SUBJECTS: Coronavirus and Higher Education Relief Package, Schools
Peter Stefanovic: The university sector is expecting major job losses, unless more money is kicked in. Well, on that now, we are joined by our Education Minister Dan Tehan. Minister, good morning to you. Thanks so much for joining us. So, as you would be aware, Universities Australia says 21,000 jobs will go in six months, unless more money is kicked in. Are you looking at providing more incentives?
Dan Tehan: Look, the universities came to the Government a few weeks ago, and we’ve had very good discussions over that time about what we could do to put a ballast into their funding. Their number one priority was to get that fee relief that they wanted through us, guaranteeing the Commonwealth Grants – that’s what we’ve done. So, that guarantees them an income of over $18 billion for this year, combined with what we’re doing on FEE-HELP. And, plus, now we’re putting in place these short certificate courses, which gives them the opportunity to build their domestic student load. So, I am very confident that this puts a very firm ballast into the sector in terms of its financial sustainability. And, also, the university sector is currently in discussions with the NTEU, and those discussions are going well – they met on Saturday. So, my view is, if we can also get a good agreement between the sector and between the National Tertiary Education Union, we should be able to see the sector carry most of its workforce through the next six months while it deals with the pandemic, and come out stronger on the other side, especially with this renewed focus on providing education for domestic students in the areas where we’re going to need it as we come out of this pandemic. And, remember, if we can become experts in these short courses, there is no reason why, also, we won’t be able to use them in encouraging international students to embark on these short courses down the track, as well.
Stefanovic: But, since that announcement yesterday, Minister, Universities Australia says that that’s still not enough, regardless of what it is – $18 billion dollars. They say that in the next six months, another 21,000 jobs will go. So, are you ruling out any more money, beyond that $18 billion? Or, is there more to come?
Tehan: Look, we think this package puts a very good ballast into the sector, and I look forward to hearing how the discussions go between Universities Australia, the group that they’ve got working with the union, to see what arrangements can be put in place there. If greater flexibility can be put in place, my view is that we’ve put a package together which will see the university sector be able to sustain itself through the next six months, and through the rest of this year. And, also, provide invaluable opportunities for Australians to be able to reskill or change professions, and make sure that they’re going to be working in areas where there will be strong demand in the next three to six months – whether that be agriculture, whether that be teaching, whether it be nursing, whether it be science, maths, English. All these areas, we know, there’s going to be strong demand for. So, there’s a real opportunity here for our university sector.
Stefanovic: But, no more money?
Tehan: Look, we have provided a very good ballast – over $18 billion dollars …
Stefanovic: … So, you’re leaving it there? No more money?
Tehan: … has been announced yesterday. We’re providing $18 billion dollars. There is a very good ballast, now, in the sector. And, I look forward to engaging and working with the sector as they continue to roll out these new short courses, which, potentially, will provide another good financial avenue for them, if they can match it with the skills areas where we need our workforce to go – work with industry, with various sectors – then, I’m sure the university sector will continue to grow strongly in this nation.
Stefanovic: What about more help for international students who are struggling to pay the bills at the moment?
Tehan: So, this is something that’s on the agenda of Education Council. All the state and territory education ministers decided last week to ask our officials to look at this area, and, I must say, we’ll look at what’s being done by the sector itself. For instance, Deakin University announced on Friday $25 million in a welfare package for students, including international students, and, other universities are doing different things. We’ve also freed up the ability of international students to be able to work longer hours. So, it used to be 20. That’s been stretched to 40 now, and they’re able to access their superannuation. So, we’re looking at all these things. We’re continuing to monitor the situation, and officials will report back to Education Council early next month.
Stefanovic: Okay, Minister. Easter’s just about over. The second term is due to start soon. Should all students return to school?
Tehan: Well, look, that’ll obviously depend on the different states and territories, who, ultimately, have jurisdiction in this area. The Northern Territory, for instance …
Stefanovic: … But, is it your view?
Tehan: So, the Northern Territory students will be returning to school. Western Australia is yet to fully announce, but it looks like they’ll be encouraging students to go back to school and study in the classroom. So, the Government’s view is, we want all schools open, especially for those who have to go to work or for those vulnerable children. And, we would like to encourage states and territories, where possible, to keep their schools open. The Prime Minister has been very clear, very clear – this pandemic is going to take a lot away from us, but we do not want it to take away our children’s education. So, if we can put in place the practices, and the medical experts say it’s safe to do so, we want schooling to continue as normally as it possibly can.
Stefanovic: Since your threat to pull funding from Independent schools, has there been a change of heart, on their part?
Tehan: Look, obviously, we’ve now made it a condition of their funding. The majority, clear majority, of Independent schools were remaining open, and ensuring that those parents who have to work, or those vulnerable children, could attend school. But, now, obviously, this is a part of their funding requirements, so we’re expecting all Independent schools to remain open for those children who need to be supervised safely at school.
Stefanovic: It seems as though that, despite all of this, not everyone is pulling in the same direction at the moment, Minister. Are you still working on, on a national approach for everyone, so that everyone’s in the same lane?
Tehan: Yes. So, National Cabinet had a discussion last week around schooling, and they’ll have another discussion this week. We want to make sure that every state and territory is sending the right message. But, ultimately, we have to remember, that, as part of our federation, states and territories have jurisdictional responsibility when it comes to education. So, we want them all to work together. We want to have a collective message that we’re sending out to all parents and all students about the importance of education, and how we want all students to be maximising this opportunity to be able to learn – whether it’s at home or whether it’s at school. So, we do want to get a nationally consistent approach, and we’ll continue to work on that. Education is going to be so, so important to the future of our nation. It’s going to be so, so important to rebuilding the nation, after we get through this pandemic, and, that’s why the Government has absolutely prioritised it as a key. It’s why we’ve made child care free. It’s why, with universities, we’ve put in place these short courses. These are world first, but we want to give people the opportunity to study. The Prime Minister has been absolutely focused on making sure that our education will continue to thrive through this pandemic – it’s been one of his absolute priorities. And, so, we want to continue to keep pushing – whether it’s with schools, whether it’s universities, or at the child care in that early education space – we want to keep education an absolute focus through this pandemic.
Stefanovic: Okay. Education Minister Dan Tehan, appreciate your time this morning. Thanks for joining us.
Tehan: Thanks, Peter.