SUBJECTS: Job-ready graduates, International students
Chris Smith: I’m joined now by the Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan from Canberra. Minister, welcome to the program.
Dan Tehan: Pleasure to be with you, Chris.
Smith: What changing factors have led to today’s announcement? It wasn’t just COVID-19, was it?
Tehan: Look, it was COVID-19, but also we knew that the Costello baby boomers were going to come through in ’23, ’24, so we knew that we would have to expand the system. But, COVID-19 has really changed the employment market, the greatest contraction of our employment market since the Great Depression. So, it’s going to be a very different jobs market for our students when they finish their degrees in three or four years’ time. So, what we’ve got to make sure is that those students have the skills that we want them to have to be able to take the jobs which will help us grow our economy out of this coronavirus pandemic.
Smith: Do you think we’ve got too many people with arts degrees? Maybe that includes politicians.
Tehan: Well, look, I’ve got an arts degree. But, the most important thing is that the subjects you do within your arts degree are going to give you the skills for the jobs of the future, and that’s why we’re saying to those people who want to study humanities, do a language, do English, do maths. It’ll be cheaper for you, but it’ll also give you the skills for those jobs of the future. IT is another area where we’re encouraging them to look at. We want to make sure that our students will be ready and prepared for those jobs that we need them to take once they finish their careers, and that’s what this is all about – incentivising students to have those skills in the areas where we know there will be jobs.
Smith: I’ve heard from a few lifetime academics on various radio stations today. They’re not happy, Jan. You’re not keen to create too much space for more lifetime academics, are you?
Tehan: What this is all focused about is making sure young Australians are prepared and equipped to get into the employment market once they finish their degrees. My focus is on young Australians. The coronavirus pandemic will have the biggest impact in terms of employment on young Australians. We know that. All the data, so far, is very clear on that. So, they’re my focus. I want to make sure that they’re going to be there and be able to take those jobs of the future, and for those who have had their lives turned upside down and need to reskill as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, that we’re there to assist and help them reskill to be able to get back into the workforce.
Smith: You clearly will have massive demand for more university places in 2021, but we’ve got 350 foreign students set to fly into Canberra next month, and many more after that after they get quarantined. But, the point I was making last night, was that this quick transit permission, this exemption, will see our local kids deprived of a place at university. And, you’re playing with fire here, because Australians don’t like bending over backwards for people outside of their country if it disadvantages us, and, in this case, it’s worse – it’s our kids.
Tehan: So, Chris, there’s a really important point to make here – no international student takes the place of a domestic student. They are additional to the places which are there for our domestic students, and that’s why I was very keen and very focused today to make sure that we lifted those domestic places for Australian students. We all know that they have to be the number one priority as we come out of this pandemic, and making sure we’re educating them so that they can grab those jobs that we know will be there in those areas that we’ve discounted. So, but, when it comes to international students, they do not take a single place off a domestic student, and we need to be clear about that. And, one of the reasons we’re keen to get the international student market open is, there’s 250,000 jobs that are created by that international student market, and that’s why we want to see whether we can get that pipeline reopened again. But, understanding, our number one focus has to be our Australian students.
Smith: Alright, well, that’s good to hear. And, with a daughter in Year 12, we’ll make sure we keep you honest on that one. But, what can you say to Year 12 students tonight that will say to themselves, everyone around me is looking to go into university next year. Is there going to be a spot for me?
Tehan: What I’m saying is study hard, work hard, make sure that you do the best that you can. Apply widely to go to university, even if you need to look at a regional university to go and do your degree in. We want everyone to grab all the available spots that are there. We’ve created more places, and now we want to make sure that every one of those spots is filled up by those who want to go into higher education. But, I’d also say to students, as well, don’t forget vocational education, as well. It can give you very good skills for getting into the workforce, as well. And, one of the things we did today was further align vocational education with higher education, because we know, in the coming years, students are wanting, going to want to be able to mix and match when it comes to having some vocational skills and some higher education skills, to be able to get those jobs of the future.
Smith: Yeah, that’s what the kids are talking about. One last one. I’ve got an idea for you, Minister. You could fund a whole lot more university places if you could force the Vice-Chancellors to take a little bit of a pay cut.
Tehan: So, our universities are autonomous institutions. So, obviously, the salaries of the Vice-Chancellors are up to the councils which govern them. But, obviously, throughout this pandemic, what the Government is focused on is making sure that we’re going to have young Australians that are there to capitalise on the jobs that we know our economy is going to grow as we come out of this pandemic, and that’s what I’m focused on, and I hope all the Vice-Chancellors are. And, all the conversations that I have with them, they’re focused, also, on trying to make sure that those young Australians get the skills that we need.
Smith: I was just being facetious, but had to throw it in. Dan Tehan, thank you very much for your time. Have a good weekend.
Tehan: Thanks Chris. And, I thought you might’ve been.
Smith: Thank you very much for your time.