Questions Without Notice – Universities Accord

Dr GARLAND (Chisholm) (15:09): My question is to the Minister for Education. What action is the Albanese Labor government taking to deliver a better and fairer higher education system?

Mr CLARE (BlaxlandMinister for Education) (15:10): I thank the fantastic member for Chisholm for her question. The Universities Accord is the biggest and broadest review of our higher education system in 15 years. It’s led by the incomparable Professor Mary O’Kane AC. Two weeks ago, I released the accord interim report, and what it says is that in the years ahead more jobs will require a university qualification. Today, about 36 per cent of the workforce has a university degree. What this report says is that by the middle of this century that will be more like 55 per cent. That’s a rough estimate, but it gives you an idea of the skills challenge we face in the years and the decades ahead.

What the report argues is that the only way to get there is to significantly increase the number of students attending university from our outer suburbs and from our regions. Almost one in two Aussies in their 20s or 30s today has a university degree, but not everywhere—not where I grew up, not in the western suburbs of Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane, not in the northern suburbs of Adelaide, not in the outer suburbs of Perth or Hobart and not in regional Australia. In regional Australia it’s only 13 per cent. In Elizabeth, a northern suburb of Adelaide, it’s only seven per cent. So where you live has a massive impact on the chances you have—about whether you get a crack at going to university. I want more young Australians to get that chance.

Part of that is bringing universities closer to where people live and bringing the buildings to where the brains are. That’s the first recommendation of this report—to establish more university study hubs, places where you can study for any degree closer to where you live. The evidence shows that they work and that, where they exist, participation goes up. There are 34 of these at the moment, and we will double them. There will be 20 more for the regions and 14, for the first time, in the outer suburbs of our major cities. That’s the first recommendation of this report.

Later this week I’ll introduce legislation to implement two further recommendations of this report. In December, Professor O’Kane will provide me with the final report. It’ll cover teaching, research, HECS and how we make sure TAFE and uni work more closely together. But, at its core, what it’s about is this: making sure that more kids from our outer suburbs and our regions and more kids from poorer backgrounds get a crack at going to university. As the Prime Minister says, we’re making sure no-one is held back and no-one is left behind.