Education Minister Simon Birmingham’s efforts to reform higher education are trundling along.

The expert panel that will help shape the next chapter in Australian education has been formed, and will soon start the unenviable task of sifting through over 1,000 responses to the Turnbull Government’s higher education options paper.   

Ideas from those submissions will be combined with previous plans already in the public domain, new notions from the corridors of Parliament House, and the experts’ own vision for higher education.

Central to the reforms will be measures to make Australia’s vital but widely exploited student loans scheme more sustainable.

The project faces two major tests – coming up with policies that will put higher education on a firm footing, and being palatable enough to pass in Australia’s chaotic political kaleidoscope.

Senator Birmingham’s experts panel consists of; Dr Michele Allan (Chancellor of Charles Sturt University), Professor Peter Noonan (Victoria University), Dr Andrew Norton (Grattan Institute) and Professor Sally Walker (former Vice-Chancellor of Deakin University). 

Universities Australia has welcomed all four to the panel, and says it looks forward to engaging with them.

UA’s submission to the options paper urged:

  • No reduction to the overall level of per student funding;
  • Careful design of policies to improve retention, completion and employment rates;
  • Establishing a timetable over five years to address the underfunding of research;
  • Ensuring the viability and sustainability of the HELP student loan scheme; and
  • Better targeted support to improve participation by disadvantaged groups.

“We also think it’s time to take another look at student income support, notably the adequacy of cost-of-living support for students from disadvantaged backgrounds,” the higher education lobby said in a statement.  

“One thing is certain: the policy measures proposed by the panel need to safeguard the quality, accessibility and innovation of Australia’s world-class university sector.

“Our future social and economic prosperity depends on it.”