Release type: Transcript


Minister for Education Dan Tehan interview with Hamish Macdonald, ABC RN Breakfast


The Hon Dan Tehan MP
Minister for Education

SUBJECTS: Additional university places, Job-ready Graduates package and legislation, COVID-19 and schools in Victoria, International students

Hamish Macdonald: Dan Tehan is the Federal Minister for Education. Welcome back to Breakfast.

Dan Tehan: A pleasure to be with you again, Hamish.

Macdonald: How far will this $326 million go in helping universities soak up the extra demand they’re expecting next year?

Tehan: Well, we think it could lead to up to an extra 12,000 places, and on top of what we think our Job-ready package provides, we think that we could see anywhere up to 30,000 new places available for Year 12s who will be leaving this year, and also for those people who will be looking to reskill if they’ve lost a job during the pandemic and want to change career paths.

Macdonald: Can you just explain how you reach that number?

Tehan: Well, that’s done on basis of analysis of the department. They do an average of what they think putting $326 million extra into the system will lead to. Now, obviously, there are different costs to different degrees, so it’s a, it’s an average. But, they think that 12,000 roughly equates to $326 million being equated, being put into the system.

Macdonald: And, can we just understand, is this a short-term funding boost, or is this going to see, lead to a long-term increase to base funding for universities?

Tehan: So, this is to provide funding into next year to deal with what we see as increased demand for next year. So, this is, this measure is about making sure that those Year 12 students this year, and also those people who have lost work and will be looking to reskill, can find places next year. Now, obviously, our Job-ready Graduates package puts an extra $2 billion into the system over the next four years to 2024. So, what this does is help meet that demand that we’re likely to see next year.

Macdonald: As recently as last week, though, you were saying that the Job-ready legislation, that you’ve got before Parliament, would add 100,000 university places over the decade, and provide the sector with flexibility and certainty. Is this an acknowledgment that that package wasn’t going to deliver enough to help the universities deal with the anticipated growth in demand locally?

Tehan: Well, what, what it means is that we’ve done a further assessment of the type of demand that we’re likely to see next year, and we want to make sure that we can meet that demand. As you understand, we’re in a global pandemic. We’ve got to make sure that we do an assessment and analysis, we’ve got to make sure that we’re in a position to be able to deal with that, and what we see is that the countercyclical nature of higher ed, and especially the youth unemployment market, and that’s why we’re putting this extra $326 million into the system.

Macdonald: The former ministerial adviser and ANU academic Andrew Norton’s done some analysis. I suspect you’re familiar with this. He suggests that under the legislation before the Senate there’ll likely be 10,000 fewer fully funded places – starting places, that is – available at unis next year. Is that correct?

Tehan: Well, look, I’ve got a lot of respect for Andrew. He used to be an advisor to David Kemp in the Howard Government. But, I can’t see, given the countercyclical nature of the way unemployment works with demand in the higher education system, the way that we’re, well, the additional $2 billion that’s going into the system over the next four years, how that can be. And, also, if you have a look at analysis which is done by the department, which was presented to the Senate Committee, it clearly states that we’re likely to see an additional 18,000 places, or up to 20,000, go into the system as a result of our package. And, now, on top of this, we’re investing a further $326 million, based on the advice that we’re getting that there will be more demand for places. So, it seems to fly in the face of everything that we’re being advised. And, also, speaking to … let me just finish this point Hamish, it’s a very important point, Hamish. It also flies in the face of everything we’re being told by the sector, including evidence that was given at the Senate Committee hearing last week, that they are seeing extra demand come into the system.

Macdonald: But, it seems to me there’s a bit of nuance here, though. You might be right in saying that, overall, there’s going to be more students at uni next year. What Andrew Norton is saying, though, is that the number who have fully funded places will actually go down.

Tehan: Well, that’s, that’s not what I have been told by the department. It’s not what I’m being told by the sector itself. It’s not consistent with the evidence that’s been given at the Senate Committee last week. What we are …

Macdonald: … So, will there be more fully funded places, starting next year?

Tehan: There will be more fully funded places starting next year, and that will grow by up to 20,000 over the next four years. And, what we’re announcing today, an extra $326 million, will put up to another 12,000 places into the system.

Macdonald: I know you’re talking about additional money this morning. But, there is also a reorganisation of the funding within the sector going on. Is there going to be reduced funding for, to pay for the actual teaching in universities, as a result of the way this has been redistributed?

Tehan: Well, what we’ve done is we’ve aligned the cost of teaching a course with the contribution both the Government and the student will make for that course. So, this is the first time that this has been done, so universities will get paid the cost of teaching the course. Now, what we’ve also done is we’ve set up an Industry Linkage Fund, which has $900 million, which will also encourage and fund work-integrated learning, so that students can go and help, work in a business or in industry. And, also, obviously, we’ve got the fund, additional funding which is going in to help regional and rural students who have been the students who have missed out the most when it comes to getting access to higher education. This is an incredibly important part of our package, because we want to make sure that there’s access to higher education for everyone, including those students from regional and rural areas.

Macdonald: Minister, with respect, from talking to people within the sector, though, it’s my understanding that everything that you’ve just described will, in many circumstances, lead to a cut in teacher funding, actual teaching funding, in those universities. Do you acknowledge that?

Tehan: Well, no. What I acknowledge, Hamish, is that for the first time, we will be paying universities the cost of teaching, and that, and so the Government contribution and the student contribution will go to the cost of teaching. We’re also putting, over the next four years, an extra $2 billion into the system. We’re going to be funding universities to be able to encourage students, and work with industry, to get students placements in industries. And, what we think we are doing is we are setting the sector up for them to help drive our growth out of this pandemic …

Macdonald: … I do understand, Minister, that that’s the way you, I understand that’s the way you want to describe what you’re doing. I’m just trying to help our listeners understand the consequences. Are you actually saying …

Tehan: … Well, Hamish, I was just explaining that. What I’m saying is that we have aligned the cost of teaching with the contribution which the Government and the student makes towards that teaching. So, Deloitte have done three pieces of analysis to look at the cost. The university sector, obviously, helped and cooperated with that. And, so, what we have is that we will be making a contribution towards the cost which is the equivalent of what the cost actually is. And, we will, once again, do a further analysis next year to ensure that the alignment of those costs is still consistent with the three previous analysis’ that have been done.

Macdonald: Okay. You obviously need to get the Job-ready package over the line in the Senate. There’s been reports of some kind of deal with Senator Pauline Hanson over a condition that would provide some kind of academic freedom cover for academics in universities. Is there a deal with One Nation?

Tehan: So, I’ve had very good discussions with all the crossbench senators, and I thank them for the way that they’ve dealt with me, very professionally, been prepared to listen, been prepared to put their points of view. And, I’ll just leave those discussions as they are. I’m not going to broadcast those. But, I just thank all the crossbench senators for the way that they’ve dealt with me and the Government over these, over this legislation.

Macdonald: So, all very polite, by the sounds of things. Primary school students, in another area, to return to the classroom in Melbourne, in just over two weeks from now. Students in Years 7 to 9, 10, haven’t been given a start date. Is this all moving fast enough in your view?

Tehan: Look, we’ve always had a very consistent position from a Federal Government point of view that it is safe for students to be at school, being taught. And, so, we would like to see all students back in the classroom being taught, and especially in Victoria, we’d love to see that occurring from day one of term four. Victorian students have missed out on a lot of study this year, a lot of that important face-to-face learning. And, so, we want to see those students back in the classroom as quickly as possible, in particular, because it’s those from low socioeconomic backgrounds, it’s those from regional and rural areas, it’s those that don’t have proper interconnectivity, it’s those who have special needs, they’re the ones who really are disadvantaged by not having that face-to-face learning.

Macdonald: And, briefly, the Government considering allowing international travel, travellers coming in from safe countries to quarantine at home. Also, reports in Western Australia about this new app, G2G, which will monitor people quarantining at home from interstate. Could this apply to international students, perhaps even coming from China?

Tehan: Well, ultimately, the quarantine arrangements for the pilots for international students will be up to state and territory governments to put those arrangements in place. So, they will do what they see best. But, obviously, what we want to see, from a Federal Government point of view, is that when it’s safe to do so, and when we’ve got the internal borders so that we’ve got free travel, and we’ve got the international caps under control, we’d like to see international students returning safely. Because, for every three international students there’s a job created here in Australia, and $40 billion worth of national income came from the sector in 2019.

Macdonald: Okay. Dan Tehan, thanks very much for your time this morning.

Tehan: Thanks, Hamish.

Macdonald: That’s the Minister for Education Dan Tehan.