Australian universities could become educational “clones” of each other unless changes are made to current funding arrangements, the Vice Chancellor of Murdoch University, Professor John Yovich said today.
He challenged the new Federal Government to urgently review the funding model so universities could retain the ability to provide courses that were diverse and specialised.
Professor Yovich, 50, was speaking as he announced his retirement from the position of Vice Chancellor and from Murdoch University, effective from early 2011.
He said he had enjoyed a fantastic career at Murdoch but after more than 22 years – including the past 8½ as Vice Chancellor – he now wanted to pursue opportunities in the corporate sector.
“Australia’s universities are excellent by world standards but face significant challenges,” he said.
“One of the most important issues facing universities is the current funding model, which is delivered through the Commonwealth Grant Scheme (CGS), and is based on research that looked at the relative costs of teaching in different disciplines more than 20 years ago,” he said.
“The funding weights applied across the seven discipline clusters, as well as funding issues associated with the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) rates, simply do not align with the cost of educational delivery today.
“Today’s funding model homogenises the universities and – rather than promoting diversity and specialisation – has the potential to result in universities increasingly becoming educational clones of each other.
“The model encourages a similar mix of courses at most universities as there is a funding imperative to increase student load where funding approximates real cost.
“However, there is reducing capacity to support programs through cross subsidy where the CGS funding rates fall well short of real delivery costs.
“The new Federal Government has a great opportunity to review and address the model’s inequities and enable Australian universities to not only maintain world-class standards but also to become more efficient, more specialised and even more internationally recognised and competitive.”
Professor Yovich said universities were under increasing pressure from other areas.
“While costs are growing at nearly five per cent, funding has been indexed at about two per cent,” he said.
“After a decade, universities are receiving about 30 per cent less in real terms per equivalent full time student loads (EFTSL), regardless of the discipline.
“Recent governments are to be applauded for increasing university funding in different areas but the fundamental driver, the funding model, needs revision.”
Professor Yovich started at Murdoch in 1988 as the head of Equine Surgery, and became part of Senior Executive more than 14 years ago. He became the Vice Chancellor in 2002 – at the time he was the youngest Vice Chancellor in Australia.
He received an Order of Australia for service to tertiary education, veterinary science and the community in 2006.
Professor Yovich said significant progress had been made during his time as Vice Chancellor.
“Our student numbers have grown to record levels, we’ve established significant new funding streams especially in setting up the University Endowment and the Murdoch University Foundation, undertaken a tremendous range of capital works, have record research income and we’ve set up new research facilities including the National Centre of Excellence in Desalination at Rockingham and the Institute for Immunology and Infectious Diseases,” he said.
“We’ve also established campuses in Dubai and Singapore as well as in the Peel region; upgraded Murdoch facilities and built new infrastructure including the engineering buildings, sports facilities, a new tavern, veterinary clinical facilities, a library learning common project and many other buildings.
“We have had sound financial management and during my time as Vice Chancellor, Murdoch has not had a deficit year and forward projections are positive.”
Murdoch University Chancellor Terry Budge said Professor Yovich had led a range of initiatives that had massively transformed the university and raised its national and international standing.
“His commitment and contribution to the university and its community has been outstanding,” Mr Budge said.