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You are reading: NCSEHE Focus — The future of Australian higher education: A synthesis of recent research and policy reports with implications for student equity


There have been growing concerns within Australia and overseas about the way in which economic globalisation and developments in technology are disrupting the economy and society—for both better and worse—often in unpredictable ways.

Within this context, higher education is experiencing significant and rapid changes, the outcomes of which are equally uncertain.

This has raised major challenges in public policy: the role of education and training in a world where the nature of work and skills are changing; the shift of education to a continuous process of lifelong learning rather than focusing on careers that may be obsolete within a decade; whether current educational institutions are capable of adapting to the changes required; the public versus the private costs and benefits of education; and the changing role and character of equity in higher education.

While equity in higher education has seen unprecedented advances over the last decade, there is now less certainty as to whether past trends are any guide to future directions.

In recent years, a number of reports have examined the strategic challenges facing the higher education sector. Some have focused on equity, others have incorporated it to a lesser degree. The reports differ in the scope of their focus and preferred solutions to challenges. As change in higher education unfolds rapidly, we need to ensure that equity issues are understood, communicated and incorporated into change processes.

Fourteen reports have been selected for a synthesised review of the challenges and issues:

  • Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) — How Unequal? Insights on Inequality (2018)
  • Universities Australia — Keep It Clever: Policy Statement (2015)
  • Ernst and Young — Can the Universities of Today Lead Learning for Tomorrow? The University of the Future (2018)
  • Higher Education Standards Panel (HESP) — Improving Retention, Completion and Success in Higher Education (2018)
  • Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) — Inequality in Australia: A Nation Divided (2015)
  • Business Council of Australia — Future-Proof: Protecting Australians Through Education and Skills (2017)
  • Commonwealth of Australia — Independent Review into Regional, Rural and Remote Education: Final Report (2018)
  • Mitchell Institute at Victoria University — Financing Tertiary Education in Australia: The Reform Imperative and Rethinking Student Entitlements (2015)
  • Grattan Institute — Dropping Out: The Benefits and Costs of Trying University (2018)
  • Nous Group — A Performance Framework for Regional Universities (2018)
  • KPMG — Re-imagining Tertiary Education: From Binary System to Ecosystem (2018)
  • PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting) — Lifelong Skills: Equipping Australians for the Future of Work (2018)
  • Australian Government Department of Education and Training — Driving Innovation, Fairness and Excellence in Australian Higher Education (2016)
  • National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE) — Equity Performance and Accountability (2018)

This NCSEHE Focus publication comprises three sections:

  1. A synthesis of the drivers of change in equity in higher education based on high-level findings from the reports.
  2. Summaries of the 14 reports with a focus on key trends, facts, ideas and recommendations.
  3. A synthesis of the ways in which higher education may need to evolve to accommodate and resolve the sometimes conflicting pressures for change.

NCSEHE Focus — The future of Australian higher education: A synthesis of recent research and policy reports with implications for student equity