SUBJECTS: International students, Higher Education Relief Package, Schools, Early Childhood Education and Care Relief Package and review
Kieran Gilbert: Let’s go now to the Education Minister Dan Tehan, who joins me this afternoon here in Canberra. Mr Tehan, thanks so much for your time. Let’s start with this notion that Gladys Berejiklian raised about opening back up for international students. Do you welcome that sentiment from her?
Dan Tehan: Well, Kieran, obviously, international student market generates 250,000 jobs for the Australian economy. It was worth about $38 billion also in economic value to our economy. So, it’s been, historically, an incredibly important market, both in terms of jobs and in export for income. But, when it comes to the higher education sector, what we’ve got to do is make sure that we get our priorities very clear. And, the first thing we need to be doing – we’ve had campuses open in a very limited form right across the nation – so, the first thing we’re working on is getting all campuses up and running in a COVID-19 safe way. So, that’s our first priority. We then know that we’re going to see extra pressure come on to our higher education sector as a result of domestic students wanting to increase their participation in higher education. So, we want to be able to deal with that. And, then, as the Prime Minister’s roadmap showed, in July, we’ll also start looking at the international higher education market.
Gilbert: So, first priority is to get domestic students and those already here back on the campuses?
Tehan: Absolutely. We’ve got 70 per cent of our international students here in Australia, wanting to study on campuses. We’ve got all our domestic students, as well, wanting to get back to that campus life. And, so, we’re rigorously planning to achieve that. Obviously, we’ve got to do that in a COVID safe way, and it requires a lot of work. It’s going to be difficult, for instance, when it comes to large lecture theatres. But, when it comes to other types of activities, such as research, such as tutorials and other types of activities, we think we can get more of campus life back to normal in a safe COVID way.
Gilbert: There’s been criticism, certainly from Tanya Plibersek and Labor, they’ve been saying the Government hasn’t given the support necessary via JobKeeper and other mechanisms to the higher education sector. Why have they missed out?
Tehan: So, what we announced on Easter Sunday, very early into the pandemic, was that we would guarantee the university sector over $18 billion dollars’ worth of funding. We said we would underwrite that, we would pay that, no matter what happened to their domestic student load. We’ve also said that universities would be eligible for JobKeeper if they met the eligibility requirements. But, because of the way that funding works for universities and the fact that we underwrite more than half their revenue with that $18 billion for domestic student load, the universities meeting those eligibility requirements, they need to demonstrate that they will have a fall in revenue of 30 per cent if they’re under a billion over a six-month period, or, if they’re over a billion dollars, that 50 per cent revenue drop. But, we’re continuing to work with the sector. Obviously, there’s important work going on with the unions and the sector at the moment to see whether some workplace relations flexibility will also help. But, we also want to make sure that we’re planning to get campuses reopened, and make sure that we can meet that domestic student load for next year.
Gilbert: When you look at the demand, certainly, you look at China, one of the big markets for foreign students in this country. Obviously, we’ve got tensions with Beijing at the moment, between Australia and China over COVID, but it’s a bit more complex than just saying, ‘Okay, well they’ll shut off the tap,’ because Australia is obviously a very attractive destination right now, not just for visitors, but for students and so on, because of the health story on coronavirus.
Tehan: That’s absolutely right. When it comes to demand from international students, every indication we’re seeing, whether it be from China, whether it be from India, Malaysia, Vietnam, the US or Europe, is that students want to come here to study, and they want to do that for two reasons. One, we have an excellent higher education system here. It’s world-renowned and its quality is world-renowned. And, the second is, we’ve got a safe environment for them to come to, whether it be in terms of health or whether it comes in terms of just general living. So, as a destination for international students, that demand is there. But, what we have to do is make sure, first of all, that we’ve got our campuses up and running for our domestic students and those international students who are here. And, also, we’ve got to make sure that we’re looking at what’s going to happen with domestic student load, in particular, next year, because we know that the unemployment rate, sadly, is going to rise as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Gilbert: On a couple of other issues. We saw at Saint Ignatius College in Riverview, a case, the school’s being deep cleaned at the moment. What’s your reaction to that? Is it something where, quite simply, as the nation reopens, as we enter that recovery phase in an economic sense, that you are going to get individual cases or spikes or pockets of this thing pop up in the school system, as well?
Tehan: That’s correct, and we saw that early on in the pandemic where schools were impacted, where either a student or a teacher had the coronavirus. Schools were cleaned, often it was two or three days for that to take place. Obviously, the tracing needs to occur, as well, and then schools successfully reopened. So, whether it’s schools, whether it’s businesses, other types of institutions, this is something that we’re just going to have to learn to deal with, and we all know that the expert medical advice says that it is safe for students to be at school and for teachers to be at school, with the right protocols in place. And, we’ll continue to listen to that medical advice, and it’s been clear right through this pandemic – safe for schools to be open. And, what we’re seeing more and more is that research, as well, which says that the best place for our children to be is at school getting that face-to-face teaching, for a number of welfare reasons, as well as for a number of education reasons.
Gilbert: And, just finally on child care. We reported this week that that free child care emergency set up is going to end at the end of next month. Are you satisfied? Do you feel comfortable that the system is ready and that the demand will be there to keep it, you know, steady into the foreseeable future?
Tehan: Well, Kieran, no decision has been taken by the Government. What we have undertaken is the four-week review that we said we would, and it shows that the system that we put in place to deal with the coronavirus pandemic has worked. 99 per cent of services are operational. They were able to operate right through the pandemic, providing that care, especially for essential service workers and vulnerable children. And, I say once again to all those early childhood educators out there who did their role throughout the pandemic, a very big thank you, on behalf of all the families in Australia, for the important role that you played. So, we’ll continue to monitor and assess the situation. But, what we’re seeing is increased demand coming back into the system, and it was designed to help deal with falling demand. So, we’re going to have to have a look and see what we need to do to make sure, as schools continue to go back, children go back to that face-to-face learning as restrictions are eased, that the sector can meet the growing demand that we’re witnessing. So, we’ll continue to monitor, and we’ll make a decision over the coming weeks as to what we think the future policy settings need to be for the sector.
Gilbert: Minister, appreciate your time. Thanks.
Tehan: Thanks Kieran.