What next for tertiary education? Some preliminary sketches informed by history


The year 2014 represents the 50-year anniversary of the Committee on the Future of Tertiary Education report. The Martin Report[i]  led to the introduction of the binary policy of tertiary education in Australia, made up of universities and colleges of advanced education. Francesca Beddie looked back at the binary system and its replacement by the unified system  introduced  with the Dawkins reforms of the late 1980s. Her aim was to uncover themes of continuity and change that could be useful to today’s policy makers. Four enduring problems for tertiary education emerged from the analysis:

  • achieving diversity and parity of esteem between the various elements of the tertiary education sector
  • creating seamless pathways within education and to the labour market
  • determining the best way to fund research in a mass tertiary education system
  • and effecting the right balance between public accountability and institutional autonomy in a federal system.

Click here to download the essay.

The second part of this project, funded by the National Centre of Vocational Education Research, brought a group of prominent thinkers on tertiary education together to reflect on the philosophy, implementation and demise of the binary policy in the face of the current frenzy of reform of higher education. They were encouraged to put forward bold ideas for the future. A second paper, drawing on this discussion, was drafted with the intention of generating discussion about the possibilities for the future of tertiary education in Australia. Acknowledging that funding – the singular focus of the current debate – is a crucial issue, we also need to consider how to:

  • reimagine the divide between secondary school and tertiary education, with a clearer view of the purpose of education throughout people’s lives and more flexible pathways
  • lift the reputation of applied learning by ensuring competency-based training embraces conceptual thinking and intersects with higher education and research
  • decouple funding for research and teaching
  • introduce a single governance framework which fostered individual missions and accountability.

These ideas suggest it is vital for effective reform to examine the architecture of the system and its heritage.


[i] The three-volume report has been digitised and is available, along with many other landmark policy documents on the VOCED plus website.

2 thoughts on “What next for tertiary education? Some preliminary sketches informed by history”

  1. Thanks Francesca for a very interesting post and links. I am about half way through your essay, and I think it provides some insights into the relationships between life-long learning and working freelance as a public historian.
    I well remember the Dawkins reforms coming in, as I was a UWA undergrad at the time and involved in student politics. I was never persuaded that abolition of the CAEs was a good idea, and despite what Prof Craven says in the introduction to the report, I wouldn’t be surprised if they return in some other form and name.
    To just take the example of continuing professional development for public historians, I have not found either universities of TAFEs particularly responsive to such ideas, and some academics (not all) seem to be either mystified by the idea of historians working outside the academy or even antagonistic. Perhaps there is also an issue that the number of public historians is just not large enough for any institution to see them as a ‘market’ for which they might develop some programs?
    I will be very interested to see what others might think.

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