Abbott: universities should exploit digital revolution

Tony Abbott will outline the Coalition’s education plan this morning. AAP/Alan Porritt

A Coalition government would reduce the regulatory burden on universities and encourage the growth of online learning, opposition leader Tony Abbott will tell a higher education conference this morning.

Abbott will say that outside officials should not be trying to micromanage universities “or bury them in reporting requirements.”

“We will help to foster the creative and economic potential in our education and research sector by reducing their regulatory and compliance burden.”

He will say that universities already have to report to the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency set up in 2010, and should not also be subject to oversight from the new Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission.

“This is an unnecessary and intrusive bureaucracy and entity that was supposed to reduce red tape but which has already increased it.”

Addressing the Universities Australia Higher Education Conference in Canberra, Mr Abbott will place a lot of stress on online learning, saying the Coalition wants the universities to be able to take advantage of the growth in this area, such as the development of Massive Open Online Courses. 

“These have obvious potential to make higher education widely available but, equally obviously, also pose a challenge to established methods and institutions.”

Abbott will announce a Coalition online higher education working group of MPs, chaired by Alan Tudge, from Victoria, to “explore how nimble and resourceful institutions might make the most of future opportunities while preserving their inheritance." 

The group will report on;

  • How online technology can improve existing campus-based teaching, with all the benefits of interaction, in the classroom and beyond. 
  • How online courses can expand access for people wanting to undertake university study.
  • Whether online courses offered by Australian universities can be attractive to large numbers of students in Asia and beyond. 
  • What is needed to ensure the quality and integrity of online courses.
  • What the government should do or undo to enable universities to make the most of new technologies. 

"These are important questions, lest debate about online opportunities fall into the trap of ‘bricks and mortar versus virtual’,” Abbott says in his speech. The group will report by the end of April after consulting widely with the sector. 

Abbott promises a Coalition government would be “stable and consultative”, carrying through policies it put in place. 

It would encourage universities to protect their academic standing so students “can be confident that their degrees are taken seriously.”

It would also work with universities to expand their share of the international higher education market, and would establish a new Colombo Plan. The Menzies Research Centre, the Liberal party’s think tank, will soon host a round table to help shape this initiative.

The Coalition would encourage universities and institutes to “ensure that their research work is world class, effectively delivered and well targeted.”