Below are concrete suggestions for legislative changes on state and federal levels. In our view these changes are doable and absolutely necessary if we want to ensure that Australian universities will be actual democratic institutions capable of providing high quality research and education in a global perspective. These suggestions are the result of thousands of hours of collective research.
STATE LEGISLATIVE CHANGES (UNIFORM LEGISLATION/MODEL ACT)
1) GOVERNANCE: the governance of Australian public universities must be collegial, transparent and accountable.
a. The governing bodies of Australian public universities must be composed of a majority of experts in academia and tertiary education, as well as including individuals (including alumni of the university) who represent the broader communities that universities serve. Financial, commercial and corporate expertise must be maintained, but must not dominate the composition of any University’s governing bodies
b. At least half of all members of governing bodies should be elected by and from within the university community (representing academic staff, non-academic staff, students and alumni).
c. University Chancellors and Vice-Chancellors should be democratically elected by the university community and candidates selected from among the most distinguished academics after wide consultation with all members of the university. The selection committee should be drawn from the university community (including academic staff, non-academic staff, students and alumni) and should include representation from a wide range of discipline areas.
d. To ensure transparency, wherever possible, meetings of the governing body of all universities should be open for members of the public to attend as observers. Furthermore, detailed minutes should be made publicly available in a timely manner, and both the agenda and agenda papers, wherever possible, should not be confidential and should be made available prior to the meeting to both the university community and to the public.
2) FACULTY/SCHOOL/DISCIPLINE LEADERSHIP/MANAGEMENT & DECISION MAKING: all academic decisions should be made collegially by the academic community.
a. Major decisions within particular faculties, schools or disciplines should involve the entire faculty, school or discipline following academic and democratic principles.
b. Faculty, school or discipline leadership/management should be either elected from within the faculty, school or discipline, or recruited from outside by a selection committee containing a majority of members from within the faculty, school or discipline.
3) EXECUTIVE POSITIONS & SALARIES, REMUNERATION AND FRINGE BENEFITS:
a. All salaries of the executive officers of Australian public universities – including, but not limited to, vice-chancellors – must be aligned with those of other leaders of public institutions and capped at twice a professorial salary. Furthermore, all salaries, remuneration and fringe benefits must be made fully public.
b. The hiring process of all executive officers must be undertaken by a committee that represents the university community (including academic staff, non-academic staff, students and alumni).
4) EMPLOYMENT: Australian public universities must provide secure, safe, non-exploitative employment, as well as tenured academic employment.
a. Casual and fixed term ongoing academic employment must be limited as much as possible. Ideally, no more than 20% of full-time equivalent ongoing academic positions should be filled on a casual basis.
b. Academic staff must have the opportunity to undertake both research and teaching activities.
c. Maximum academic workloads must be standardised to ensure that appropriate time can be dedicated to research and other scholarly pursuits, teaching activities, and regular updates of disciplinary expertise.
d. The metrification of academic work should be avoided as far as possible. Where absolutely necessary as agreed by the faculty, school, department or discipline, they should be regularly reviewed by each faculty, school, department or discipline.
e. Universities should provide adequate career development opportunities for doctoral candidates.
f. Universities should not include in employment contracts, conditions or termination agreements non-disclosure and non-disparagement clauses (and similar ‘gagging’ clauses) and must ensure all staff are able to access robust and independent whistle-blower processes and protections.
FEDERAL LEGISLATIVE CHANGES
a. All university finances and salaries (including all bonuses) must be fully transparent and made available for public scrutiny. This includes clear and consistent reporting standards for all cash-in and cash-out.
b. National standards for reporting and analysing employment figures must be established. These reporting figures must account for all permanent and casual positions in a clear and consistent manner.
6) GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT:
a. University academic autonomy and authority must be preserved and protected.
b. An independent tertiary funding and standards body. similar to the former Australian Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission (1977 – 1988), should be established at the national level to oversee and make determinations concerning national funding, education standards, and forward planning for the whole tertiary education system (including the TAFE sector, Australian public universities and private providers), and make recommendations for research priorities. This body would be composed of independent members nominated and endorsed by Federal Parliament in consultation with a wide range of representative bodies from the tertiary and broader education and research sectors. Its role would include safeguarding and guaranteeing the nature and role of the different education and research providers against undue political interference, including funding of the TAFE sector, public universities, and public research facilities and organisations. It should also determine (in consultation with the relevant learned societies) the minimum national academic quality and standards for core course content in all discipline areas, and oversee the operations of all Australian public universities in accordance with publicly established standards and principles. This should include the ability to review and make recommendations concerning any financial and regulatory issues that affect these activities.
c. An independent prudential advisory body. similar to the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority (APRA), should be established at the national level to oversee the financial performance of Australian public universities. Its role would be to assure accountability and transparency in the use of public funds and asset operations of Australian public universities. This body would be composed of independent members nominated and endorsed by Federal Parliament in consultation with a wide range of representative bodies from the tertiary and broader education sectors. It would oversee and make determinations concerning appropriate levels of funds held by universities as financial assets to be used for purchasing university infrastructure and equipment (e.g. laboratories, instruments, equipment, and software), as well as the upgrading and maintenance of existing facilities and the construction of new buildings and facilities. This body would also advise on the prudential management of overseas student enrolments.
7) GOVERNMENT/PUBLIC FUNDING:
a. While not all universities may be able to pursue all disciplines, funding ought to be rationalised so as to ensure that relevant disciplines are maintained and represented in a sufficient number of Australian universities across a sufficiently diverse geographical range.
b. An appropriate number of academic positions must be secured to maintain the knowledge related to the above disciplines.
c. An appropriate number of research positions must be secured to advance knowledge. Such knowledge can be both theoretical and abstract as well as practical and commercial. The pursuit of abstract knowledge must be preserved and protected to ensure foundational and transformative ‘blue-sky’ research. Each university should be funded to have an appropriate number of research institutes/centres. As well as involving academic staff, such research institutes/centres should provide ongoing positions for some research staff.
d. A sufficient pool of funds must be guaranteed (in the form of scholarships and bursaries) every year for a number of students to complete their studies in key disciplines. Additional enrolments can continue on the basis of the current loan scheme.