Higher education's contribution to economic prosperity is rarely discussed, even though it was the largest service export industry in Australia, according to Melbourne University vice-chancellor Professor Glyn Davis.

Speaking at a seminar organised by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia, Proessor Davis said the national university system was at a critical juncture, with reviews into regulation, enrolments and funding putting it at risk of "policy incoherence".


Professor Davis said Education Minister Chris Evans now had the opportunity to "achieve something important and fundamental".


But short-termism and political expediency might undermine cohesive policy decisions that "meshed" the three elements.


He said if the government got it right, higher education's contribution to national prosperity would continue "long after the price of iron ore has fallen and we can't export coal any more".