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Call to curtail ANU numbers

NOBEL laureate Brian Schmidt says the Australian National University must cut student numbers and change its admissions process in order to recreate itself as a prestigious university in the style of Harvard and Oxford.

Professor Schmidt will also use his Order of Australia Association speech on Thursday to call for increased funding by the federal government to ensure a change from ''pumping degrees out by the masses''.

Speaking before his address, titled ''The future of ANU and its role in Canberra'', Professor Schmidt said the ANU had a successful past, creating ''three of Australia's six Nobel prizes'', but there were concerns for its future.

''I am concerned that we are no longer different,'' he said.

''We're essentially funded exactly the same way. Our relationship with the federal government is not that different from the University of Melbourne or any other university.''

Professor Schmidt said that, unlike ANU, Sydney and Melbourne universities could garner financial support from large state governments in order to expand.

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''They can spend more money than us,'' Professor Schmidt said. ''Unless we differentiate, we'll end up as a second-class university.''

He said changes to ANU's undergraduate program were needed in order to distinguish it and reverse the sliding international reputation of Australian universities.

''Rather than just pumping degrees out by the masses, we need to change,'' he said. ''I would like admissions to tighten up a bit. The Australian National University, if they want to do it right, we need to interview people.''

Smaller tutorials with a maximum of 15 students were also suggested by Professor Schmidt, who said that the proposed changes would require increased financial support from the Abbott government.

''We're going to need support from the federal government,'' he said. ''I don't [want] the Australian National University to be a threat. The ANU needs to be helping the sector.''

Professor Schmidt said the changes would help move the country's higher education sector to a place where ''quite frankly, it needs to go''.

''The big problem that Australia has right now is that it doesn't have a great university,'' he said.

''It's the responsibility of the university, working with the federal government, to use the Australian National University to make higher education in Australia better.''