Release type: Speech


AFR Higher Education Summit


The Hon Dan Tehan MP
Minister for Education


Good afternoon, thank you for your kind introduction; it’s a pleasure to be here today.

I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet today and pay my respects to Elders past, present and emerging.

It is timely that we are gathered in Brisbane to talk about the future of the higher education sector.

This conference uses three words as a framework for its agenda: Collaboration, Alignment, Partnerships.

Those three words can also be applied to the Morrison Government’s agenda for higher education this term.

Collaboration: Our Government is committed to working with the sector.

Alignment: We want the same thing. Put simply, we want every student to achieve more from what they learn.

Partnerships: If we work together to achieve alignment in the sector, growth will not only be possible it will be demanded. If you deliver, we will deliver.

Our Government has a comprehensive agenda for the higher education sector.

We are about to re-shape the higher education architecture of this nation.

To ensure the success of this agenda we must change our relationship.

For too long, the higher education sector and the Government have stood apart and lectured each other about the future direction of higher education policy.

These debates have typically proceeded from false assumptions on both sides – on the one hand, that the role of Government was simply to hand over taxpayer funds and not invest in a partnership as to how those funds are used.

On the other hand, many have presumed that public funding should be the sole determinant of the institutional focus of universities.

Neither proposition is sustainable or in the national interest.

It is time to inject some maturity into this relationship.

My commitment to you is that the Morrison Government will actively seek to engage with the sector to enhance our shared interests.

And we will work together on national policy settings.

In return I ask the sector to understand that when the Government makes policy, it must address the national interest. At times this will coincide or be entirely compatible with the existing interests of the sector. At other times it will require the sector to change tack.

The Morrison Government has firmly nailed its colours to the mast in defining the national priorities that will drive our policy agenda.

We are going to deliver the things that matter to people in their day to day lives.

These priorities are:

  • A strong economy that generates more and better jobs, and better paid jobs.
  • Ensuring Australians are kept safe from threats abroad and at home.
  • Making sure services are reliable and responsive to the future needs of Australians.

Last week the Prime Minister put the challenge to the public service to focus on these goals.

Today, I put a similar challenge to the higher education sector.

In particular, the Morrison Government is focused on supporting Australians to get a job – we have set a target of creating another 1.25 million jobs over the next five years, including 250,000 new jobs for young Australians.

Helping young Australians to succeed at gaining employment will also grow Australia’s productivity and the economy overall.

The higher education sector is vital to these ambitions.

It provides the opportunities for many Australians to achieve their personal goals.

Australia’s universities – public and private – educated around 1.6 million Australian and overseas students in 2018.

And graduates are successful in the workforce.

Compared to those with no post-school qualifications, graduates have higher earnings – an average of $1,300 per week compared to $844 for those without non-school qualifications.

They also have lower unemployment and are more likely to be actively participating in the labour force.

Of all the jobs created in our economy over the last 40 years, more than half have been captured by degree holders.

When the substantial contribution of our vocational training sector is taken into account, we see that over 90 per cent of the jobs created in the last 40 years have been filled by people with a tertiary qualification.

So our ambition for Australia is consistent with our history.

We want Australians to achieve more from what they do.

To achieve this, we know we have to grow the higher education sector.

Graduates will continue to be in demand in the future. 

Projections from the Employment Department suggest that over the five years to 2023 more than half of all new jobs will be taken by those with a bachelor or higher qualification.

The way we work will also change – driven by automation and technological advances, such as advanced manufacturing, ICT and cyber security.

This will increase the need for higher skilled workers, for people who can define, interpret and implement solutions.

It will also increase the focus on people who can be creative, adaptive and can work with the skills of others – characteristics we can’t expect a robot to provide. Only people have these skills.

A well-delivered higher education is one of the most important things we can offer Australians to help them and their children prepare for the future.

For these reasons, our system must be open and accessible to ALL Australians.

Higher education has a hugely important role to play – in Closing the Gap, in conquering the city-country divide, in supporting people with disabilities and in lifting people out of disadvantage into a better life.

I want to work with you to achieve this together – with a simple motto in mind.

We want every student to be achieving more from what they learn.

Australians already understand this need.

Parents whose kids might be hoping to get practical qualifications through a degree or an apprenticeship as a first step in their career pathway know how important it is to get that start in life.

Workers looking to augment their skills with new or higher qualifications are looking to ensure they are better placed to embrace and enjoy that next step.

Employers who want flexibility in the way qualifications are offered are striving to improve their business and the communities they support.

We must be confident that Australia’s higher education system is prepared to support Australians as they seek to thrive and succeed in the future.

To do this we need a sustainable basis for growth.

Let me state clearly and simply – we have hard work ahead of us.

The current higher education system must evolve to meet these needs. We need a system that can support growth and respond dynamically to the needs of our economy.

Indications are that in 2024 the number of 18 year olds in Australia is expected to peak. This is significant and the system will need to be prepared.

There will also be an increasing demand for on-going education as our economy evolves.

Business consultants AlphaBeta have estimated that in two decades Australia will need to double its effort on education to meet labour market needs.

The question is how do we meet this demand in a fiscally responsible way? 

We are first and foremost looking to ensure we achieve value for the public investment in higher education – whether it is paid for by the Government or by students directly through their individual contributions.

The Government continues to invest record funding in higher education and research – providing more than $17 billion to universities this year.

We need to show that this investment is delivering a system that is strong, sustainable, and responsive to the needs of Australians.

If we can achieve this, growth in the sector will not only be possible, it will be demanded.

Our Government has developed a methodical and systematic agenda for reform, defined by thoughtful consideration and engagement that will fundamentally reshape the architecture of the higher education sector.

So what will this future architecture look like?

At the beginning of this month, I met with university vice-chancellors in Wollongong to release the recommendations of the expert panel tasked with designing performance-based funding for the Commonwealth Grant Scheme.

Last night we continued these constructive discussions and I hope to finalise the model in coming days.

Many of the vice-chancellors are in the audience today and I would like to thank them for their constructive engagement.

I would also like to thank Professor Deborah Terry as Chair of Universities Australia for facilitating the university sector’s response to the panel’s recommendation.

I would also like to thank everyone who contributed to the development of the final scheme through submissions to the discussion paper and participation in face-to-face consultations.

The performance-based funding scheme the panel has designed will strengthen the current incentives for teaching and learning in the higher education policy landscape in Australia.

The four proposed measures are essential to the nation’s future economic growth:

  • the employment outcomes of graduates;
  • the success of students in completing their studies;
  • the quality of the experience that the student gets;
  • participation of Indigenous, low socio-economic status, and regional and remote students.

The Government has committed increased funding to support this performance-based system – with the funding growth linked to growth in the working age population. This translates into an extra $80 million in funding next year.

Our performance-based funding model is uniquely Australian. It does not set out to punish universities who don’t meet performance measures. Instead it’s about providing reward and incentives for those that deliver; and financial support to universities that need to improve against certain benchmarks.

Next on the agenda is the review of the Provider Category Standards currently being undertaken by Professor Peter Coaldrake, the former Vice-Chancellor of Queensland University of Technology.

This review is challenging the way we regulate and manage higher education providers. It is asking whether we have a system that focuses too much on differences between types of universities and ignores the diversity of the non-university providers by lumping them in one category.

Professor Coaldrake has done an excellent job, one that has been consultative and open.

When this work is finalised, I again give our Government’s commitment to work with the sector to implement the findings.

Similarly, the Australian Qualifications Framework Review is due to be finalised later this year and will be vital to ensure that our qualifications framework has both the flexibility and the robustness to meet the challenges ahead.

An expert panel led by Professor Peter Noonan of the Mitchell Institute at Victoria University has been grappling with the very technical and important system we use to define and manage qualifications in the tertiary sector.

I also thank Professor Noonan and his panel for conducting an open and consultative process.

It is clear from this work that there are opportunities to improve the quality and availability of information about tertiary education in Australia to support people in making the right choice about their education and career pathways.

By way of an example, institutions are increasingly working with industry to offer micro-credentials and the development of essential capabilities – this needs to continue.

The Review has been looking at recognition of micro-credentials and better alignment of higher education and vocational training skills, changes to volume of learning, possible credit point systems, and clearer alignment between learning and occupational outcomes.

What is also clear is the major role that secondary schooling plays to provide a pathway into tertiary education for young people completing Year 12.

The Government and states recognise this, and that is why the COAG Education Council has commissioned a review of senior secondary pathways into work, further education, and training.

The Review, chaired by Professor Peter Shergold, will provide advice and recommendations on how senior secondary students can better understand and be empowered to choose the most appropriate pathway to support their transition into work, further education or training.

It will also investigate whether current secondary certificate arrangements and university entry requirements assist in allowing students to make the study choices that are right for their chosen pathway. The Review is due to report to Education Council in June 2020.

Importantly, all of this work will link to changes the Government is implementing to address the Joyce Review findings.

Another area requiring collaboration, alignment, and partnerships is growing the links between industry, business and the higher education sector.

Let me acknowledge that much good work is already being done in this area.

Universities Australia reports that in 2017 almost half a million university students did some form of workplace learning placement or activity during their course.

But more can and must be done to ensure all students have access to meaningful and high-quality opportunities.

Preparation for future careers needs to be embedded in students’ courses right from the start.

Similarly more needs to be done to connect our world-leading research with businesses and industries.

Internationally, we are lagging behind on collaboration with research institutions – a 2016 report on Australia’s innovation system ranked Australia’s industry’s collaboration with higher education and research institutions as the lowest of 27 countries in the OECD, both for large businesses and for SMEs.

Our research sector and our research capacity is one of the keys to being future-ready.

It will drive future growth in our economy.

We need to ensure we have the capacity to turn our discoveries into something that has concrete benefits for Australians.

Can we really, hand on heart, say that our research system is optimised to drive collaboration between universities and industry?

When we get collaboration between research and industry right, the benefits are unambiguous.

Right here in Brisbane, research collaborations between the University of Queensland and industry partners has created jobs and improved productivity.

UQ’s partnership with Australian Wastewater Management Technology has developed a new way to treat wastewater that reduces corrosion of wastewater pipes, lowering maintenance costs. This has led to documented savings of $400 million to the Australian water industry.

Another University of Queensland research project developed MRI technology capable of detecting more subtle features in a scan. This led to improvements in the quality of diagnosis at an earlier stage of disease, increasing the success rate of early medical intervention. This technology has been adopted by Siemens and GE Healthcare and is incorporated into 67 per cent of MRI machines manufactured worldwide. This has led to better patient outcomes and to improved productivity and efficiency for health care systems worldwide.

The benefits of action are clear.

Our Government is committed to working with universities and industry on taking our research and turning it into jobs, businesses and opportunities.

For example, Australia has a world-leading resources sector that accounted for eight per cent of GDP in 2018 and employed more than 240,000 Australians.

As Queenslanders well know, the benefits from the resource sector flow into local communities as well as inner city CBDs.

Our resource and energy exports are expected to reach a new record level of $285 billion in 2019-20 but we must continue to innovate to stay a world-leader.

To keep attracting new investment, the Government will slash red tape and work to free up the productivity gains that will benefit the sector and entire economy.

To support our mining sector achieve these productivity gains, I can announce today that the Morrison Government will provide $7.67 million to fund two mining research centres in partnership with universities and commercial supporters.

These centres will help Australia’s mining industry better use data to make evidence-based decisions that lead to more efficient operations.

One hub will be based at the University of Adelaide with the other at the University of Sydney.

The centre to be based at the University of Adelaide will train the next generation of scientists and engineers in advanced sensors and data analytics, to enable Australia’s mining industry to increase certainty on product quality and maximise resource recovery.

Research activity at the University of Sydney will focus on data analytics related to the long-term impact of resource use on Australia’s economy, society and environment. It will help develop the necessary data science skills for Australia’s resource industries to make the best possible evidence-based decisions when using our natural resources.

Another area where we need to work together is to address a key national priority – the low rates of higher education participation and attainment by people in regional Australia, including those from low socio-economic and Indigenous backgrounds.

I hold a very deep and personal interest in ensuring accessibility in the higher education system.

I will have more to say on this at the National Press Club tomorrow.

Australia is an attractive education destination that offers world-class institutions and a well-rounded student experience.

The Australian university sector and the broader Australian community benefit significantly from the presence of international students and collaboration with international researchers and scholars.

This engagement contributes to the success and achievements enjoyed by the sector, which produces advanced research, cutting-edge technology, closer partnerships with a range of countries and truly insightful scholarship.

It is because of these benefits that we see from international engagement that I have asked the sector to work closely with the Government to ensure that universities have the strongest defences in place to protect their information and people.

The compromise of data at universities in Australia and around the world is an important reminder that the cyber threat is real and that the methods used by malicious actors are constantly evolving.

We want to work with the sector to ensure they have the knowledge and tools they need to understand the risks, secure their information, protect users and investigate activities that have occurred.

This is more than just a systems issue or a problem for the technicians.

It is about the culture we have on campus and the robustness of our systems to identify risk and take actions to address those risks on all fronts.

This is why I am working collaboratively across Government and with the sector to develop best practice guidelines for dealing with foreign interference.

Working collaboratively on this national security work is an important piece of the future higher education architecture, along with ensuring freedom of speech and academic enquiry.

In conclusion, we are facing a time of change and of opportunity.

The Government and the university sector need to be agile to adapt to the demands of a future economy while still ensuring the delivery of world-class education and research.

The Government is re-shaping the higher education architecture and we want to do this with the sector.

We want every student to achieve more from what they learn.

We want a sustainable and growing higher education system that produces successful graduates.

I am looking forward to continuing to work closely with the sector as we embark on this comprehensive agenda.

Thank you.