Release type: Transcript


Minister for Education Dan Tehan interview with Leon Compton, ABC Radio Hobart Mornings


The Hon Dan Tehan MP
Minister for Education

SUBJECTS: Job-ready Graduates package, Regional reforms, International students

Leon Compton: Minister, good morning to you.

Dan Tehan: Morning, lovely to be with you.

Compton: Can we distil your proposals simply for our listener, Minister, as the Government trying to send a price signal to students? You want fewer arts graduates and more teachers.

Tehan: That’s right. What we’re facing at the moment is the biggest economic disruption that we’ve seen since the Great Depression. And, what we want to ensure is, a) that there are more places for Year 12 students to be able to go to university, and for also for those people who might have lost their jobs that they can look to retrain at university. We want to provide more opportunities for those students from regional and rural Australia, because they’ve missed out on the opportunity to go to university compared to people from capital cities. And, what we want to do is make sure that we incentivise students to take units of study, which will help them get a job. So, we know there’s going to be job shortages when it comes to nursing, when it comes to teaching, when it comes to IT, when it comes to science, engineering. So, we want to encourage students and incentivise students to study in those areas.

Compton: And, you think making those courses cheaper, and courses like humanities double in cost, will help achieve that?

Tehan: Look, history will tell us that’s what will occur. The last time that changes like this were made, and they were made under a Labor Government, we saw the reduction in the price for science, technology and mathematics, and we saw a near doubling of the students that entered those courses. Now, what happened afterwards was that then they put them up again, by about 70 odd per cent, and we saw a plateauing. So, we think if we can incentivise students to head into those courses, where we know there will be jobs at the end of their degrees, that benefits the student but also benefits Australia, overall, and benefits, you know, the wellbeing of our communities. Because, obviously, we’ve got people in jobs, the student themselves, and, is the right thing to be doing.

Compton: Dan Tehan, this is Rufus Black, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Tasmania, talking about how effective price signals are, or aren’t, when it comes to directing student choices.

Rufus Black: Price signals are extremely weak or non-existent in higher education. It’s not, actually, the facts tell us what people think about when they’re choosing what they want, what they want to do.

Compton: Dan Tehan, that was Rufus Black talking with us earlier in the week, and it was a sentiment echoed in any number of the submissions you received in the Senate inquiry into these proposed changes. So, on what evidence, are you suggesting that your change in the cost of uni courses is going to drive student behaviour?

Tehan: This is right in it. There are a number of things which will dictate why, ultimately, a student will make a choice as to what area of study to go into …

Compton: … But, Rufus Black says, it’ll be weak or non-existent, and, as I say, that’s reflected in any number of submissions into this proposed bill.

Tehan: Well, what we have to go on is, is the lived experience, and the last time that the prices were halved, which was in 2007, what we saw was a near doubling of the amount of students taking up those areas of study, and then when the price was put up by over 70 per cent, we saw that plateauing. So, the lived experience in this country clearly points to the fact that if you do put a price incentive in there, and publicise that incentive, then you will get the outcome that you’re looking for.

Compton: So, what do you think the outcome will be of sending up the cost of humanities courses by 113 per cent?

Tehan: Well, to start with, what we’re doing there is we are putting the price up, but it will still be less than the equivalent, for instance, that students pay in the UK or the US. The student will still have access to the best HELP loan fee system in the world, and the student also has the option – and this is what we’re encouraging them to do, because these are done at the unit level – is to look at, as part of their arts degree, study a maths, an English, a language, an IT subject, and that immediately brings the price of their degree down, and will help their employability. This is all about making sure, as we head towards the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression, to ensure that the students who go to university to study have the skills to take the jobs that we know will be there at, when they come out of their course.

Compton: Dan Tehan, what about the fact then, given that universities will play a significant role in helping us through this economic downturn, that overall, what’s part of this package is a reduced amount of funding to the tertiary sector in the first few years?

Tehan: That’s simply not true, and I know that that’s something that the Labor Party and the Greens have been saying …

Compton: … No, no, it’s contained in submissions and analysis that’s been presented to the Senate by universities themselves, suggesting there’ll be between six and eight per cent fall in overall funding straight up, once this bill passes.

Tehan: No, that, so what happens to funding, and it’s set out in the forward estimates, and if you read the Department of Education’s submission, it’s very clear in it that funding grows by $2 billion between 2020 and 2024 for the higher education sector. There is an additional $2 billion, which is going into the sector. We will see indexed growth go into the sector. Now, there hasn’t been indexed growth in the sector for quite some time, and if you look at the University of Tasmania, for instance, what we will see is 4.3 per cent growth, when it comes to the University of Tasmania, up to 2024. So, there is more money going into the system. And, that is clearly set out in the Department of Education submission to the inquiry.

Compton: So, just to focus on the University of Tasmania, our university, the one university we have, notwithstanding you can fly off and obviously study anywhere on the mainland, but from a Tasmanian perspective, how many more places do you say your reforms will create for students to study in this state?

Tehan: So, there will be growth of 3.5 per cent in student places for Tasmania. Now, that is the strongest growth that universities will be getting anywhere around the nation, because what we’ve done is we’ve said for those universities that operate in regional and rural areas, the growth in places that you will get will be greater than those, for instance, for those universities in Melbourne or Sydney. Because, what we’ve seen when it comes to universities is the places have increased in inner cities, in large inner cities, and not in regional and rural areas. So, if, if I’m born in Burnie, my chances of getting or going to university are half those, or in some instances a quarter those, of someone born in Melbourne or Sydney. Now, these reforms are all about providing opportunities for those students from Launceston or Bernie to be able to go to higher education, to be able to go to university. And, that’s why we’re saying to those universities that take regional and rural students, like University of Tasmania, we’re going to give you more places and more funding so you can do that.

Compton: On Mornings around Tasmania, the Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan is our guest this morning. Minister, is it fair, and you were talking about equity, is it fair that a student in Year 12 now, who’s had a year from hell – I think we can agree it’s a year like no other for those students – still doesn’t know what the course they’re being asked now to enrol in and think about, they still don’t know what that will cost for 2021?

Tehan: What, what isn’t fair is that those students won’t have the opportunity to go to university. What these changes are all about, and especially for those, for people, for students from Tasmania, is about giving them the opportunity to go to university …

Compton: … Minister, to answer the question directly, though, do you think it’s fair that a student considering arts or considering teaching for 2021 doesn’t know, right now, what the cost will be? I suppose the broader question is, why not delay this a year, as say the Griffith submission to the inquiry requested?

Tehan: Because, if we delay this for a year, there are going to be students who won’t be able to go to university, who will be able to go to university under these changes. What this means, and especially for regional and rural students, students from Tasmania, that they’ll miss out on the opportunity of going to university, and I don’t want to see that happen. I want more places there for those students to be able to go to university, because regional and rural students, students from Tasmania, have missed out enough. I want to provide more opportunities for them to go to university. Someone who comes from a regional and rural background, who has seen our students miss out at the expense of those in capital cities, I want to see that change, and I want to see those opportunities given to students right around Tasmania …

Compton: … So, how many more of those opportunities will exist in the University of Tasmania in 2021?

Tehan: Well, there will be, there is, potentially there are thousands more students who can go to university if we can get these, get this through. And, that is, that is what I want to see.

Compton: Okay. A report was requested on this by the Senate. You’ve got some crossbenches to convince, if you’re going to pass these changes. That report’s due to be released tomorrow. What’s it going to say?

Tehan: Look, ultimately, that’s up to the members of the Senate panel who, obviously, oversaw that inquiry. So, they will, they will report tomorrow. I won’t seek to prejudge that. But, obviously, I’ve been in discussions with the crossbenchers and will continue those discussions in good faith. And, you know, one of the key things that I’ve been putting to them is, what these changes present is an opportunity to allow more students to be able to go to university, and given that we know that there’s going to be high youth unemployment, providing those students with the opportunity to improve their skills to be able to get jobs when they come out of university is absolutely the number one priority of these changes.

Compton: Dan Tehan’s our guest this morning, Federal Education Minister. Minister, while we have you there, the University of Tasmania, like so many universities around the country, has become enormously reliant on international students. Have uni’s become too reliant on international students ,and can you just talk about what you see as the pathway to having those, you know, students slash financial resources, returned to the country. Do you think we will have to look at a very different financial model going forward?

Tehan: Yeah, look, it’s a really good question. The focus that we, obviously, are putting into our university sector at the moment is around domestic students, and creating those more opportunities for our domestic students. But, international students have provided, also, a very good revenue income for our universities, and where universities have got the balance right, I think, you know, international students have added income to our universities, income to our communities and jobs. For every three international students that arrive, that creates one job in Australia. So, there is no doubt there are benefits. But, like everything, it’s a matter about getting the balance right. So, the University of Tasmania, for instance, has got the balance right. It hasn’t sought to over enrol international students at the expense of domestic students. But, some other universities have grown to have a heavy reliance on international students – up to 50 per cent of the students that go to any one university in some instances are international students – and I think we need to get that balance better, and make sure that, ultimately, the number one goal should be educating our domestic students. But, also understand that, when it’s done properly, international students also add a lot to our community, to our national income, to our export outcome. But, we’ve got to do it in a way that is balanced and there isn’t an over reliance on international students.

Compton: Appreciate you coming on this morning.

Tehan: Thanks Leon.

Compton: Minister Dan Tehan, Federal Education Minister.