The Bradley Report

In 2008 the Commonwealth government commissioned Professor Denise Bradley to lead a review of the Australian higher education sector. The review conclusions and recommendations provoked much debate among tertiary education educators, administrators, policymakers and researchers. The Bradley Review is the major tertiary education policy document of the last decade and in this week you will have a chance to read and analyse its conclusions. We then read a response paper by Birrell & Edwards to the Bradley Review. We then conclude with a paper by Niu & Tienda, which examines an approach for increasing the number of under-represented students at an American university. This approach is not common in Australia but variations are being considered by some universities such as the University of Sydney as a way to meet Bradley goals.

Learning Objectives: Bradley Review Executive Summary
1. What are the Review’s main conclusions?
2. What are the Review’s main recommendations?
3. What is the rationale (both explicit and implicit) behind the Review’s conclusions and recommendations?
4. What assumptions does the Review make? And what aspects and perspectives does it ignore?

Learning Objectives: Birrell & Edwards
1. What are the authors’ take on the Bradley Review’s main recommendations and conclusions?
2. What do they believe are the main implications for the tertiary education sector?

Learning Objectives: Niu & Tienda
1. What is the University of Texas’ admission policy, and what are its stated objectives?
2. Is the “top 10% law” effective?
3. How do students admitted under this policy perform, and what are the reasons behind their performance?
4. Could a similar approach be used in Australia, and if so, for which groups of students and/or which groups of schools?

Sarah's outline
To provide some context for this week’s discussion, the Bradley review was commissioned in 2008 by the then deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education, the Hon Julia Gillard (Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education [DIICCSRTE], 2008a). The purpose of the review was to determine if the “sector of education is structured, organised and financed to position Australia to compete effectively in the new globalised economy.” (DIICCSRTE, 2008b, p.xi). The premise being, that investment in the knowledge economy in higher education will improve productivity and therefore improve Australia’s economic status (DIICCSRTE, 2008b).

Denise Bradley is a retired Professor from the University of South Australia. Bradley chaired the review along with ‘experts’ with interests in the business, higher education and vocational education sectors (DIICCSRTE, n.d). So arguably, all members of the expert panel had an invested interest in the outcome of the review (DIICCSRTE , n.d).

The discussion paper was published in June 2008 and industry submissions were invited around broad themes (DIICCSRTE, 2008a). Only a month was provided for responses to the discussion paper which surprises me considering the profound implications this review has to the higher education system. The National Tertiary Education Industry Union submission from this week’s readings was submission number 231 out of 355 papers submitted for review (National Tertiary Education Industry Union, 2008).

The Bradley Review Executive Summary targets for higher education included:

40% of 25-34 year olds will have attained at a minimum a bachelor-level qualification by 2020
20% of enrolments in undergraduate higher education should be students from low socio-economic backgrounds by 2020

(DIICCSRTE, 2008b, p.xiv).

The final report identified 46 recommendations to meet the above targets. The government responded by allocating an additional 5.4 billion to support higher education and research over 4 years (DIICCSRTE, 2009).

In my opinion, the report failed to explore why there are low numbers of participants from low socio economic backgrounds. I think it is more than a financial barrier that inhibits their participation and that despite the incentive that a financial scheme may produce, further research and strategy in engaging this group is necessary. The other readings from this week’s topic identify some interesting perspectives on engaging students from disadvantaged groups.

Niu & Tienda (2010) provide insight on an innovation in Texas where the top 10% of high school students are all guaranteed automatic entrance into state funded universities. This incentive has led to some students who would have previously been offered a place, no longer having this opportunity (Niu & Tienda, 2010). This policy was implemented to improve equity of access to university level qualifications (Niu & Tienda, 2010). In reframing this policy to the Australian context, even if the top 10% of all high school graduates were provided placement in higher education, I am not convinced this would improve the number of low-socio economic student’s enrolling. The Australian and American education sectors have significant differences and it would be an interesting exercise to calculate the percentage of Australian ‘low-socio economic’ students who firstly graduate from high school, making them eligible for higher education. This would be ignoring the geographical considerations that Birrell & Edwards question (2009).

Birrell & Edwards indicate that Australia doesn’t have the infrastructure in place to meet the university placements required to meet the Bradley Review target, making the strategy of “pursuing measures which might displace other applicants who qualify for entry” a moot point (2009, p.9). Birrell & Edwards (2009) whilst in support of the pro Higher Education stance of the review identify practical flaws in meeting the targets. For example, the need to build more universities in geographical localities that cater for the target cohort.

Questions for discussion:

1. It has been 5 years since the Bradley Review was completed. Providing support to low socio-economic groups in gaining a higher education qualification is a significant recommendation. From your respective experiences in education, how has this target been mobilised in your areas? What special admission and retention strategies have been employed (if any)? Have they worked?

2. The Review concludes by identifying that “the recommendations in this report, if fully implemented, are likely to do no more than maintain the relative international performance and position of the Australian higher education sector.” (DIICCSRTE, 2008, p.xvi).

Is it ok, to just “maintain”, or should more be done to improve performance? Please explain your position.

3. The National Tertiary Education Industry union identifies a significant concern with the growth of student number to staff ratio. Is their concern valid and if so, how will this impact on the development of the Australian knowledge economy?


Birrell, B., & Edwards, D. (2009). The Bradley Review and access to high education in Australia. Australian Universities Review, 51(1), 4-13.

Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education [DIICCSRTE]. (2008a). Discussion Paper. Retrieved from

Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education [DIICCSRTE]. (2008b). Executive summary, Recommendations and Findings only. Retrieved from

Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education [DIICCSRTE]. (n.d). Expert Panel. Retrieved from:

Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education [DIICCSRTE]. (2009). Future directions for Tertiary Education. Retrieved from

National Tertiary Education Industry Union. (2008). NTEU Submission to the review of Australian higher education. Retrieved from

Niu, S. X., & Tienda, M. (2010). Minority student academic performance under the uniform admission law: Evidence from the University of Texas at Austin. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 32(1), 44-69. doi. 10.3102/0162373709360063

Belinda's comments

Thank you for your questions Sarah. The Bradley Review Executive Summary seems reasonably thorough, but as you point out, in the end it seems that all it will do (if thoroughly implemented) is maintain our position in the education sector. It goes without saying that when it comes to the education of Australia's population, we should be striving to be the best we can be. Although there was some discussion on Indigenous students and those from a low socio-economic background, discussion did fail to address why this is the case.

There was a lot of attention from NTEU placed on financial solutions to this dilemma, which is very fair, their reason being (p10) that "Building social inclusion also means ensuring that low SES and Indigenous students are not discouraged from attending university because it is, or they perceive it to be, unaffordable". NTEU also suggest that the issue of further education should be addressed from early childhood (p9), which I think is a very important point. What they barely touch on in this report and further reviews, is the fact that further education also seems unattainable to the Indigenous population because of cultural barriers; traditional beliefs, the importance of community and family bonds, not to mention a very different way of learning information that is useful and can be applied to their circumstances and lifestyle. These are educational issues that need to be addressed in regard to Indigenous students. The NTEU review, p13, states that "Regretfully our Indigenous members report that there remains a degree of racism in universities, as well as a lack of culturally aligned curriculum, a lack of Indigenous staff and support structures for students, and high levels of poverty. These are compounded by the absence of income support structures for Indigenous students that not only provide for a decent level of financial support, but do so in a way which is sensitive to the realities of Indigenous family and community life".

Imagine the possible increase in student numbers that could be attained, if only more of our Indigenous population were to become involved in further education. Overall a very interesting read this week!!

My response
Responding to question three, I'll begin by mentioning that our incoming Federal minister, Christopher Pyne, doesn't think that risinig staff-student ratios are a major problem. "There is no evidence that smaller class sizes somehow produce better student outcomes... "The range in which we've reduced it has almost no impact on student learning." (ABC, 2012), which must have been somewhat of a surprise for those familiar with the literature. Instead, the Minister suggested that improving teacher quality should be the priority.

Of course, both statements are true; teacher quality and class sizes are both contributing factors to successful outcomes in education. A question is raised on which one is more effective and efficient, and in particular, in the context of a "knowledge economy" with advanced information and communications technology (or perhaps, not so advanced given national broadband concerns), and especially the "cost-disease" of labour-intensive services, such as teaching (Baumol, 1993).

ICT changes no doubt can reduce the costs of "broadcast" information (e.g., lectures, readings) and reduce the transaction costs involved (e.g., no need to travel to site). However, with increases in complexity of information, a great deal of scaffolding is required, and even more so than in the past. Whilst this requires improved teacher quality and smaller class sizes in these areas.

In other words, there is no simple "one-fix" solution. The issue is not nearly as simple as either the NTEU's concerns that smaller classes necessarily means a problem in outcomes or the assertions of the new Minister, that all that is needed is better teachers. It is very much a case of when are smaller classes more effective and efficient and when is teacher quality the issue. This is a matter of detailed and contextual analysis which is unfortunately rare in public discourse.


ABC, "Focus education reform on teacher quality: Pyne", Lateline, 16/07/2012

William J. Baumol, Social Wants and Dismal Science: The Curious Case of the Climbing Costs of Health and Teaching, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society Vol. 137, No. 4, 250th Anniversary Issue (Dec., 1993), pp. 612-637

Sonia's response
The NTEU is quite right in highlighting staff-student ratios as a problem in higher education, in my experience. Where their position falls down, is that they don't highlight it's far from the only problem. The over-reliance on sessional staff, the lack of support and professional development opportunities for those sessionals, the lack of compensation for sessionals supporting external students, all of these factors (and more) combine to make it extremely difficult for students experiencing difficulties to access support, which can only contribute to poor retention rates and lower educational quality across the board (Bassett, 1998). Coates et al. (2009) conducted a comparative analysis of the Australian higher education system and made a number of relevant recommendations, including increased staff numbers, engaging new academics, building leadership capacity and better understanding of the needs of the casual workforce. Without attention to more factors than simply class sizes and under the current funding and structure, I'm not sure how the sector is supposed to expand and to maintain or increase its quality.

Bassett, P. (1998). Sessional academics, a marginalised workforce.Proceedings of the Australian Association for Research In Education. Auckland.

Coates, H., Dobson, I., Edwards, D., Friedman, T., Goedegebuure, L., & Meek, L. (2009). The attractiveness of the Australian academic profession: A comparative analysis.

Natalie's comment
Upon reading the executive summary of the Bradley Review the broad-reaching goals of increased attainment of higher education qualifications and increased participation from low socio-economic groups and the disadvantaged are commendable and infinitely valuable.

However, concerns that recommendations' fail to acknowledge the role of diversity, independence and the significance of academic freedom among higher education providers was reiterated upon reading the paper by Birrell & Edwards (2008).

Recommendations 19 and 20 of the review, advocate a national framework for higher education accreditation, quality assurance, regulation and a national regulatory body.

If the review was driven with the purpose to maintain Australia's international competitiveness, does this flow through to influence the role of a national body and accreditation system with the risk of an insular focus on outcomes defined against economic benchmarks and purpose.

Who defines the scope of authority and action of a national, regulatory body. The report defines the Australian government as responsible, yet the government of the day is driven by myriad business, economic and financial forces. Can it be guaranteed that the forces of the day are going to be in the best interest of an active and diverse higher education culture or a robust, democratic nation.

Excessive centralisation and governance may also impinge on flexibility and freedom to react to a changing environment and local needs. Currently, I am located at a Perth based higher education provider, governed by a national body. I can appreciate the benefits of a national body, however regularly experience the flaws, and shortcomings such a nationally regulated system entails.

It is with interest that I reflect upon the access and participation articles in topic 5 and how diversity was promoted as a valuable asset in its own right with broad -reaching societal benefits (Ferguson & Simpson p33). Does a national regulatory body undermine educational diversity, and is this contra-indicated against the health of Australian society in the long term? Concerns I am sure that have been asked before and are likely the topic of further investigation and research.

Nicholas' review

The Bradley review provided an in depth review of higher education in Australia. The terms of reference for this review were set by the then Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Education, Employment, Workplace Relations and Social Inclusion Hon Julia Gillard MP.

This reviews intent was to report ‘on the future direction of the higher education sector, its fitness for purpose in meeting the needs of the Australian community and economy and the options for ongoing reform.’ As a result of this review a series of ambitious recommendations were put forward specifically targeting improving the participation, investment and performance of higher education. A key to the Bradley review was the use of benchmarking in the form of comparisons to OECD countries.

From reading through the review I am left with some questions regarding the direction this review intends to take and the impact this will have. Any debate on education is a worthwhile endeavour, challenging and justifying ideas is key to developing a healthy education system. To this end I offer the following:

2. Is it possible to benchmark higher education success by comparison with OECD countries given that they are drawn from a wide range of cultures, values and differing stages of economic growth. Are we really trying to measure our success in higher education by an attempt to ‘keep up with the Jones’s’. If we removed the comparisons how do you think the outcome of the Bradley review may be altered, if at all. (i.e looking at a purely Australian based solution)

2. The target of 40% of 25 – 34 year olds attaining a Bachelor level qualification by 2020, would appear to be the most ambitious recommendations of the Bradley review. Is this achievable as a target, would this require a more intensive review focusing upon all levels of the education sector rather than just higher education. Is there not a need to create a pathway from the school, to VET and eventually higher education in order for us to even approach the 40% target.

3. Is there any correlation in the Bradley review and the concepts of lifelong learning? The recommendations in the review call for improving the participation, investment and performance of higher education, but does this translate to the development of a lifelong learning system or does this review only address a shorter term achievement. Can the Bradley review be used to stimulate a lifelong learning environment or is the scope to narrow.

My response

A comparison with Australia in the context of other OECD countries is legitimate and indeed quite a typical measure in the social sciences. Whilst they do have somewhat different cultures they are not typically of significantly different stages of economic development (the relatively recent introduction of some mid-range developing economies, such as Mexico is atypical).

Whilst these comparative metrics may smack of a "keeping up with the Jones's" there is a conventional wisdom, of some veracity, that a population with a larger proporition of the population in various higher education metrics is both a cause and reflection of having an advanced economy. An economy that is slipping in these metrics is, in all probability, going to lose ground in scientific and technological innovation, social intergration, and possibly even cultural production and diversity.

The question of whether the target of 40% of 25-34 year-olds by 2020 having a Bachelor's degree is actually not ambitious at all. According to the figures released by the ABS last year, it has almost been reached (37%), although there is a notable skewing in gender with men (33%) significantly behind women (41%).