SUBJECTS: Job-ready Graduates legislation, Thousand Talents Plan, COVID-19 and Victoria
Peter Stefanovic: The Federal Government has agreed to key changes to its university funding package after pressure from the Nationals. Universities have secured a guarantee on their funding levels, with social work and psychology subjects spared fee hikes. Joining me now is the Education Minister Dan Tehan, live from Canberra. Minister, good morning. Thank you for your time. So, you have made some changes to the mental health and social work subjects, which was brought on by Andrew Gee. He was on the show yesterday. Are you open to any more changes?
Dan Tehan: Well, Peter, there’s a process that we always go through when we introduce legislation, and this is significant legislation. It will create 100,000 new places and, as we know, sadly, because of COVID-19, we’re going to see a doubling of the youth unemployment rate, and we know that that means there’ll be countercyclical demand on our higher education system. So, we’ve put the draft bill out for consultation. We’ll now go through the Parliament. My hope is we’ll be able to get it through the Parliament quickly, so we can provide certainty for the higher education sector and, particularly, for regional and rural universities, which have been a key focus of mine and the Government in making sure that we provide them with the additional support they need. Because, we know, if you’re born in a country area, you’re half less likely to attend a higher education provider or university than you are if you’re born in the city. And, it’s really important that we address that gap.
Stefanovic: But, is there still a possibility that some subjects that will see payment rises might be wound back, just as you’ve done for mental health and social work subjects?
Tehan: Well, Peter, obviously, we’ve got to take the bill through the Parliament. We’ll consult widely on the bill. We’ll continue to do that. I’m in very fruitful discussions with the crossbenchers in the Senate. So, we’ll continue to listen. We’ll continue to engage. We think the bill is a good bill. We think it delivers the places that we need. Those 100,000 extra places that we know that we’re going to need, provides that additional support to regional and rural universities. We think it’s a very good bill, good piece of legislation. But, obviously, I’ll continue to have discussions with the crossbenchers, as we take the bill through the Parliament.
Stefanovic: The $5,000 Tertiary Access Payment for regional students, which you just pointed out. Critics argue that it should be given to the student, not the university. So, shouldn’t it go to the university that best suits a student’s measure?
Tehan: Look, there’s been a lot of debate and a lot of discussion on this. The original measure was that it would go to the individual student. There was a concern that’s been raised, especially amongst smaller states, that – and the Northern Territory – that what that can potentially lead to is that it’s used by students and by universities to poach students to move into states. So, it can actually end up being detrimental to some of the smaller states. So, what we think we’ve got now is a balance. We provide the $5,000 in scholarships. It would, it will go to those students from those outer regional and remote areas, and it will be done on a proportionate basis, depending on the level of regional and rural students universities have. So, we think we’ve struck a good balance here. Once again, we’ve listened. I’ve spoken to every Vice-Chancellor over the last six weeks. I’ve met with various groups, including the social work groups, psychology groups. We’ve taken a lot of feedback on this, and we’ve put these changes in place because we think they represent, across the board, the feedback that’s been presented to the Government.
Stefanovic: Minister, just a couple of quick ones. The Australian’s been carrying reports for the last couple of days that suggest that China has been paying dozens of researchers at Australian universities and then, in turn, owning that intellectual property. I was wondering if you were even aware of that.
Tehan: Look, we’ve been aware that we have to make sure that research is in our national interest for some time, and that’s why, when I became Education Minister, one of the first things I did was bring our intelligence agencies and our universities together to make sure that when it came to cyber security, when it came to research, and when it came to other important national security areas, that our intelligence agencies and our universities were working closely together. We’ve put in place best practice guidelines to deal with foreign interference in our universities. Those guidelines are now being recommended for other Western liberal democracies to implement, as a result of what we’ve done here as best practice. And, we’re continuing to make sure that everything that we do as a government, everything that our university sector is doing, and everything that our intelligence agents are doing, is protecting the national interest, particularly when it comes to research.
Stefanovic: Just finally, Minister. As a Victorian, I’m wondering what you make of the Premier’s attempts to extend the state of emergency powers by twelve months.
Tehan: Well, I think there’s a lot of explaining to do as to why the Victorian Government wants to do this. I think people are deeply concerned by this extension for twelve months, and I think they need to be clearly articulated and explained, and the reason why needs to be put clearly. Particularly when it comes to our democracy, our sitting of Parliament. Why extend such laws which give unfettered power in this regard, without proper explanation? I think, this really does need explaining, and I join the Treasurer and my other Victorian colleagues in saying, you know, there needs to be a proper enunciation of why the Victorian Government would want to put these powers in place.
Stefanovic: Education Minister Dan Tehan, appreciate your time this morning. Thanks for joining us.
Tehan: Thanks Peter.