SUBJECTS: Coronavirus and schools, Year 12 students, Universities
Fran Kelly: Dan Tehan is the Federal Education Minister. Minister, welcome back to
Dan Tehan: Always a pleasure to be with you, Fran.
Kelly: Everyone’s mind is turning to term two. In some parts of the country, that’s due to kick off as early as next week. Parents are keen for clarity. Should they be sending their children to school, Minister? Is that still your advice, or should they be keeping them at home?
Tehan: That’s still the advice of the medical expert panel, and all state and territory education ministers will meet today, and what we’ll see from state and territory governments is clear advice given on what term two will look like. Tasmania has already said what it will look like for Tasmanians. We’re expecting Victoria to make an announcement either today or tomorrow. New South Wales have finalised their plans. So, we’re going to see every state and territory consistent with the national message, which is, we want to ensure, for those children who can’t be safely supervised at home, that school will remain open for them for their learning. But, states and territories will put in place their own plans, their own procedures, and we’ll be meeting again to discuss those today. And, like you said, we’ll also be meeting on Thursday, as we seek to finalise what the curriculum and assessment will look like, especially for Year 12s this year.
Kelly: Minister, I’ll come to that. But, we know the state government in Victoria is expected to adopt the ‘Stay home if you can’ message for schools, which is the same position as the New South Wales Government. You’re now saying that, and I’m quoting you here, ‘For the next six months, we’re probably going to be looking at a different way of conducting schooling right across the nation.’ So, is that a concession that schools will be effectively shut for most of the year, even as they remain open to cope with those who have to go to school because parents have to work or for some other reason? Effectively, it’s going to be online schooling for our kids.
Tehan: Well, for the, for the majority of children, it will be online learning for term two. But, National Cabinet has been very clear, that for those children who need that supervised care, because they cannot get it at home – whether they’re vulnerable children, whether it’s because their parents are working – that schools will be open for them, and they will be able to attend school to get that education.
Kelly: And, your message is that’s safe. Now, Minister, the Government’s making a reasonable go at flattening the curve, so far so good. Do you think that would have been possible if the larger states – New South Wales and Victoria – hadn’t broken away from the Commonwealth message and told students to stay at home if they can, or hadn’t brought forward the first term holidays? Have you seen the modelling on that, whether those moves made a difference?
Tehan: So, Fran, what the Government has been doing, the Commonwealth Government has been doing, and working through National Cabinet with every state and territory, is taking the advice of the medical expert panel. And, it has been following the advice of the medical expert panel, which has led to us being in this position now. Now, we still have a long way to go, but we have been very clear – it’s the medical expert advice that we will continue to follow. We’re encouraging all states and territories to work collaboratively through the National Cabinet to that end, and they’ve been doing that. And, as the Prime Minister has said, he’s been very grateful and thankful of the way the states and territories have cooperated through the National Cabinet. Now, each individual state and territory, ultimately, will also make decisions based on what’s happening in their states. We’ve seen …
Kelly: … I’m really asking you whether those decisions made in Melbourne and Sydney, for instance, or in Victoria and New South Wales, have contributed to flattening the curve. Do you think they have?
Tehan: Well, there will be modelling that’s released today. Once again, it’ll be expert modellers that will be able to come out and set out what we’ve seen, and what various scenarios we might likely see today. Now, that is, that’s not my level, an area of expertise, Fran, so, I’ll let the experts deal with that.
Kelly: I understand. Okay. Let’s go to Year 12 students and the pathway to higher education, training, or employment for Years 12s. You say all options are on the table. Does that include a repeat year, a so-called Year 13, for HSC students?
Tehan: Well, every state and territory education minister, and it’s my strong view as well, does not, do not want to see that. We want to make sure that we can get as many students through this year as we possibly can, and that’s what we’ll be meeting to discuss, both today and on Thursday, how we can do that. We want to make sure that this Year 12 cohort does not suffer as a result of the coronavirus. We want them to be able to pursue their dreams for university, for vocational education, where they want to go into work, next year. That’s our aim. That’s what we’re working towards, both today and on Thursday. And, there’s a strong commitment across the board that we get Year 12 through this year.
Kelly: What’s your best advice, what’s your thinking in terms of how kids can best get an ATAR this year? Postpone final exams, or extend the academic year, drop exams altogether? What’s your preference?
Tehan: Well, at the moment the most logical way would seem to be for us to look at the ATAR and adjust, like we do, for instance, for areas where there are floods, where there’s bushfires, where there’s drought, or whether individual students might have an illness. We are able to adjust the ATAR for that. Now, there is no reason why we can’t have a national adjustment due to what has happened with the coronavirus …
Kelly: … But, how? What would that assess? Would it be based on their work so far over Year 11 and so far of Year 12, or, how would that be adjusted?
Tehan: Yes. So, you could look at results and outcomes out of Year 11, and also out of what has already been seen in Year 12. We know that the pandemic is going to run for six months. Now, there might be an ability beyond six months, also, to push back schooling into November and December. So, you might be able to do some sort of assessments there. These are all the things that we we’ll be discussing and considering, and every curriculum and assessment authority at the state and territory level will be providing advice to education ministers so we can look at this, and decide what we think is the best way to go forward.
Kelly: What about the unis here? Could they help? Could they design an entrance exam? Would that be the simplest way through this?
Tehan: Well, the universities already have flexibility when it comes to the student’s, student intake. Often, they will look at Year 11 and Year 12 results combined. Often, they are giving students an acceptance into university even before they’ve sat their ATAR, because of the previous academic performance of the student in Year 11 and Year 12. So, my discussions with the universities have been very good and very clear, in that, they’re more than happy to be flexible. Because, they understand the circumstances very clearly, and they, obviously, want to see Year 12s progress into university or into vocational education or into employment next year.
Kelly: Can I just go to universities, speaking of, more students expected to apply for a uni place next year, given jobs might be harder to find, in the short-term, at least. Will the Government provide extra funding to unis to meet the extra demand? Will you include, will you consider University Australia’s pleas for a $2 billion short-term low-interest loan?
Tehan: So, a couple of things there. One is, absolutely my focus as Education Minister, working with the universities, is to make sure that we are looking after our domestic students and looking after our domestic student load. Now, we’re waiting to see what happens. Universities very quickly and very innovatively have moved to online learning. It’s almost been seamless in the way that they’ve done it, which shows the ability of our university sector to be able to move and adapt to this pandemic. And, I …
Kelly: … Yeah. But, they’re going to have a hit to their budgets. They’ve made that very clear for you – once it gets to second semester and the number of international students will be down. Will you consider their calls for a $2 billion short-term low-interest loan?
Tehan: So, I just, so, they stand alone in what they’ve been able to achieve, and I absolutely commend them for that. When it comes to loans, the Government has obviously put liquidity, more liquidity, into our banking sector. Most universities have relationships with their state treasuries when it comes to finances and financial loans. So, I know many universities are pursuing that with their state treasuries. I continue to work with them on what we need to be doing to look at the domestic load. Now, at the moment, we’ve seen a declining domestic load. But, the expectations are that we will see an increase in that domestic load over time, and that is what I want to continue to work with the sector on.
Kelly: Alright. And, just finally, universities are registered charities, but the Government’s excluded them and their staff from access to the JobKeeper Payment. Why? Why have you shifted the ground rules when it comes to unis? Many thousands of those uni teachers will lose their jobs.
Tehan: That change to go to 15 per cent loss of revenue for charities were for those registered charities doing that charitable work on the ground, providing food, providing clothing, for those who need it most …
Kelly: … But, why shouldn’t uni staff, who lose their jobs, be eligible for JobKeeper?
Tehan: Well, universities are eligible for the normal JobKeeper, and, that is, the Government has made that clear. The special provisions of the 15 per cent loss of revenue was put in place for those charities who are delivering food parcels, who are delivering clothing, who are assisting the homeless at this time. And, that’s why that special provision was put in place.
Kelly: Minister, thank you very much for joining us. Appreciate your time.
Tehan: Always a pleasure, Fran. Thanks.
Kelly: Dan Tehan is the Federal Education Minister. He’ll be sitting down with the state and territory counterparts today to look at these pretty important critical issues, really, but, difficult.