Criticism of Higher Education in Australia

Problems with the new mass marketing of academic degrees include declining academic standards, increased teaching by sessional lecturers, large class sizes, 20% of graduates working part-time, 26% of graduates working full-time but considering themselves to be underemployed, 26% of students not graduating at all, and 17% of employers losing confidence in the quality of instruction at a university.

Students' rate of return on their large investment in time and money depends to a great extent on their study area. A longitudinal study by the Department of Education and Training found that median full-time salaries for undergraduates four years into their careers ranged from $55,000 in the creative arts to $120,000 in dentistry. For those with a master's degree or higher, the figures range from $68,800 in communication studies to $122,100 in medicine. Rates of graduate unemployment and underemployment also vary widely between study areas.

In 2016, Monash University academics published a report which contended that immigration by professionals often aggravates underemployment of Australian university graduates. On the other hand, Australia's shortage of skilled tradespeople is not being addressed.

A 2018 study from the Grattan Institute found that the gender gap in career earnings has continued to shrink, and that the proportion of foreign students is growing rapidly. Although the graduate labour market has partly recovered from the Great Recession, only the education, nursing and medical sectors have seen significant earnings growth.

There is a concern that Australian Universities have "lacked the incentives, encouragement and resources" to "bring about the transformation in which high-growth, technology-based businesses become a driving force behind Australia's economy" and demonstrated there is no Australian universities placed in the Reuters top 100 ranking for lack of innovation and competitiveness. Only 10.4% of Australian higher education students study ICT and Engineering/Technologies related courses.

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.