Terms of reference


Terms of reference

Terms of reference

Universities make an integral contribution to the Western Australian (WA) society and economy – through educating our students, developing a highly skilled labour force across all industry and occupation areas, driving world class research and innovation, as large employers and also as key focal points and hubs within their local community.

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

This has not been the consistent experience nationally. This is in addition to the broader challenges being faced by the higher education sector, including increased international competition for prospective students and talent; changing student preferences in delivery models (online vs on-campus experiences) and the type of courses (micro-credentials vs multi-year degrees); speed of change in new technology and practices within industries, with an increased prevalence of employer credentialling.

There have been some positive efforts from institutes, with support from the WA Government, to address these challenges – including, for example, the Future Health Research and Innovation Fund, the International Centre for Radioastronomy Research (ICRAR), and the Pawsey High Performance Supercomputing Research Centre.

The WA Government therefore considers now is the time to undertake an independent review of the structure of the public university sector in WA to secure high performance and financial sustainability of the sector.
The purpose of the review is to explore whether structural change will deliver improved performance and financial sustainability for WA’s public university sector. This is to include consideration of structural models that could 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
  • support the financial sustainability of the sector
  • increase WA’s share of Australian competitive research funding
  • assist the sector to undertake and commercialise high quality research that drives economic growth, including increasing intellectual property creation, impact, publication, citations and awards
  • attract and retain high calibre academic staff
  • strengthen relationships with business, industry, and the vocational education and training (VET) and school sectors.
In scope
With regard to the 'purpose' set out above, the scope of the review extends to:
  • identification of the various structural change options available to WA’s public university sector, including, but not limited to, amalgamation, federation and consortia models
  • recommendations on what structural change should be implemented
  • consideration of how the options would affect both all and the various subsets of WA’s public universities
  • consideration of lessons learnt from international and national examples of structural change within the higher education sector
  • identification of the critical enablers for any recommended structural change, such as stakeholder buy-in and leadership, change management, legislation change, and funding implications.
Out of scope
The review is the first step towards considering structural change to the WA public university sector. It is recognised that, for any proposed reform to be adopted, further detailed work will be required on the policy design and implementation, cost-benefit analysis, business case, change management planning, and legislative implications.

This work is out of scope of the review.

The review will also not:
  • explore significant changes to the underlying models of university funding and regulation provided by the Commonwealth Government, other than as required to facilitate identified structural reforms
  • investigate structural reform within individual universities, other than as required to facilitate identified structural reforms
  • investigate structural reform to the VET sector.
The review is being undertaken by a panel (the Review Panel) comprising of:
  • Professor Sandra Harding as lead reviewer – former Vice-Chancellor and President of James Cook University from 2007-22.
  • Professor John Williams, Executive Dean Faculty of Arts, Business, Law and Economics at the University of Adelaide, as a supporting panel member.
  • Dr Ian Watt, former Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, as a supporting panel member.
  • Professor Peter Shergold, former Chancellor of Western Sydney University and former Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, as a special adviser.
The Review Panel will report to the Minister for Education and be provided with secretariat support from the Department of Education.
An interim report outlining emerging findings and recommendations will be delivered to the Minister for Education within 4 months of commencement.

A final report outlining final findings and recommendations will be delivered to the Minister for Education within 6 months of commencement. Unless otherwise agreed, the final report will mark the completion of the review.
The Review Panel will undertake targeted engagement with relevant stakeholders, including Vice-Chancellors, staff, students, industry and other identified persons and organisations. The methods for engagement are expected to include face-to-face and other modes to be determined by the panel. There will not be a submission process undertaken for the review.

The Review will also be supported by an interagency committee of representatives from key government agencies, chaired by the Department of Education.