Australia's heads to be reorganised in a new industry-style group, says Geoff Maslen.
The Australian Vice-chancellors' Committee is to be radically reshaped into a new company with a different name, a new governing board and a revamped management structure.
The reforms were prompted by mounting evidence that the AVCC had ceased to be an effective political force. All current posts, including those of the president and the chief executive, will be declared vacant when the new association, Universities Australia, is established next year.
A full-time president will head the group and will be the main advocate and spokesperson for universities across the country. The incumbent will act as chief executive and will be assisted by a chief operating officer.
The upheaval was triggered last October by the Group of Eight (Go8) research-intensive universities. They declared that their interests were not being represented adequately and demanded fundamental changes. The group, implying that it might break away, called for the AVCC to become a federated organisation within which different institutional groupings would follow their own agendas.
A review from a private consulting firm proposed turning the AVCC into a peak industry body for the sector, seeking to "project powerfully the contribution of Australia's universities to the nation" while recognising institutions' competitiveness and differences between groupings.
Gerard Sutton, AVCC president, said the vice-chancellors had agreed to "refine the committee's structure" to become a peak industry body. He said its key role would be advocacy for higher education in the public interest.
Professor Sutton added that all universities recognised in Australia would be eligible for membership of Universities Australia. This means that foreign institutions with bases in Australia, such as Heriot-Watt and Carnegie Mellon universities, could join.
His term as president ends next year, but John Mullarvey, the AVCC's current chief executive, faces an uncertain future. His contract, which includes a salary package worth up to A$300,000 (£121,000), runs to the end of 2008.
The Go8 vice-chancellors have welcomed the changes. But Gavin Brown, vice-chancellor of the University of Sydney, has expressed concern that the agreed model fails to address the issue of how to achieve an effective voice for a "highly differentiated sector".