Page 971 - Week 03 - Thursday, 3 April 2008

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The changing profile of the student body has had direct implications for the University of Canberra, as well as other higher education institutions. In particular, the proportion of students studying part time, many of them from financial necessity rather than choice, has had a significant impact on the University of Canberra’s revenue. But look a little deeper. In 2007, the university had roughly the same number of students as in 2002, but the funds that it got from the commonwealth for those students were considerably lower. Because students, out of financial necessity, were taking fewer units, the university’s revenues were lower, too. Funding is apportioned not per student but per unit studied. Costs had also risen, largely because of salary growth agreed for the enterprise bargaining period 2006-08.

We could focus now on the years of federal neglect. We could lament the Liberal legacy. But perhaps it would be more productive to examine the cultural change and the transformation in energy levels, in enthusiasm and in focus that have been effected by Vice-Chancellor Professor Stephen Parker in a single, solitary year. Under the stewardship of Vice-Chancellor Stephen Parker and the university’s council, the future of the University of Canberra is looking suddenly and dramatically brighter.

Since his appointment in March 2007, Professor Parker has implemented a range of strategic reviews across the university, looking into the course content and coverage as well as the financial, administrative and staffing arrangements. In a period of less than a year, the initiatives implemented by Professor Parker have resulted in the university positioning itself in the top third of all Australian universities. Late last year, the university was advised by the commonwealth that, in addition to the funding it received in 2007 under the learning and teaching performance fund, it would receive additional funding in the 2008 round. Consequently, the University of Canberra is now placed in the top 10 universities across an average of measures. Tough decisions have had to be made, and many of these are reflected in the deficit to which Mr Mulcahy attempts to draw such attention. But from those tough decisions, benefits to the university and ultimately to the students have quickly accrued.

The university’s activities are governed in two ways. Firstly, the university must comply with the commonwealth’s national governance protocols for higher education providers. Secondly, the university council has a crucial role. Members may not be aware that in 2005 I commissioned a review of the governance structure of the University of Canberra Council. The review recommended a reduction in the number of council members. In addition, the review recommended that council members be selected with particular financial, legal, commercial and pedagogy skills.

Mr Mulcahy: Well, they did well.

MR STANHOPE: The chamber would be aware—but Mr Mulcahy indicates that he is not—that in late 2006 the minister for education introduced an amendment to the University of Canberra Act 1989 which reduced the size and prescribed the composition of the university’s council. The number of council members was reduced from 22 to 15. I believe that a 15-member council is large enough to provide a diversity of viewpoints and skills but small enough for effective decision making. The management of the University of Canberra is in good, solid and firm hands.

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