PUA is the new peak body of the Australian university sector. It was founded in October 2021 to represent the key stakeholders of the tertiary education system ranging from students to professors and other university staff. Unlike Universities Australia (UA) which represents, and speaks for, a small minority (vice-chancellors and their management) this broader composition of PUA reflects the typical statutory definition and scope of Australian universities themselves. However, PUA is keen to have a constructive dialogue with UA and take their positions on board when speaking to government.
PUA believes that the resourcing and character of Australian universities must not be looked at in isolation but as part of a life-long education system. The massive growth of universities over recent decades has drained resources out of the high school and vocational education sector, reduced academic standards, introduced management practices that violate academic governance principles and academic freedom itself, and is now also harming the original goal of that expansion, increasing access to education for all Australians.
It is well recognised that current university ranking systems proffer no reliable guide to the quality and true health of our universities. They are self-referential and largely disinterested in genuine national benefit. Government should instead be encouraged to invest in pre-university education and into vocational education at the highest standard and with strong industry participation, while enabling free access to university education for academically minded students through various access routes along their life-long path of learning. To remain relevant, university teaching must be research-led. The continued value of research and teaching rests on their independence from external vested interests that undermine their trustworthiness. It is through the pursuit of such academic freedoms that universities ultimately fulfil their social contract to protect and nurture democratic society.
In order to rectify the distortions within the Australian university sector effectively and quickly, PUA believes that all senior management positions should be accountable to the university body, and democratically confirmed or elected from academically qualified candidates. It is a simple demand of rational organisation that the accountability of office holders within the university must reflect subject matter competency as well as the sources of funding: publicly funded activities require public accountability.
This change should be implemented immediately and be accompanied by improved legislation that reforms university governance.