Programme 2.3 Higher Education Support

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The objectives of Programme 2.3 are to improve higher education access and participation and to ensure that the quality of our higher education system is maintained. This includes the provision of high-quality infrastructure for teaching and learning.

Programme 2.3 components contribute to achieving the programme objectives through:

  • promoting and supporting change in higher education institutions for the enhancement of learning and teaching through the Promotion of Excellence in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education programme
  • independently administering quality indicators for learning and teaching that increase focus on quality and provide better information for student choice
  • targeted initiatives to promote the importance of mathematics and science
  • improving access to, and participation and success in, higher education for students from low socio-economic status and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds
  • removing barriers to participation in higher education for students with disability
  • supporting the ongoing operations of a limited number of national institutes
  • supporting regional higher education institutions to improve the quality of training and education for regional students.

Provision of learning and teaching awards and grants

The Office for Learning and Teaching (OLT) leads sustainable quality improvement in higher education learning and teaching through a suite of grants, fellowships and awards under the Promotion of Excellence in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education programme. The OLT encourages broad and deep dissemination of the work it funds to maximise impact. In addition to institution-led activities, this occurs through online communications, conferences, forums, and the facilitation of national networks, professional development and collaborative opportunities for academics.

The OLT is supported by an expert panel, which is chaired by a Vice-Chancellor and has membership from across the higher education system. The panel provides guidance and advice to the Minister for Education and Training and the OLT on issues of strategic importance in higher education, makes recommendations on the provision of grants, fellowships and awards to the Minister, and promotes the importance of learning and teaching.

Provision of supplementary support - Indigenous and low socio-economic status

The HEPP provides funding to assist public universities to undertake activities that lift aspirations and improve access to undergraduate courses for people from low socio-economic status (low SES) backgrounds, and support their participation and success.

As part of its higher education reform agenda, the government has flagged changes to the HEPP which would broaden the programme’s scope and provide universities with high proportions of students from low SES and disadvantaged backgrounds with a new scholarships fund targeted at these students.

In 2014, the National Priorities Pool component of the HEPP allocated funding for 41 projects over the 2015–18 period totalling $10.19 million. Approaches taken by universities to support low SES prospective and current students under HEPP include:

  • providing access to higher education via alternative entry schemes and scholarships
  • assisting students to succeed through academic, peer and pastoral support
  • developing outreach activities to raise the aspirations and build the capacity of people from low SES to participate in higher education.

Support to promote engagement in maths and science

The Australian Maths and Science Partnerships Programme aims to improve student engagement in maths and science courses at university and schools through innovative partnerships between universities, schools, and other relevant organisations.

Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute activities

The Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute Vacation Schools and Scholarships project aims to encourage university students to continue studies in mathematics and science to advanced levels, and to prepare them to transition into research careers and other specialist roles in the mathematical sciences.

Support for higher education infrastructure

Under the Education Investment Fund (EIF), $312.5 million has been provided since 2013 to 11 regional universities for infrastructure to help them improve the quality of education for regional students. In response to a recommendation of the National Commission of Audit on the future use of the Nation-building Funds, the Government announced in the 2014–15 Budget that the EIF would be terminated from 1 January 2015 and that no further funding rounds will be held. Existing EIF projects will continue to be funded until completion.

The Higher Education Infrastructure Working Group was established in May 2014 by the Minister to examine the existing practices of universities to support their teaching and research infrastructure needs and identify any impediments there might be to more strategic management of infrastructure. The working group will report to the Minister for Education and Training in September 2015.

Support to universities for structural adjustment

The Structural Adjustment Fund (SAF) has provided $377.2 million since 2010 to enable universities to make the changes necessary to secure longer-term financial stability and ensure that students have access to a high-quality teaching and learning experience.

In the 2014–15 MYEFO, the Government announced it would provide $100 million over three years from 2015–16 to establish a new Structural Adjustment Fund to assist higher education providers to adapt to the introduction of the higher education reforms announced in the 2014–15 Budget, should legislation proceed.

Improved quality in higher education

Assuring the quality of higher education is a priority for the Government. Ensuring that student outcomes and student experiences are of high quality is vital to Australia’s economy and safeguards the reputation of Australia’s large education export market.

In 2014–15, the department continued its implementation of the recommendations of the Review of Higher Education Regulation. Activities included passage of the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Amendment Act 2014 and establishing and providing support for the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) Advisory Council. In response, TEQSA introduced new risk-based regulatory processes that delivered significant reductions in registration and accreditation requirements for the higher education sector. During 2014–15 the inaugural Higher Education Standards Panel completed its review of the standards against which TEQSA assesses applications for provider registration and course accreditation. The Panel delivered its findings and recommendations to the Minister. Implementation of the revised standards will add clarity and transparency to the regulatory process. In early 2015 the TEQSA Advisory Council was abolished and its membership transferred to the Higher Education Standards Panel. Minimising the impact of regulation is important to ensure that higher education institutions are able to focus on their core business of teaching students and conducting research.

The department also supported people with disability to access and participate in tertiary education and subsequent employment. Key programmes in this area included the National Disability Coordination Officer (NDCO) programme and the Disability Support Programme (DSP).

The NDCO programme funded provider organisations to employ a national network of NDCOs who operate in 31 regions across Australia. NDCOs worked with local stakeholders to reduce systemic barriers, facilitate smooth transitions, build links and coordinate services for people with disabilities between the education, training and employment sectors.

Over the year the department worked closely with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Higher Education Advisory Council (ATSIHEAC) to increase access to and participation in higher education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. In line with the recommendations of the Review of Higher Education Access and Outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People, ATSIHEAC established priorities to improve the participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in higher education and the professions.

Throughout the year, ATSIHEAC provided independent advice to Government and contributed to a wide range of policy discussions, including the Government’s agenda for STEM and the draft Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Strategy.

Performance Information

In 2014, 68.1 per cent of the bachelor degree graduates who were available for full-time work were employed full time four months after graduation, down from 71.3 per cent in 2013. The decline in graduate employment outcomes correlates with conditions in the general labour market over this period, during which unemployment rose slightly. In May 2014, the unemployment rate for all graduates was 3.2 per cent in comparison with the overall unemployment rate of 5.8 per cent. This shows that graduates continue to have good prospects over the long term. The decline in graduate starting salaries relative to Male Average Weekly Earnings also reflects these soft labour market conditions.

Table 8: Programme 2.3 Higher Education Support performance information
Deliverables Estimate Actual
Provision of learning and teaching awards and grants
Number of learning and teaching citations and awards provided to higher education providers by the Promotion of Excellence in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education Programme 184 135
Number of learning and teaching projects supported by the Promotion of Excellence in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education Programme 58 66
Value of funding for the Australian Maths and Science Partnerships Programme ($’000) a  5,350 10,728
Value of funding for the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute ($’000)  473 500

a The Australian Maths and Science Partnerships payment is for the 2014 and 2015 calendar years.

Key Performance Indicators Estimate Actual
Improved infrastructure for tertiary education
Number of infrastructure projects supported by EIF Regional Priorities Round and SAF  15 15
Improved quality in higher education a
Higher education graduates in full-time employment within four months of completion of degree as a proportion of those available for work 68% 68.1%
Graduate starting salaries as a proportion of Male Average Weekly Earnings 74% 74%
Increased participation by previously under-represented groups
Number of domestic undergraduate low SES enrolments  131,400 130,308
Statistical Area Level 1 (SA1) measure of the number of domestic undergraduates in low SES  119,700 117,191
Proportion of higher education undergraduate students from a low SES background 18% 17.5%
Number of Indigenous students enrolled at funded institutions  13,800 14,555
Number of Indigenous completions at funded institutions  1,850 1,944
Number of Indigenous student enrolments by selected higher education course level categories  14,200 15,043
Number of maths and science projects supported by the Australian Maths and Science Partnership Programme

 22

22

Number of students participating in Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute activities

 313

333

a Student data and data relating to the 'Improved quality in higher education' key performance indicators is provided by calendar year.

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