Key 67: The Australian Universities Commission 1945; 1957; 1959; 1964 / Tertiary Education Commission 1977


When, in 1935, the Australian Vice-Chancellors’ Committee (AVCC) asked the Commonwealth Government for financial assistance for post-graduate students there was doubt that this was constitutionally possible so money was made available through the CSIR. The exigencies of war-time manpower needs and optimistic plans for post-war development changed this. The Universities Commission, set up under Professor R.C. Mills of Sydney University in 1943 to deal with grants and subsidies to Australian universities, was established as a permanent body in 1945. As its role in the management of the CRTS drew to a conclusion the new task of supporting the expansion of university places and the research activity of universities grew to compensate. The Commonwealth Scholarships, available from 1951, and ear-marked grants to States for university funding, marked the beginning of the process by which the Commonwealth gradually assumed total responsibility for university education in Australia.

In 1957 in response to sustained pleas the Commonwealth Government appointed Sir Keith Murray to lead a Committee of Inquiry into the Future of Australian Universities (the Murray Report).

Among its many recommendations was further involvement in the balanced growth of the University sector. This task was handed to the Australian Universities Commission (AUC) established in 1959 under the chairmanship of former professor of Physics at the University of Melbourne Sir Leslie Martin.

Sir Leslie Martin
Sir Leslie Martin
[Source: University of Melbourne Archives Media Photograph Collection, Photograph no number]

In this role he chaired the Committee on the Future of Tertiary Education (Martin Report 1961-1964) which recommended the introduction of a binary system of education in which Colleges of Advanced Education would be supported to grow alongside the Universities. The system of triennial funding employed by the AUC allowed for more systematic planning and financial certainty even within conditions of considerable constraint, especially for older universities. In 1974 the Commonwealth took over full responsibility for funding universities and colleges of advanced education and abolished tuition fees. In 1977 bodies overseeing tertiary education were brought together under the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC).