Release type: Transcript

Date:

Minister for Education Dan Tehan interview with Rafael Epstein, ABC Radio Melbourne Drive

Ministers:

The Hon Dan Tehan MP
Minister for Education

SUBJECTS: Job-ready graduates, International students, JobKeeper

Rafael Epstein: Dan Tehan is the Education Minister. He is, of course, part of Scott Morrison’s Federal Cabinet. Dan Tehan, good afternoon.

Dan Tehan: Good afternoon Raf. How are you?

Epstein: I’m good, Dan Tehan. The people who work in universities see that the rejigged JobKeeper effectively meant that academics couldn’t get it. You’re now doubling the cost of an arts degree. They feel like the Government hates universities. Is that right?

Tehan: Not at all Raf, and can I just say to all the Vice-Chancellors that I’ve worked with very cooperatively over the two years that I’ve been Education Minister, thank you for the way that you’ve consulted with the Government. Thank you for the way that you’ve consulted on the reforms that we announced today, and I very much look forward to working continually with the sector as we work on bringing international students back. As you’ve heard, we hopefully will be able to soon embark on two pilots – one with the ACT Government and one with the South Australian Government – on that. And, also, obviously, we’ve got more work to do when it comes to the research pipeline, and I look forward to working with the sector on that, as well.

Epstein: Why are you doubling the price for an arts degree, if it gives you a better job prospect than that massive range of courses? Science, maths, computing, information systems, tourism, hospitality, personal services, sport and recreation. There aren’t as many people in total employment when they do those courses as there are in arts, but it’s arts you’re hitting hardest. Why?

Tehan: Because, what we’ve seen, from all the projections as to where the economy is going to go, that we know nearly more than half of all new jobs will not only go to someone with a tertiary qualification, but also that health care and social assistance are projected to make the largest contributions to employment growth, followed by professional scientific and technical services, education and training, and construction. So, what we want to make sure is that, when people are thinking about undertaking a degree that they think about, okay, what will be my employment prospects when I finish, because we have …

Epstein: … I understand. But, why do you think an arts degree is bad preparation for a job? All the evidence you’ve got, research funded by your own department, says it’s good preparation for a job.

Tehan: So, I haven’t said that it’s bad preparation for a job. I undertook an arts degree myself, Raf. But, what we want to make sure is that when students are looking at undertaking an arts degree, that they also think about the mix of subjects that they undertake and think about how it will help their employment prospects going forward. And, that’s why we’re saying to those people, you might be thinking of studying history, but why don’t you also think about studying teaching, and then you could become a history teacher. Or, if you’re going to study philosophy, also think about …

Epstein: … But, can I put it up on teaching, Dan Tehan? This was raised by Caitlin who called, and let me, if I can, if I can read a text to you from Vicky, because when you’re a teacher, I mean, if you want to teach humanities, you’ve got to go and get a humanities degree. Let me read this text: ‘For expert secondary teaching people, they need to have much more than a teaching qualification. They need a strong undergraduate degree with some specialisation – history, politics, geography, English. Some of the problems we see in secondary schools arise because the learning that is done in teaching qualifications is inadequate.’ I mean, you can’t ask, Dan Tehan, for people to go into a teaching degree and go and teach humanities, if you’re doubling, more than doubling, the cost of the very qualification they need to teach.

Tehan: Well, what we’re also doing, Raf – though when it comes to maths and when it comes to English, there’s a 46, well, in maths, it’s 62 per cent. When it’s English it’s a 46 per cent reduction – and, so, that will help our maths and English teachers have a largely reduced degree. And, as you know, it’s those fundamentals of literacy and numeracy where we really need our teachers to focus on, and that’s where the skill shortages will be into the future. So …

Epstein: … But, what about all the, I mean, there’s more than, you need more than maths and English. They teach a hell of a lot more than that at high school. If you need all those humanities teachers, they’re all going to be hit with a 116 per cent increase in their humanities degree. It seems to be the very opposite of what you want.

Tehan: No, it’s not the very opposite. What we want is those people who’ll be doing humanities to think about, okay, what are the subjects that I should be doing which will help me get a job. We have to remember, Raf, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the employment market is going to have the biggest hit to it since the Great Depression. So, this is going to be a very different employment market to the one that any student has faced in the last 28 years. So, we want to make sure that graduates are thinking about, okay, if I’m going to undertake study, where, what are the skills that I need so that I can get a job as I finish my degree. And, that’s what we’re trying to do here, is incentivise students, no matter what degree they’re undertaking, to think about long-term job prospects when they finish, because we are going to need young Australians to drive our economic recovery from this coronavirus pandemic.

Epstein: You were thanking the Vice-Chancellors. I had a chat – we haven’t played the interview yet – but, with the boss of Monash University. Professor Margaret Gardner is their Vice-Chancellor. She says that, firstly, there’s little evidence for what you’re talking about, and, secondly, that there’s less money, on average. Here she is.

[Excerpt]

Margaret Gardner: The Government has kept more of the Government funding back, and is using that, if you like, to spread over more student places, but it’s placing a much greater burden on funding their education on certain students, and in some areas is reducing the funding that will go to teaching students like engineering and science.

Epstein: So, there’s less money per place is what, I guess, what you’re saying, on average. If you double the cost of an arts degree, is that a good idea?

Gardner: Well, I think that the reasons that have been given for that are difficult to see the evidence for them.

[End of excerpt]

Epstein: Dan Tehan, if the Vice-Chancellor of Monash Uni can’t see the evidence behind your decision, where’d you get it from? What are the projections that you’re looking at? Where are they?

Tehan: Well, the projections we’re looking at are projections at the, that we have done, been through surveys, as to where the skill shortage is going to be. There are various Vice-Chancellors who will have various opinions on this. If you look at the Regional Universities Network, they’ve come out incredibly positively on this, on delivering a higher education reform package which will help fuel regional economic growth and jobs and address the gap in educational outcomes between regional, rural and remote Australia, and capital cities. So, look, overwhelmingly, the sector has said that we needed to put more places into the system. That’s what we’ve done through these reforms.

Epstein: More places and less money, though, isn’t it?

Tehan: Not less money, Raf.

Epstein: Less money per place, on average.

Tehan: No. So, what we’ve done is we’ve aligned the cost of the degree with the contribution that the Government and the student makes. Where there was overfunding through that contribution, we’ve set up an Industry Linkage Fund, and that Industry Linkage Fund money goes back into the system. So, we are not taking one cent out. As a matter of fact, we are growing the sector by CPI indexation, which is what the sector had asked for.

Epstein: Why do priests get JobKeeper but university lecturers don’t?

Tehan: Because they’re eligible, and universities can get access to JobKeeper when they meet the eligibility requirements.

Epstein: You changed the eligibility requirement for universities to 12 months. I mean, that change looked specifically targeted, so that they could not qualify.

Tehan: No, it was changed to six months, and that was because the Government also provides the university sector with $18 billion a year.

Epstein: That’s the domestic student places.

Tehan: That’s right, and the university sector came to me and said that our number one priority was to get that $18 billion of funding guaranteed. So, on Easter Sunday I announced that, that $18 billion of funding is guaranteed for the sector.

Epstein: So, you think it’s fair that priests get it, and lecturers don’t?

Tehan: I think it’s fair that all of those who are eligible can get access to JobKeeper, and there are some parts of the higher education system that are accessing JobKeeper because they’re eligible, and that’s as it should be.

Epstein: A lot of people are upset with the Government because they see a whole lot of people around the Cabinet table with arts and law degrees. You’ve got an arts degree, Greg Hunt has got an arts and law degree, Alan Tudge has an arts and law degree, Paul Fletcher has an arts degree, Marise Payne’s got an arts degree, Michaelia Cash has an arts degree, Christian Porter has an arts degree. You all used it to get some of the best jobs and the most wonderful opportunities in the country, and now you’re doubling the cost for people who want to follow in your footsteps.

Tehan: So, there’s nothing to stop anyone today from being able to get an arts or a law degree. There is no upfront costs. We have one of the most generous HELP loan fee schemes in the world. People say …

Epstein: … But, you said yourself today that you upped the cost to steer people towards other courses.

Tehan: So, we’re not saying don’t do an arts degree. What we’re saying, and, look, I’ll give you my example, Raf. I did an arts degree, and then I finished my degree at the time when we had the recession that we had to have, Paul Keating’s recession, and it was very difficult to find work when I finished my degree. Now, fortunately, I was able to get an opportunity with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, but …

Epstein: … Oh, is that where you did your masters?

Tehan: Sorry?

Epstein: Because, you’ve got two masters degrees. One in foreign relations, I think, and one in international relations?

Tehan: I did a masters degree as part of my graduate training at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Epstein: So, you would have been paid while you were doing your masters.

Tehan: I was, and one of the things we announced today is we want to, and we’re providing incentives for, universities, where they can get graduates placed in employment as part of their degree. We’re going to incentivise them and pay them additional money in those instances, because one of the things that was clearly being shown is that if part of your degree, if you can get access to a job placement as part of your learning experience, your employment outcomes benefit substantially. It’s one of the things, one of the lessons that I learnt. I nearly missed out getting a place in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade because I didn’t have a language, and that’s one of the reasons why we think it’s very good that you encourage students to look and think about the jobs of the future, and what are the skills that they’ll need. So, don’t be siloed in your approach, think about, okay, what are those additional areas that will help me get a job when I finish.

Epstein: Very quickly, because I want to get to calls. Just want to check that my understanding is correct. Fine arts and creative arts, as well as humanities, they are increasing in cost, is that right? So, if you do something like music, that goes up?

Tehan: So, if you’re doing creative arts, you’re in band two, so it’s gone up a tiny bit. But, with creative arts, it’s in band two, the same as allied health, other health, architecture, IT, engineering, environmental studies, and science.

Epstein: Thanks for your time today, appreciate it.

Tehan: Thanks, Raf.