SUBJECTS: Job-ready Graduates package, Regional reforms, JobKeeper
Martin Agatyn: The Federal Minister for Education is Dan Tehan, who joins me now. Good morning, Dan.
Dan Tehan: Morning Martin, good to be with you.
Agatyn: Thank you for your time, I really appreciate it. If you could probably just go back to square one and explain to our listeners what is actually proposed from next year, and have we got the bull by the horns. Is it something we should be worried about?
Tehan: No, what we’re doing is that we’re making changes to the way we fund our university system, so that we are incentivising students to go into those areas of study where we know there will be jobs in the future. And, by doing that, we’re putting an extra $2 billion worth of funding into the higher education system across Australia, and, importantly, what we’re doing is we’re putting renewed emphasis on encouraging students from regional and rural areas to go to university. So, what this means is, when it comes to Tasmania, we’re going to be putting additional funding into Tasmania, we’re going to be encouraging more students from Tasmania to go to university, and, hopefully, what that will do is grow jobs in Tasmania and grow, obviously, the community in Tasmania. Because, we know, if we can lift attainment rates, the rates of those students going on to higher education, that has an economic and societal benefit.
Agatyn: The opposition is saying that it actually equates to a funding cut, that it’s going to cost students in Tasmania an extra 8 per cent more to do their courses. So, will fees actually go up, or is that a furphy?
Tehan: So, what will happen is, what we’ve done is we’ve aligned the cost of a degree with the amount of the contribution that the Government and a student makes. So, for 60 per cent of students, they will either see the cost of their degree go down, or stay the same. Now, for some students, the cost of a degree will go up. But, what we’ve done is aligned the cost with the actual cost that it takes a university to run that course. So, for instance, if you’re going to study nursing, if you’re going to study teaching, if you’re going to do IT, if you’re going to do science, technology, engineering, mathematics, all those degrees go down. If you’re going to study agriculture, goes down by nearly 60 per cent. And, then, for some areas, such as law, arts and commerce, the cost potentially goes up. But, it’s all done at the unit level. So, if a student decides, for instance, as part of their arts degree to do a mathematics or language or IT, that, of course, would bring the cost of their degree down. But, 60 per cent of students will either see their degree reduced or stay the same.
Agatyn: So, why is it then that Vice-Chancellors are, quite a few of them we’re told, around the country, are opposed to the changes. Is it that they just don’t understand how it’s going to work? Is it, is the proposal too complicated or is it straightforward? Why are we hearing opposition from Vice-Chancellors about it?
Tehan: Well, the, Universities Australia, which represents the higher education sector, so all universities in the nation, have said that they think that the changes should be passed. They’ve said there are a couple of things that they would like to see changed in the legislation, but they’ve said that the legislation should be passed. Rufus Black, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Tasmania, is supportive of the bill. He doesn’t like all aspects of it, but he thinks it should be passed, as well. So, this puts more funding into universities, and, importantly, creates more places for students. We know, unfortunately, due to the coronavirus we’re going to see an economic recession. That means there’s going to be more demand for students to go to university, or for mature age students who are looking to change careers to go to university. This puts more places there for those people to be able to go to university. And, that’s why the Government is very keen to see this legislation passed.
Agatyn: Dan, if I could just ask you about something sort of related, but not quite, if you know what I mean. During the pandemic, we’ve seen so many industries affected, including education, that we know we rely on a lot of overseas students coming into Australia, paying fees to keep the uni’s alive. There’s been something like about 11,000 redundancies at universities around Australia during the pandemic. Surely, the universities should have been getting JobKeeper, but they weren’t allowed to get it. But, why not?
Tehan: So, universities are eligible for JobKeeper, and some of the subsidiaries to the universities have been eligible and are getting JobKeeper. But, for universities themselves, to meet the criteria of JobKeeper, you, obviously, if you’re over a billion, you have to see a 50 per cent reduction in revenue, or, if you’re under a billion, a 25 per cent reduction. The Federal Government on Easter Sunday this year announced that we would be guaranteeing $18 billion worth of funding for our universities. So, that has meant for them to meet the revenue shortfall, they haven’t been able to do that. So, that’s why they haven’t been able to get access JobKeeper. But, they are eligible for JobKeeper, within the same requirements that businesses have to meet, although we take into account the fact that the Government guaranteed the higher education sector $18 billion of funding.
Agatyn: So, in a nutshell then, universities are eligible. It’s just that the majority of them don’t meet the JobKeeper criteria?
Tehan: That’s correct.
Agatyn: Can you understand why, you know, when we hear about the New York University. This is New York University who have a campus in Sydney – I’m not even sure why – but they got JobKeeper, and you can understand why the public look at it and think it’s not a good look.
Tehan: Yeah, look, I don’t know the particulars around that, but there are other businesses associated with universities which have also qualified. So, all those businesses, for instance, involved in the international student market – which, obviously, has been completely cut off at the knees and we’ve seen zero per cent revenues – they’ve obviously been eligible because they’ve met the criteria. So, I don’t know the, about this one particular case, but it, obviously, has met the criteria of JobKeeper, and, like I’ve said, if any other university, or entities associated with universities, meet those, meet that criteria, they also are eligible.
Agatyn: The legislation has already gone through the lower house. It’s in the upper house at the moment. How confident are you that it will get through, given that there’s been a bit of back flack about it?
Tehan: Look, obviously, we’re in discussion with the, with the crossbenchers at the moment. Those discussions are being held in very good, good faith. And, we’re continuing to make the case about the need for us to be able to get more places into the system, to encourage students into those areas where we know there will be job shortages, by cutting the costs of degrees in those areas. And, in particular, are now pushing the benefits that will accrue to regional and rural Australia. So, for Tasmania, for all those regional parts in Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, SA, right across the nation, we want to see more students coming from those regional and rural areas. Because, if you’re born in Burnie, your chances of going to university are half, in some instances a quarter, less than someone who’s born in Melbourne or Sydney. And, we want to change that, because that’s how we can grow our regions and grow the economy and provide better outcomes for students.
Agatyn: We’ll watch the progress of the bill through the upper house, Dan, but thanks very much for your time this morning. I really appreciate it.
Tehan: Pleasure Martin, thank you.
Agatyn: Dan Tehan, the Federal Education Minister.