Experts to head university sector overhaul

Students and staff will be placed at the centre of a major review into Australia's higher education sector.

Delivering the Bradley Oration at Sydney University on Wednesday night, Education Minister Jason Clare announced the Universities Accord panel to be chaired by eminent scientist Mary O'Kane.

She will lead a team including former Labor minister Jenny Macklin, former Nationals minister Fiona Nash, Macquarie Group CEO Shemara Wikramanayake, and academics Barney Glover and Larissa Behrendt.

The panel will provide an interim report on priority recommendations to Mr Clare by June next year, with a final report to be delivered by the end of 2023.

The review will focus on key areas, including delivering the skills needed for the economy, in recognition that nine in 10 new jobs will require a post-school qualification and half will require at the minimum a bachelor's degree.

Commercialising pioneering Australian research by bolstering collaboration between universities and industry will be explored.

Improving access to higher education, equity and affordability, and regulatory settings to support universities in meeting their obligations to their employees and students will be considered.

The review will also look at how the COVID-19 pandemic battered the sector, and how education as an export can be strengthened while recognising the importance of international students.

Greens deputy leader Mehreen Faruqi said it was refreshing to see the government take the future of universities seriously.

"But we have to get this right," Senator Faruqi said.

"We can't leave this task up to a few eminent people to run. Current staff and students should be brought into this process in a meaningful way from day one. Frankly, corporate voices should be de-prioritised."

She said key issues included casualisation, rising workloads and public funding.

"The accord process should not be used as an excuse to delay changes that can and must be made now: scrapping Liberal-era fee hikes and funding cuts, and tackling the student debt crisis," she said.

Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson said the country needed a strong tertiary sector to be a modern, prosperous nation.

"More than half of the one million jobs expected to be created in the next five years will require a university degree," she said.

As well, research and development was needed to deal with the new industrial revolution and prepare for changes in the geopolitical environment.

"We will be bold in ambition and rigorous in our approach to the accord - courageous enough to think deeply about how our systems work and whether they best serve our sector and the nation," she said.

"We will identify where change is required and how to best achieve it, and where we are better off building on existing strengths."