SUBJECTS: Job-ready graduates
Gary Adshead: Now, Dan Tehan is the Federal Education Minister. He’s behind all this. He’s unfolding it this morning. He’s going to lay it bare as to what this means. It’s going to affect a lot of people. The Minister joins me on the line. Thanks very much for your time.
Dan Tehan: It’s an absolute pleasure.
Adshead: Just looking at it, is this some form of social engineering?
Tehan: No, not at all. What we want to do is incentivise students to study in the areas where we know we need skills for the jobs of the future. We’re about to experience, and are experiencing, the biggest economic shock that this nation has felt since the Great Depression. So, we have to make sure that our students are skilled in the areas that we know will lead them to future employment and will help grow our economy, grow jobs into the nation, in our nation into the future.
Adshead: So, this plan is purely a reaction to what we’ve gone through, and going through, with coronavirus?
Tehan: Well, what we’ve seen through what we did with short courses, which I announced on Easter Sunday, was we did these short course offerings in exactly the same areas where we’re offering these discounts now. Now, we’ve seen 20,000 students enter the market in these short courses. We’ve got 50 higher education institutions offering them. We’ve got over 350 short courses on offer. So, we’ve seen that there is a demand there to get these skills that will be needed for these jobs of the future. So, we’ve built on this, with these reforms we’re announcing today.
Adshead: Some of the increases are pretty extraordinary, and, of course, some of the decreases are, too. But, essentially, now you’ve got an arts degree and a law degree will cost about the same. That doesn’t seem right, given what one person coming out of an arts degree is going to go on and do as a job, as opposed to a lawyer. How do you explain that?
Tehan: Well, the first thing I’d say is, you can reduce the cost of that degree by doing IT, doing English, doing maths, doing subjects or units in those areas where that will reduce the costs of that degree. Our degrees here in Australia are cheaper than what you’ll get in the UK or the US. And, obviously, students get access to the best loan scheme there is in the world. So, all those things mean that students, if they want to pursue a certain area, they can still pursue them. But, what we want to ensure is that they look and think about, what are the skills that I will need to be able to get a job when I finish my degree? And, that’s what these reforms are all about.
Adshead: So, genuinely, though, I mean, I don’t know. Did you study humanities at all, when you were in uni?
Tehan: Yes, I did an arts degree …
Adshead: … Yep …
Tehan: … and, I look at my own experience, and, if I had have undertaken a language, it would have been better for me and better for my employability, and it actually would have been better for my employer. I ended up as a graduate at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and had to learn a language for when I went on my first overseas posting. And, obviously, if I had have had those language skills, it would have enabled me to be able to learn a language a lot more readily. Now, fortunately, I was able to learn Spanish, but I had to start from scratch, and I wish that I had have had those skills and done a language through my arts degree. So, it’s about incentivising students to think about employment beyond their degree, and making sure they’ve got those skills. IT is an area where we need a lot more people studying, and we all know, as the digital economy expands, we need more students with those IT skills. So, that’s why it’s discounted. Agriculture is going to remain at the heart of our nation, and we need people studying agriculture, so, especially in the agricultural services industries, we can get young people filling those jobs. So, that’s why we’re providing these incentives.
Adshead: And, obviously, disincentives, because you’re quite happy for people to look at the cost of humanities and communications degrees and say, well, I can’t afford that. You are literally telling people that some of the areas that they would have been able to look at – to improve themselves as people and to go forward into the workforce – forget about it, it’s superfluous that stuff. You need these degrees.
Tehan: No. That’s not what we’re saying. We’re saying that the cost of a degree in those areas will be cheaper than what it is in the United Kingdom. You’ve got access to the best FEE-HELP loan scheme. You won’t pay a cent back until you’re earning more than $46,000. But, when you are thinking about undertaking those degrees, you should be thinking about, okay, what skills will help me if I undertake the degree, to be able to get a job? This is going to be a very different employment market to what we’ve had over the last 28 years. The biggest shock to our economy since the Great Depression. What we want is our students having the skills that they will need to be able to get jobs. It’s vital for their future. It’s vital for our nation’s future.
Adshead: And, has this come out of the talks that you’ve been having in relation to where coronavirus takes us in the next three years? The …
Tehan: … Absolutely …
Adshead: … aftershocks, I suppose. The aftershocks.
Tehan: We’ve been discussing with the industry, what are the skills that they will need into the future, and we’ve also been consulting with the higher education sector. We want to make sure that industry will get the young people with the skills that they want, to be able to employ them, and we also want to make sure that our higher education sector is delivering students who are job-ready, who can fill those jobs. And, you know, never has this been more important in my lifetime, than is being able to do this. The biggest economic shocks since the Great Depression. We have to have our young people with the right skills to be able to fill that demand for jobs, as we grow out of this coronavirus pandemic.
Adshead: Minister, thanks very much for discussing it with us today.
Tehan: Been a pleasure. Thank you.