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Australia: Latest News

Calls for Australia to adopt the US college system

Suggested education overhaul to see more study places and options for Australian institutions

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Image from The Australian.

University of Adelaide Chancellor Warren Bebbington has called for de-regularisation of the Australian tertiary sector in a move to echo the college system in the US, only without the ‘crippling debts’ experienced by American students.

The proposal, also calling for reforms on government funding for universities, outlines potential for universities to step away from ‘comprehensive research’ status that caters to all levels of study. Beneath the suggested overhaul, universities would focus on Postgraduate and Doctoral research as specific centres for excellence, and provide students with a broader range of Undergraduate study choices. These centres for excellence would then be better left to compete for global elite status and recognition.

 ‘In the US, nearly half of all students do not go from high school to a public university of the Australian type, but instead attend teaching-only undergraduate colleges offering only Bachelor degrees,’ Mr. Bebbington explained in an editorial written for Times Higher.

‘Without research programmes, these colleges do a first-class job of teaching: through small classes and an intense extra-curricular programme. Students have an unforgettable, utterly life-changing experience.’

Australian Education Minister Christopher Pyne has expressed support for these ideas, telling The Saturday Telegraph that they have merit and should be a point of debate, but as part of a broader discussion about the state of Australian higher education.

Mr. Bebbington’s proposal follows release of the Kemp-Norton report, a federal post-election review commissioned by Mr. Pyne into Australia’s demand-driven higher education funding system. Beneath this system, universities are able to offer unlimited Undergraduate study places based on student demand, rather than offering a quota of ‘capped’ places at public universities.

Calling for more government-subsidised places across more providers including private universities and TAFEs, the review has been met with mixed responses. For some, the changes are a threat to the high rankings of Australian institutions.

Instead, Mr. Bebbington argues that with greater degrees of choice will come greater degrees of competition between institutions, inciting a ‘race’ to improve education quality and study information available to students. It is this choice, he argues, that is ‘one of the glories of American higher education.’

‘More probably is that private colleges would compete in commercially-viable fields with mass and elite universities alike,’ he writes.

‘The resulting competition would generate a race to quality, innovation and efficiency...How dreadful would that be?’

Mr. Pyne is expected to address the full findings of the report in line with the announcement of the federal budget in May.


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