Town Hall on Wednesday (4 July). The Committee has already received more than 300 written submissions, including one from Adelaide University.

Professor O'Kane said that not only had public funding of universities declined but available funds were increasingly restricted and given out on a matching basis. She said this so-called "burden of matched funding" could distort internal university finances and lead to unintended negative consequences for disciplines such as the humanities and social sciences.

"In a very real way, the changed funding arrangements for Australian universities raise the question, 'What is a university?'" Professor O'Kane said. "It is most important that the Committee spend some time considering this question and urging governments to think seriously about funding higher education at levels which ensure that universities are the powerhouses of Australia's growth and development in the 21st century."


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