The federal government has committed to getting more Australians into university by adopting recommendations made by an expert panel charged with building a long term plan for the nation’s higher education system.

Improving disadvantaged students’ access to higher education through reformed funding programs, improved governance and regional hubs is the focus of the Federal government under an interim report into the university sector released by Minister Jason Clare on Wednesday.

The Australian Universities Accord Interim Report recommended five immediate actions to meet the nation’s demand for graduates along with seventy policy ideas for further consultations ahead of the final report due at the end of the year.

Chaired by Professor Mary O’Kane and set up in November last year, the panel responsible for the report flagged too few Australians are beginning and completing tertiary qualifications, pointing out completions and demand for places are actually falling, with completions of a first bachelor degree at their lowest since 2014.

“Higher education is essential to our national prosperity – it is the foundation upon which a more equitable and fair society, and a stronger economy, can be built,” Professor O’Kane said.

“A strong and fair Australia needs the skills, new knowledge and socio-economic outcomes that higher education provides."

Among the five immediate recommendations, which have been accepted by the government, the panel suggested providing funding certainty to universities as the accord process rolls out, however the universities would also be expected to improve governance to lift student safety and staff employment conditions.

To encourage Indigenous participation, the report recommended extending Commonwealth supported funding to all First Nations students beyond the current restrictions that see the program only available to those living in regional and remote Australia.

More widely, the ’50 per cent pass rule’ mandating pass rates will be lifted in a push to help poor and regional students while up to 20 new regional university study hubs and 14 outer suburban hubs would be opened to help disadvantaged students.

In announcing the interim report and the government’s acceptance of the five recommendations, Federal Education Minister, Jason Clare said “This report makes it clear that more and more jobs will require a university qualification in the future”.

“That means we are going to need more people to get those qualifications,” he said.

“More young people getting degrees and more people in the workforce up-skilling and re-skilling.

“At the moment, almost one in two Australians in their late 20s have a university degree. But not only 15 percent of young people from poor families have a university degree. And only 18 percent of young people in the regions do.”

The five interim recommendations were welcomed by Universities Australia with CEO Catriona Jackson saying “the interim report makes clear that our institutions are essential to Australia’s progress and success in delivering the skills and knowledge that fuels our economic and social firepower”.

“As Australia grows and adapts in a fast-changing environment, there is an increasing need for what universities do in supporting government to deliver national priorities.”

The Interim Report is available at the Department of Education website. With submissions on the further recommendation open until 1 September.