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### First Test Success: Australian Accord Stands Strong

Australia’s plan for higher education reform has overcome a significant obstacle, as the federal opposition has pledged to carefully review the Universities Accord in depth.

During the Universities Australia (UA) conference in Canberra, Shadow Education Minister Sarah Henderson acknowledged the comprehensive nature of the reform agenda outlined in the accord. She stated, “The Liberal-National party coalition appreciates the opportunity for a national dialogue on reshaping the higher education landscape.”

Her comments allayed fears that the opposition would outright reject the core recommendations of the report, which could have jeopardized the prospects for implementing a reform agenda spanning across multiple changes in government.

Ms. Henderson indicated that the coalition had already expressed support for a [ppp1] proposed by the government last week. Additionally, they tentatively endorsed the expansion of the regional universities hubs program, a key recommendation from the accord’s [ppp2], to which the government [ppp3]. However, she raised doubts about the rationale behind establishing these centers in suburban areas.

One of the major challenges highlighted by Ms. Henderson was the accord’s goal of increasing university attainment to 55 percent, a target that would necessitate the involvement of all but the least academically proficient 45 percent of the population.

Emphasizing the need for a cautious approach, she warned conference attendees against simply enrolling students with subpar academic records in university courses, as this could lead to their disengagement from more suitable vocational paths, potentially setting them up for failure.

Ms. Henderson criticized the accord panel for creating unrealistic expectations regarding reductions in loan repayments, enhanced income support, and proposed compensation for mandatory practical placements for student nurses, teachers, and caregivers.

Furthermore, she opposed the idea of providing a “completion bonus” to institutions that meet graduation targets, arguing that universities should fulfill their responsibility to ensure students successfully complete their degrees without the need for additional incentives.

Expressing disappointment with the government’s response to the report, Ms. Henderson noted the lack of clarity and stability in their approach towards universities, especially at a time when these institutions are grappling with the ongoing challenges posed by the Covid pandemic.

In a shift from her previous stance last August, where she criticized universities for offering substandard degrees and prioritizing institutional interests over student welfare at the Australian Financial Review Higher Education Summit, Ms. Henderson expressed appreciation for the efforts of university leaders, including chancellors, vice-chancellors, and members of the accord panel, for their dedication to enhancing higher education opportunities for Australians.