The Nature and Value of a University
Extract of the view of the Australian Vice-Chancellors' Committee
in its submission to the West Review of  Universities.

A report to government on university financing and policy should, in the view of the Australian Vice-Chancellors'
Committee (AVCC), reach a conclusion on the purpose, distinctive nature and value of universities, as a prelude
to any specific recommendations. The AVCC proposes the following statement:


discover, preserve, refine, apply and disseminate knowledge;
have a commitment to free inquiry and to being a critic and conscience of society;

develop intellectual independence in their graduates, together with a set of cognitive and social capacities
which support active participation of graduates in society;

have staff whose active engagement in scholarship and research both enriches the nation in itself, and
ensures that students at both the undergraduate and postgraduate level learn from those at the forefront of
knowledge, whether theoretical or applied;

are committed to making the best possible use of the emerging technologies to ensure Australia provides
high quality education to its domestic and international students wherever they are located; and

meet international standards of teaching, research and scholarship.

Universities are distinctive from other education providers in their overall effort in that:

their educational processes equip the graduate with the learning skills to be effective in life-long learning
in the discipline learned, or another discipline;

they focus on both general education and the training of professionals at both the undergraduate and
postgraduate level; in all cases preparing university graduates in the major disciplines to function at a
professional level in that discipline;

they prepare people for the uncertainties of the future by developing the capacity, the will and the
confidence both to respond in an informed way and, if necessary, adapt to, and

embrace, new knowledge; thus preparing people for the challenges of the future;

'higher' education in a university is more than just the mastery of a specific body of knowledge or skills;
students in universities learn to search out facts and interpret them not just receive and repeat them;
in universities students learn to be intellectually curious because they learn from staff who are charged not
only with the responsibility of disseminating knowledge but also of creating new knowledge and re-interpreting current understanding; and universities possess an active culture of scholarship and research that helps to develop the curiosity of their students.

Universities are of critical value to a nation:

The international standing of a nation is critically influenced by the quality and reputation of its
universities. The teaching and research performance of its universities have played a more than incidental
role in Australia's current high international reputation.

Universities have been at the forefront of the internationalisation of Australia, both through providing
Australian students with an international perspective and through the presence of international students in

The education sector overall has become over the last decade the sixth largest source of Australian
exports, just behind wheat and iron ore and ahead of alumina, wool and beef. Education exports for
1996/97 have been estimated by the Australian Bureau of Statistics at $3.04b with the higher education
contributing $1.4b (47% of the total) comprising $654m in fees and $770m on goods and services. Total
overseas student enrolments at universities in l997 were 62,974 (DEETYA statistics).

Universities train the teachers, doctors, nurses and other professionals on whom national prosperity and
well-being depend.

Universities are the principal source of trained researchers, scientists and engineers, without whom
Australia will not be able to take advantage of international technology transfer or the flow of
technological innovation, information and scientific personnel.

Universities are major contributors to the national research effort through research training and the
conduct of fundamental and applied research. In 1994-95, the higher education sector contributed 78 % to expenditure on pure basic research and was the major contributor to this activity. In the same year, 25% of Gross Expenditure on Research and Development (GERD) in Australia was expended in higher
education (ABS statistics).

Universities provide a repository of social, cultural and intellectual capital for the community at large,
which not only provides a national public benefit as well as the private benefits individuals obtain, but
also allows Australia to continue to make its contribution to international discourse in science,
technology, and the humanities. It will only retain its credibility in this context of it continues to have a
strong research base, supported by world class infrastructure.

AVCC (1998)

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