Criticism of Tertiary Education in Australia

Problems with the new mass marketing of academic degrees include declining academic standards, increased teaching by sessional lecturers, large class sizes, declining values of some types of degrees due to an oversupply of graduates, and one out of five domestic students quitting after their first year. Also, students' rate of return on their large investment in time and money depends to a great extent on their fields of study. On average, graduates in medicine, the STEM subjects and commerce could expect to earn the most, while graduates in the humanities and the fine arts could expect to earn the least.

With a larger proportion of university turnover derived from non-Government funds, the role of university vice chancellors moved from one of academic administration to strategic management. However, university governance structures remained largely unchanged from their 19th-century origins. All Australian universities have a governance system composed of a vice-chancellor (chief executive officer); chancellor (non-executive head) and university council (governing body). However, unlike a corporate entity board, the university council members have neither financial nor vested specific interests in the performance of the organisation (although the state government is represented in each university council, representing the state government legislative role in the system).

Melbourne University Private venture
The late 1990s and early years of the new millennium therefore witnessed a collection of financial, managerial and academic failures across the university system - the most notable of these being the Melbourne University Private venture, which saw hundreds of millions of dollars invested in non-productive assets, in search of a 'Harvard style' private university that never delivered on planned outcomes. This was detailed in a book (Off Course)written by former Victorian State Premier John Cain (junior) and co-author John Hewitt who explored problems with governance at the University of Melbourne, arguably one of the nation's most prestigious universities.

Federal Government quality measures
The Australian Federal Government has established two quality systems for assessing university performance. These are the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) and Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA).

The TEQSA reviews of universities essentially look at processes, procedures and their documentation. The TEQSA exercise, largely bureaucratic rather than strategic, is currently moving towards its second round of assessments, with all Australian universities having seemingly received mixed (but generally positive) results in the first round. TEQSA's shortcoming is that it does not specifically address issues of governance or strategic planning in anything other than a bureaucratic sense. In the April 2007 edition of Campus Review, the Vice Chancellor of the University of New South Wales, Fred Hilmer, criticized both AUQA (the agency before it became TEQSA) and the Research Quality Framework (a precursor to the ERA that was discarded before rollout):
"... singling out AUQA, Hilmer notes that while complex quality processes are in place, not one institution has lost its accreditation - 'there's never been a consequence - so it's just red tape...'"
"...The RQF is not a good thing - it's an expensive way to measure something that could be measured relatively simply. If we wanted to add impacts as one of the factors, then let's add impact. That can be achieved simply without having to go through what looks like a $90 million dollar exercise with huge implementation issues."

The RQF (scrapped with the change in government in 2007) was modeled on the British Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) system, and was intended to assess the quality and impact of research undertaken at universities through panel-based evaluation of individual research groups within university disciplines. Its objective was to provide government, industry, business and the wider community with an assurance that research quality within Australian universities had been rigorously assessed against international standards. Assessment was expected to allow research groups to be benchmarked against national and international standards across discipline areas. If successfully implemented, this would have been a departure from the Australian Government's traditional approach to measuring research performance exclusively through bibliometrics. The RQF was fraught with controversy, particularly because the cost of such an undertaking (using international panels) and the difficulty in having agreed definitions of research quality and impact. The Labor government which scrapped the RQF has yet to outline any system which will replace it, stating however that it will enter into discussions with higher education providers, to gain consensus on a streamlined, metrics-driven approach.

International reputations
Australian universities consistently feature well in the top 150 international universities as ranked by the Academic Ranking of World Universities, the QS World University Rankings, and the Times Higher Education World University Rankings. From 2012 through 2016, eight Australian universities have featured in the top 150 universities of these three lists. The eight universities which are regularly ranked highly are Australian National University, the University of Melbourne, the University of Queensland, the University of Adelaide, Monash University, the University of Western Australia, the University of New South Wales, and the University of Sydney. These universities comprise Australia's Group of Eight, a coalition of research-intensive Australian universities.