In the 2009–10 Budget, the Australian Government announced a reform package for the higher education sector that included mission-based compact agreements with Australian universities. The 2011–13 compact agreements provide a framework for universities to pursue their distinctive missions or strategic goals while contributing to the Australian Government’s national objectives for higher education.
Compacts are three-year agreements between the Australian Government and 41 Table A and Table B higher education providers. Compacts provide a strategic framework for the relationship between the government and each university, and are also a mechanism for delivering performance funding. Compacts bring together information about a university’s mission, teaching and learning, research, research training and public funding. They are the mechanism through which universities and government jointly agree on priority areas for action.
Currently, the compact framework requires universities to nominate one underrepresented group to set performance targets for domestic undergraduate students who are: from regional or remote areas, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, people with a disability, or people from a non-English-speaking background.
The Panel recommends that the government and universities should negotiate stand-alone performance targets related to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student and staffing levels within the mission-based compact negotiations. This approach was supported in submissions to the Review.
It should be noted that in the last 18 months a new higher education regulatory framework has been established. As such, Indigenous [staff] employment targets should also be a reporting requirement within the Compact processes … (submission no. 45, National Tertiary Education Union, p. 13).
Goal 5: Develop a funding formula where higher education institutions are rewarded for recruitment, retention, time to completion, and overall success rates [of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students] (submission no. 42, University of Queensland, p. 5).
The Indigenous Higher Education Advisory Council recommends that:
[t]he Government require all Australian universities to include improved outcomes for Indigenous people as a mandatory target, tied to performance funding, during the next round of Compact negotiations (submission no. 73, IHEAC, p. 11).
Under this approach, each university would negotiate the parity targets set out at the start of the report for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and staff, for both general and academic positions. In doing so, universities would take into account their differing starting positions regarding student enrolments, retention and completions, and current staffing profiles. The targets would also reflect the universities’ differing geographic catchment areas.
The University of Sydney, in its submission to the Review, suggested that compacts need to go further and that there should be mission-based Indigenous strategy agreements that ‘identif[y] this area of activity as a core strategic priority within [a university’s] strategic plan’ (submission no. 33, University of Sydney, p. 6). The Panel believes that the mission-based compact approach should help to encourage universities to see Indigenous success in higher education as a core strategic priority, part of everyone’s responsibility and, therefore, reflected in strategic plans and a range of other institution-wide planning and performance documents. A similar approach has been used in New Zealand, where ‘[r]esponding to Maori is no longer an optional exercise or a question of goodwill but is closely linked to funding agreements’ (Durie 2011, p. 162, cited in Penetito 2011, p. 10).
Recommendations 1 to 3 at the start of the report outline the overall framework for setting parity targets and negotiating these within mission-based compacts. Other sections of the report refer to specific targets within the mission-based compacts in more detail.