UWS chief talks finance

Vice-chancellor Glover calls for an end to mounting uncertainty about funding. By Dallas Bastian.
The University of Western Sydney’s new vice-chancellor has voiced his concerns about the economic environment within the sector.
An internationally recognised mathematician, UWS professor Barney Glover says 2014 is going to be an important year for higher education due to the review of the demand-driven system and the upcoming recommendations from the Commission of Audit.
“At the moment we need stability in the sector and stability around funding, indexation, and the demand-driven system so the sector can ensure the best possible outcomes with the resources we have available,” he said.
He hopes the doubt surrounding the review of the demand-driven system will quickly be resolved and universities will have an opportunity to respond to any suggestions made to the minister.
“I would be very concerned if there was any recommendation to reintroduce caps, partially or fully,” Glover said.  
UWS has responded responsibly to the current system, he said, meeting the broad needs of the Western Sydney region and accommodating students from a wide range of educational pathways.
Along with the review, the Commission of Audit – which will assess government spending and medium-term fiscal sustainability – also looms. Having these matters up in the air has created a climate of funding uncertainty.
“We need certainly around our funding because that gives us that stability around the way in which we can grow higher education in Australia to meet the needs of the population, the economy, and a skilled workforce,” Glover said. “I certainly would be very, very concerned about any further cuts to higher education.”
Without a clear vision of the financial climate for the year ahead and onwards, Glover said, the higher education system would deteriorate.
“If we are suffering any instability or if we are having any deterioration of our funding environment, that must have, over time, an impact on the quality of the system,” he said.
Despite the uncertainty, Glover remains optimistic about the coming months.
“The higher education system in Australia is a resilient system. I’m sure that we will work through with the commonwealth whatever policy changes may emerge in the course of the next few months and beyond,” he said, adding he wouldn’t for a moment say it’s more difficult than it has ever been.
Still, the sector is of the view that the monetary issues surrounding higher education and research are matters that the Commonwealth needs to address, he said.
The future of National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) is one such matter. Money for the scheme is running out. Glover called this issue a priority that needs particular attention from the government.
“We do need a national research infrastructure scheme,” he said.
He also looked towards the budget process as an ideal place for adjustments to address another issue universities are facing ­– the limited number of clinical places and placements for professional courses.
The increasing number of students in health sciences is putting significant pressure on the health system to accommodate clinical placements. This issue will require much attention from the government in the next 12 months, Glover said.
“There’s a lot of sensitivity at the moment around the costs associated with those places and managing relationships with the commonwealth and the states and territories around clinical places,” Glover said. “Hopefully the parties involved will work through a process of understanding the contributions that universities make to the health system and to teacher education and equally recognise the budgetary implications of those placements.”

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