The Australian Universities Accord Panel, led by Professor Mary O’Kane, has released its long-awaited final report, which is an ambitious attempt to reform Australia’s tertiary education sector, with 47 wide-ranging recommendations to government that aim to build a more interconnected, future-focused, and equitable tertiary education system.

The report recognises the need for long-term structural reform to the tertiary education system to enhance Australia’s sovereign capability around skills supply that matches current and future skills demand. To this end, the report recommends a target of at least 80% of all working-age Australians to have a tertiary qualification by 2050, including increasing the proportion of university educated Australians aged 25 to 34 from 45% currently to 55% by 2050.

Many of the recommendations are aimed at putting the student at the centre of the system, including growth in participation through equity initiatives and increasing aspiration and readiness for higher education, as well as improving student contributions and debt payment arrangements, as well as a new funding model to underpin growth and quality.  

Ai Group has welcomed the delivery of the report, with its focus on system growth and equity measures to meet future skills needs. This is anticipated to be a higher skill future, with Jobs and Skills Australia projecting that nine out of ten new jobs over the next decade will require a post-secondary qualification, be it through vocational education and training or higher education.

The final report emphasises the importance of life-long learning and the need to maintain skills currency in a jobs and skills market susceptible to significant disruption through major trends like digitalisation, artificial intelligence, cyber security, the shift to a clean energy economy in the face of climate change and shifting demographics. The Accord makes the case that new qualifications and better pathways are required including more modular, stackable and transferable qualifications and that microcredentials should be funded, accredited and recognised by the Australian Government. These short, stackable units of learning can help existing workers grow a baseline of skills currency and knowledge, years into their career, keeping them engaged in work while undertaking ongoing professional development.

Main Points:

·   Lifting the tertiary (Certificate III or higher) attainment rate of the working-age population from 60% to 80% over the next 25 years.

·   Increasing the number of 25- to 35-year-olds with a university education from 45% to 55% by 2050.

·   Doubling the number of Commonwealth Supported Placements in university from 860,000 to 1.8 million by 2050. 

·   A new ‘demand-driven for equity’ system for under-represented groups in higher education including those with disabilities, First Australians, low socio-economic status, and rural and regional people.


Degree apprenticeships, an innovative 'earn and learn' pathway that Ai Group has long promoted and championed, is also billed in a suite of measures designed to foster industry-education partnerships, along with work-integrated learning (work placements related to a student’s field of study). The benefits of having students learning ‘on the job’ means they develop more deeply and faster the skills, knowledge, capabilities and attributes needed to work, once they have graduated and move into employment.

Other measures, which government has already started consulting on, include the development of a National Skills Passport. A consultation paper on this was released in January, and Ai Group has already engaged our members on this initiative, which provided information for our submission to government on the topic and the industry roundtable we were invited into, to help shape the design of the Passport.

Unlike the Bradley Review of higher education in 2008 and the Joyce Review of the vocational education and training system in 2019, this report has taken a system-wide approach to tertiary reform with the recommendation to establish an Australian Tertiary Education Commission ‘to enable a more unified approach to the implementation of policy, strategy and regulation’ and, more specifically, governance of the tertiary education sector.

The Accord’s interim report, released mid-2023, offered a number of ‘spiky’ ideas for government to consider as part of its tertiary education reform agenda. With this in hand, the federal Government decided to act immediately on five priority actions, including:

  • Extending visible, local access to tertiary education by creating further Regional University Centres and establishing a similar concept for suburban/metropolitan areas.
  • Ceasing the Job-ready Graduates (JRG) Package’s 50% pass rule and requiring increased reporting on student progress.
  • Ensuring all First Nations students are eligible for a funded place at university, by extending demand-driven funding to metropolitan First Nations students.
  • Extending the Higher Education Continuity Guarantee funding into 2024 and 2025.
  • Engaging with state and territory governments to improve university governance.

Emerging from the last priority action is February’s announcement of a National Student Ombudsman as part of the government’s Action Plan Addressing Gender-based Violence in Higher Education. The ombudsman is being created ‘to provide an accessible and trauma-informed pathway for escalated student complaints about their higher education provider’.

The Centre for Education and Training will continue to engage with Ai Group members, government, industry and education providers around the ideas, solutions and actions emerging from the Accord process.

The Centre will be hosting a webinar on the Accord with special guests Universities Accord Panel Chair, Professor Mary O’Kane, Former Vice-Chancellor and President, La Trobe University, and Partner, Performance Improvement, KordaMentha Professor John Dewar; and Ai Group CEO Innes Willox on Wednesday, 1 May 2024 12:00pm (AEST). To register for this free webinar click here.

To read the full Australian Universities Accord report click here

You can read Ai Group’s response to the interim report here