Speech to 12th National Conference on University Governance
I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which the Conference is taking place today, and I pay my respects to elders, past, present, and emerging.
In doing so I commit the government, which I am proud to be a part of to the implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full.
I apologise I can’t be there in person.
I recognise the value of the intellectual firepower in that room coming together.
I’m sure it’s not lost on any of you, that Chancellors, and everyone that plays a role in university governance, hold these roles at a pivotal time.
For your university.
For your staff.
For your students.
For our country.
Our universities have not just been disrupted by Covid, they have been forever changed.
Online learning is the most obvious example. Not on the scale it was during lockdowns, but bigger than it was before.
Change can be difficult.
But I look at the list of Chancellors here today and I see some of the most accomplished and respected change agents we have produced.
And I look at the agenda for this conference and I see you tackling topics like Foreign Interference, Cyber Security, post Covid governance structures, and the mental health challenges facing students and universities – they are big issues. Core issues.
There is no doubt that this conference, and this sector, is pitting the right people against the right problems, and I thank you for it.
Next month I will announce the details of the Universities Accord, the Panel of eminent Australians and their Terms of Reference.
They will be broad. And I want the outcome of this Accord to define Australian higher education as one of the most accessible, equitable, integrated, quality systems in the world. And I want to partner with you to do it.
I really do want this to be a partnership.
As you know I have also announced an independent review of the ARC and the legislation that underpins it.
That review is being led by Professor Margaret Sheil AO, Vice Chancellor of the Queensland University of Technology.
And it also includes Professor Mark Hutchinson from the University of Adelaide, and Professor Susan Dodds from La Trobe University.
They will report to me by the end of March next year.
I have also issued a new Letter of Expectations to the ARC.
I know the way the National Interest Test has been operating has been causing problems.
When Brian Schmidt, the Vice Chancellor of ANU, tells you the research he did that won him the Noble Prize wouldn’t qualify under the current test, you know you have to make some changes.
I think we need a National Interest Test, but I think we can make it clearer and simpler.
I think we also need to take the politics out of research.
When grants are delayed or rejected because the Minister doesn’t like the title page, it’s harder for you to recruit and retain staff and it undermines confidence in our research system.
That’s why I have said we need to make sure all future grant rounds are delivered on time, to a predetermined time frame.
I am also working with the Minister for Home Affairs to rebuild international education and cut the delays in visa processing.
We have put more than 180 staff on to process visas and delays are coming down.
I am advised about 83 per cent of offshore student visas are now being processed within three months.
Last month, we also announced that we will increase post-study work rights for international students who graduate in areas where we have skills shortages.
That will mean students with a bachelor degree will be able to work for four years instead of two in Australia, and PHD graduates for six years instead of four.
I have set up a working group, made up of representatives from the Council of International Education, the National Tertiary Education Union, Universities Australia, my department and the Departments of Home Affairs to help implement this and they will report to me and the Minister for Home Affairs at the end of this month.
I mentioned a moment ago the focus this conference has on cyber security and foreign interference.
And I want to thank you for the work you have done with the government, and the previous government, on UFIT, the University Foreign Interference Taskforce.
It’s a great example of collaboration between government and universities.
The work we are doing together is helping protect the quality of Australia’s research and the integrity of our higher education sector.
I met with the UFIT Steering Group a few weeks ago.
At that meeting we agreed that my Department will consult and work with universities on the implementation of the Guidelines to Counter Foreign Interference in the Australian University Sector.
This work will start soon.
We will also formally respond to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security’s report on national security risks affecting universities shortly, and I thank everyone who has been involved in helping us with this important work.
Nine out ten jobs created in the next few years will require tertiary qualifications. Most of them in our universities.
That makes what we do together critical, if we want to grasp the opportunities of tomorrow.
I am looking forward to doing that work with you.
I hope you will have a great conference.
And I look forward to catching up with you face to face soon.
Thank you very much.