Independent review to assess Western Australia's university sector

The McGowan Government has appointed an expert panel to conduct an independent review of Western Australia's public university sector.
  • Independent review panel to examine the structure of WA's four public universities
  • Four highly qualified and experienced experts appointed to consider how structural change could strengthen the local university sector and deliver for students
  • Expert panel will provide recommendations on ways to better support universities' high performance and financial sustainability 

The McGowan Government has appointed an expert panel to conduct an independent review of Western Australia's public university sector.

Premier Mark McGowan and Education Minister Dr Tony Buti today announced the reviewers would investigate what changes may help to better support the performance and financial sustainability of the State's four public universities.

While the Commonwealth funds the nation's universities through conditional grants, universities are established as statutory corporations under individual State legislation providing for their governance.

WA's universities play an integral role in the State's society and economy. The sector generates an estimated $2 billion in economic activity, employs more than 10,000 people and, on average, caters for the annual enrolment of 35,000 domestic students and 14,000 new international students.

In recent years, WA's university sector has become increasingly constrained. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, it experienced declining Australian Government funding, relatively low growth in student enrolments and a declining share of Commonwealth-funded competitive research grants.

Between 2010 and 2019, WA had the smallest percentage growth in university enrolments in Australia (13.6 per cent in WA, compared to 32.3 per cent across Australia). In 2020, WA attracted only 5.5 per cent of Australia's international student revenue.

To attract world-leading academic staff and to gain a technological edge, universities need to be at the forefront of research and innovation. These all contribute to better learning outcomes, technological advances and greater student attraction.

Unfortunately, the WA university sector has experienced a more significant decline in its share of Australian competitive research funding than any other Australian State or Territory, falling from 11 per cent in 2001 to 2.9 per cent in 2022.

The review will be led by a panel of eminent individuals with significant experience in the university sector, but without any current affiliations or any appointments in WA. Panel members include:

  • Professor Sandra Harding AO (lead reviewer) - former Vice Chancellor and President James Cook University;
  • Professor John Williams - Executive Dean Faculty of Arts, Business, Law and Economics Adelaide;
  • Dr Ian Watt AC - former Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet; and
  • Professor Peter Shergold AC - former Chancellor of Western Sydney University. 

The review is expected to explore the various structural change options available to WA's university sector, and whether these changes would deliver improved performance and financial sustainability for the four local public universities.

The terms of reference for the review include consideration of new structural models which can deliver improvements that:

  • meet the State's current and future knowledge and skills needs;
  • increase student enrolments, both domestically and internationally;
  • give students equitable access to high-quality university education;
  • enhance the student experience of attending university in WA;
  • ensure financial sustainability of the sector;
  • increase WA's share of Australian competitive research funding;
  • assist the university sector to undertake and commercialise high-quality research that drives economic growth;
  • attract and retain high calibre academic staff; and
  • strengthen relationships with business, industry and the vocational education and training (VET) and school sectors. 

A final report is expected in the second half of 2023.

Comments attributed to Premier Mark McGowan:

"Western Australia's universities are integral to training and growing a skilled labour force, while also undertaking research to support and drive innovation and economic growth.

"It's critical that we have the right settings in place to give WA's public universities the best chance of success, in order to maximise their contribution to WA's future prosperity.

"We now have an opportunity to gain important insights from the review as a first step in guiding the future growth of the sector across the State and beyond, while strengthening student outcomes and experiences."

Comments attributed to Education Minister Tony Buti:

"The world of work is changing rapidly. We need to keep pace and ensure that Western Australia's university sector is meeting our State's needs in terms of building a skilled workforce for the future.

"This review will assess how the State's university sector is aligned to broader Government policy, particularly Diversify WA, the WA Recovery Plan, WA International Education Recovery and Renewal Plan and the WA Innovation Strategy.

"This is a chance to have a fresh look at the way our university sector is performing and get a thorough understanding and a blueprint of how we can do things differently to meet the challenges of an ever-changing world."

Premier's office - 6552 5000

Education Minister's office - 6552 6400