Higher education as a basic right: CQUniversity calls for universal service obligation for regional students

11 April 2023

A universal service obligation – similar to the one covering the telecommunications industry – is needed for regional university students, as part of sweeping reforms of the higher education sector.

That’s according to recommendations published by CQUniversity Australia this week, in response to the Australian Universities Accord consultation process.

CQUniversity Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Nick Klomp, said every single person in regional, rural and remote Australia should be entitled to access the same standard of higher education and training as their metropolitan counterparts – just like similar guarantees provided by the telecommunications industry.

“The Universal Service Obligation (USO) is a long-standing consumer protection, that requires Telstra to provide accessible phone services to all people in Australia, on an equitable basis, wherever they live,” Professor Klomp said.

“Higher education should be no different.

“Australia’s regional universities – CQUniversity included – do a phenomenal job of educating our future regional workforce, whether that’s on campus or online.

“But the higher cost-per-head of delivering higher education in regional Australia means we can’t reach every Australian who desires a university education, at least not under the current policy and funding settings,” he said.

“If regional Australia was a country, its degree attainment rates would be comparable to those of a developing nation. This should be cause for concern for a developed economy like Australia, that is otherwise ranked 11th in the world and otherwise has attainment rates above the OECD average.”

In its submission to the Australian Universities Accord consultation process, CQUniversity sets out 16 individual recommendations, developed to maximise positive outcomes for all institutions, while still ensuring that any outcomes from the Accord process do not unintentionally detract from the prosperity of regional Australia.

“In order to make a higher education USO work, government must remove the limiting “caps” on funded university places for students at regionally headquartered universities.

“Government must also revisit the way regional higher education is funded, to ensure that our regional universities’ digital and physical infrastructure is as good as anything you’d find in Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane.

“Importantly, we must also ensure that any other reforms introduced as part of the Australian Universities Accord process do not detract from the prosperity of regional Australia, or disincentivise regional people from studying at regional institutions.

“I hope the Accord Panel and the Commonwealth seriously consider these recommendations, so that a higher education USO can become a reality for future generations of regional, rural and remote learners.”

The Australian Universities Accord Panel is expected to release an interim report in June, with final recommendations to be provided to government in December.

CQUniversity’s full set of recommendations to the Panel can be accessed at www.cqu.edu.au/governmentengagement