TRIPLE J, HACK
WEDNESDAY, 19 JULY 2023
SUBJECTS: Australian Universities Accord Interim Report
JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: G’day, it’s great to be here.
DAVE MARCHESE: As we’ve heard, this is just the interim report. A final report’s going to come later this year, but it gives us a bit of a taste, and I guess the long and short of it seems to be that we need to be getting more young people into university, into TAFE as well. The thing is the gap between rich and poor students is in some cases getting worse.
Minister, there have been a lot of goals and promises and recommendations in the past that haven’t been achieved. How are you going to make sure this does happen?
CLARE: Yeah, you’re right. What this report says is that more and more jobs are going to require a university degree in the future. I think nine out of 10 jobs created in the next decade will require you to finish school and then go on to either TAFE or university. Five of those nine will require a university qualification, four of them will require a TAFE qualification.
So that means more people going to TAFE, more people going to university. About one in two young Australians in their 20s or 30s have a university degree today, that number’s not that high in the regions. It’s not that high in the bush or in remote parts of Australia. It’s not even that high in the outer suburbs of Sydney or Brisbane or Melbourne. In those areas, it’s much, much lower, and if you’re a young person who comes from a poor family, then it’s as low as 15 per cent. If you’re a young Indigenous Australian, it’s as low as 17 per cent. Now, this report says, we’ve got to fix that.
MARCHESE: So what’s the benchmark that you’re trying to hit, like is there going to be a target that the Government will have so it knows whether or not it’s succeeding?
CLARE: There’s targets in this report that the panel have put together and want feedback on. They say we need population parity by 2035, in other words that you have the same proportion of people from poor backgrounds in the community in our universities by 2035. It’s a big bold target.
Attempts in the past, whether it’s Whitlam, or Dawkins, or Gillard, have had limited success here. This report says this is no longer just the right thing to do to make sure that young people from poorer backgrounds and from regional Australia get a crack at uni. This is something we have to do. If we don’t, then we’re not going to have enough skilled workers in the right areas doing the right things for the type of workforce that’s going to exist in the middle of this century.
MARCHESE: Minister, one of the biggest issues facing students at the moment is placement poverty. Like many just can’t afford to do compulsory placements, they’re skipping meals, living below the poverty line. You know, some of our listeners have said to us that they’ve given up their studies because they just can’t afford it. I’m sure you’re hearing the same thing from students.
CLARE: I am, I am.
MARCHESE: Can you commit to financial support then for those doing uni placements? Can you commit to that?
CLARE: This is one of the ideas in the second half of this report where people are asking for feedback, so I’m interested to see what people say about this idea in the report. I remember talking to a bunch of nursing students at Griffith University a couple of months ago. They made the point that in a three‑year degree for nursing, one of those years is effectively placement where they’re working in a hospital. And for the students I spoke to they said, “Look, I’ve got to give up my part‑time job in order to do the placement, and so that means money that I would otherwise have for rent or to pay the bills, pay for food, pay to go out, isn’t there”. They described it like you just did, placement poverty.
There’s things in this report that they want us to act on right now, there’s other things that they want to debate in the community about. This is in that second category.
What the report suggests is for students who are doing compulsory placements like teaching, or nursing or early education, things like that, that there should be some sort of payment to help them make sure they can get through university there.
MARCHESE: Do you reckon that one needs feedback though, because it just seems like one that would be a very easy fix and a major barrier there that’s blocking so many people from either starting or continuing their studies?
CLARE: I think there will be some people who will want to talk about who’s in, who’s out. What sort of courses at university qualify under different definitions of compulsory placements. There will be all of that that will happen as well.
One of the other things we’re doing incidentally, and it rolls out next year, is scholarships to encourage people as they leave school to go into teaching. There are a lot of people at the moment who leap out of school and go off into law or to business courses. I want more people to become teachers. A placement payment like this could help as well.
I’m keen, as part of the big debate, which I reckon will happen on everything in this report, for people to give us their feedback on it.
MARCHESE: Okay. What about HECS, because I know the experts are looking at the system, indexation, it’s caused a lot of stress for young people this year in particular. Are there going to be changes there?
CLARE: The report’s looking at that as well. They’re looking at the way it’s indexed, but they’re also looking at the whole HECS system, or what’s now called HELP.
MARCHESE: Do you think there needs to be changes to the way the indexation is applied, do you personally?
CLARE: I purposefully and deliberately referred it to the Accord team, because this is one part of a bigger piece of reform they’re looking at. Remember the Job Ready Graduate Scheme that the former government rolled out where they doubled the cost of arts degrees and humanities degrees? They’re looking at that.
This Interim Report tells us that hasn’t worked. They say in this report there needs to be re‑design before it causes damage to the higher education system. But they haven’t in this report said what changes they think needs to be made.
They’ve got Professor Bruce Chapman, the man who created HECS many years ago, working with them on what a new design for HECS, or what we now call HELP, could or should look like, and looking at indexation and how that works is just one part of that.
MARCHESE: I guess part of it, Minister, is also recognition from politicians, from government, that this is stressful, like dealing with the highest rate of indexation in 30 years is a lot of stress when you’re looking at the figures and you see that you may owe more now than you did when you finished studying, because there are politicians that say, “Oh, yeah, but it’s not increasing the amount you’re paying week by week. Yes, it means you might be paying it off for longer”, but it’s the recognition that it is a stress for so many young people.
CLARE: I get that. I also have to make the point it’s different than if you’ve got say, a home loan where interest rates go up and your payments go up. That’s not how a HECS loan works. You pay based on your income rather than an interest rate.
MARCHESE: It’s still a debt though.
CLARE: It’s still a debt.
MARCHESE: That’s the concern.
CLARE: I totally get it. I don’t want to diminish that. I know a lot of people listening will be looking at that and thinking about that. But I also want young people who might be listening, who aren’t at university yet, they might be at high school, to not be put off by the idea of going to university. If you go to university and get a degree, your average income in your working life is $100,000, whereas if you finish high school and don’t go on to TAFE or uni, it’s $70,000.
So there is a big benefit to going to university. This report tells us that more and more people are going to need those skills. I want more people to think about university and not be put off or think that it’s not a good idea. It is. It’s critical in making sure that you’ve got the skills you need for success in the years ahead.
MARCHESE: You’re listening to Hack. I’m Dave Marchese. I’m speaking with Education Minister Jason Clare about this interim report into universities that’s been released today.
Minister, there’s an idea out there that unis are too commercial now. That they’re focused too much on business, not enough on students. I need to tell you, like some of the students that talk to us about their experiences have said things like they feel like they’re at the self‑serve check‑out sometimes, that’s what their university experience has been like. Do you think it’s fair to say that universities have let students down?
CLARE: Look, I wouldn’t say that because I think a university degree today is your ticket to the show. A university degree is what sets you up for the future. Most Australians, when you ask them, “Do you feel like it was a good idea to go to university” will say “yes”. Does it mean that our universities are perfect or that they’re fit for the future? No. And there’s more changes we need to make.
You look at our universities, we’ve got about 40‑odd of them, they all look pretty much the same size, they all offer the same sort of courses.
One of the things that this report suggests is that maybe in the future not only will we have more students, but we’ll have more universities of a different size, of a different scale and different specialisation, and you may have a situation where you’ve got courses being offered which are a mixture of TAFE and university, or a mixture of vocational education and university.
There are ideas in this report about how we improve things and how we grow things in the future, and that might mean that university looks a lot different in the decades ahead than it does now.
MARCHESE: Look, there will be a lot of conversations, a lot of discussions around these ideas, and we’ll be keeping listeners across it especially as we work towards that final report later this year.
Education Minister, Jason Clare, thank you very much for making the time to come on Hack.