SUBJECTS: Job-ready graduates
Lisa Wilkinson: Well, joining us now is Education Minister and Bachelor of Arts with Honours graduate Dan Tehan. Minister, as it stands, most humanities courses are cheaper to run, and the fees help subsidise more expensive courses, like engineering and science. So, is there a risk that this proposal could deliver another financial blow to unis?
Dan Tehan: So, one of the things we’ve done with these reforms is align the cost of a degree with the contribution that is made by the Commonwealth and by the student, and those costs are based on research we’ve done with universities to analyse what the cost is. And, then, what we’ve done through these changes is align the Commonwealth contribution and the student contribution to meet those costs. So, what was happening previously was that the nurses and the teachers were cross-subsidising those in the humanities, in other areas. So, part of these reforms has been to align the costs of both the student contribution …
Peter van Onselen: … But, hang on Minister, I’ve got to jump in there, because I know within the university system that teaching people in these high disciplines, like engineering and with all labs that are required, and so on, that is where the dollars go away for universities. But, you’re going to be trying to drive more students into that area?
Tehan: Well, what we’ve done is worked with the university sector, and we’ve had Deloitte’s go in there and access their information, which universities have freely given, to get an understanding of what the cost of a degree is. And, then, through these changes, we’ve aligned the contributions that the student and Government are making, with the cost of the degree. And, this is all based on the information which universities have provided to the Government through Deloitte. And, we will continue to undertake these assessments. We now undertake them annually. And, this is based on the latest information which has been provided by universities to the Government.
Tommy Little: Minister, some would say the focus of these changes is, is not quite right. We have plenty of nursing and teaching graduates who, then, don’t go into those fields, because the pay is undesirable. Shouldn’t the focus be, instead, making those wages better?
Tehan: Well, one of the things we want to do is assist those teachers and those nurses by making the cost of their degrees cheaper. Because, as you say, there are limitations –because, often they’re working in the Government sector – as to the ceiling of the pay rates that they can achieve. So, we want to make sure that we still encourage people to do nursing, to do teaching, and that’s one of the key reasons why we’re making these changes. We know those jobs will be there, and we want to encourage people to go into them, and then go and undertake them as careers.
Little: But, as I just mentioned, it’s not the price of the degree that is stopping people going into nursing and teaching, it’s the pay rate. So, if you’re lowering the price of the degree, that doesn’t matter?
Tehan: Well, it does matter. It means that the teacher doesn’t have to pay back as much once they start earning. But, you know, as you could understand from a Federal Government point of view, we provide record funding into our school system, but, ultimately, it’s the states and territories who set the pay rates …
van Onselen: … But, Minister, Tommy’s right. His point is that there are lots of people that graduate with education degrees, lots of them, but they don’t go into teaching. There are lots of people who graduate with nursing degrees, they don’t go into nursing. So, if you’re giving cheaper degrees to graduates of nursing and teaching, that’s not helping people in nursing and in teaching. You’d be better off just to give them a salary bump?
Tehan: Well, ultimately, when it comes to the salaries of our teachers and our nurses, on the whole, they’re governed by state and territory governments. What we’re trying to do is, for those teachers and nurses who do that hard work on behalf of all of us, is to make sure that we’re providing the cost of their degree at, at cost, and at a rate where we subsidise it. And, we want to ensure that we continue to have a pipeline of teachers and nurses. If you come out to regional Australia, you will see quite clearly that we need more nurses, we need more teachers, and we want to encourage people to go into those professions, because that’s where careers are going to be.
Wilkinson: Education Minister Dan Tehan, we’ll have to leave it there. Thanks for your time this evening.
Tehan: Been a pleasure.