Australian universities tied up in $280 million red tape

Shadow Minister for Universities Brett Mason wants to get rid of red tape for universities. AAP/Alan Porritt

Universities spend $280 million a year on complying with federal and state government regulations and reporting requirements, according to a submission by Universities Australia to the Opposition’s deregulation task force.

Universities Australia’s chief executive Belinda Robinson said that the university sector was one of the most regulated in the country, which imposed an enormous cost and administrative burden.

The $280 million is based on the impact of university compliance departments typically having 15-20 dedicated staff to meet the demands of 100 separate state and federal acts directly regulating their operations.

Universities’ direct regulatory compliance costs are estimated to be at least $3 million a university - $120 million a year for the sector.

A typical university is also required to report more than 50 different data sets to the Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education annually, comprising 200 reporting instances a year, and more than 50 data sets to other government departments. Total reporting costs are put at $4 million per university - about $160 million annually for the sector.

Universities Australia says the Productivity Commission should conduct a review of the regulatory burden, and a new national university data centre should be set up, managed by a single government department, to administer all data collected from universities.

Among the examples of what it says is unnecessary red tape, Universities Australia highlights that.

  • Universities must provide annual financial reports to at least six government departments, most of which have detailed guidelines running to more than 140 pages. But the requirements and templates differ so the same information has to be reworked.
  • About 60 staff are employed to report in the event of a university defaulting on a course for an international student - although no university has defaulted.
  • Universities in Queensland have to report to the state government every time a staff member travels overseas and whenever the university enters a contract worth more than $10,000.
  • Universities with Cooperative Research Centres may incur 50 or more reporting instances a year using at least a dozen different templates.
  • A university researcher typically spends a month or six weeks a year preparing applications for research grants that have an average 20 to 30% success rate.

“The university sector probably provides the single largest and most fruitful area, where the Coalition, if elected to govern, can make meaningful regulatory and red tape savings to achieve its $1 billion target,” the submission says.

Shadow Minister for Universities Brett Mason said reducing red tape in the education and research sector will be a “key policy focus for the coalition.”