SUBJECTS: Job-ready Graduates package draft legislation and HELP debts, Universities and COVID-19, Schools and COVID-19
Sandy Aloisi: The Federal Education Minister is Dan Tehan and he joins us now. Minister, good morning.
Dan Tehan: Morning, Sandy. How are you?
Aloisi: Very well, thank you. Why is this necessary?
Tehan: Because, what we don’t want to see is students taking on a study load they can’t complete, leaving them without a qualification and a large debt.
Aloisi: How many students are actually failing half their subjects? Do you have some sort of figure?
Tehan: Well, research has shown that nearly six per cent of university students fail every subject in their first year. What this is designed to do is to make sure that universities and students understand that they need to work together to make sure that the student is suitable for the course that they’re undertaking, and, then, to make sure that throughout their course, that they get the guidance, support and help that they need to complete their studies.
Aloisi: I’m just thinking, Minister, about the cuts universities have had to make during this pandemic, and staff numbers, of course, being well down. How will they ensure that this new legislation, put forward by the Federal Government, will actually be enacted the way you want it to be?
Tehan: Well, we’re obviously working with the sector. We’re putting in place reforms which puts the focus back on making sure that we’re looking after our domestic students, and we’re preparing our domestic students for the challenges that they’re going to face as we come out of this COVID-19 pandemic. And, I think, that the way our universities go about educating young Australians, they’re up to the challenge to making sure that we’re getting students enrolled in the right courses, and that they can complete those courses.
Aloisi: So, how will they do that, Minister? What exactly will universities need to do to make sure students are academically suitable, and, also, engaged with the course they propose to do?
Tehan: So ,when a student, for instance, say, is struggling, and might fail a couple of units, they can talk to that student, talk to them about whether the choice they’ve made about the degree that they want to undertake is the right one for them. They could suggest to them that, maybe, there is another more suitable degree that they might want to look at, if they’re struggling with the one they’re undertaking. This is just a common-sense approach that we want both universities and students to take to make sure that we’ve got students in the right degrees, and that universities are working with students to help them complete those degrees.
Aloisi: And, you’ve had some pushback from the Nationals MP Andrew Gee. He’s the Minister for Regional Education. He believes that regional students will be worse off under this legislation. What’s your response to that?
Tehan: Well, obviously, Andrew has put forward some suggestions that he thinks will improve the legislation. I’ve spoken with every Vice-Chancellor across the nation the last two months. They’ve also put forward suggestions to me as to what they think would improve the legislation. We’ve, obviously, sent the draft legislation out for consultation. I look forward to receiving more feedback on the legislation. These are major reforms. We want to get them right. We’ll continue to consult as we take this legislation through the parliament.
Aloisi: And, more broadly, Minister, with the pandemic upon us and universities, as I mentioned earlier, cutting their staff, how do you see the university sector emerging from this pandemic?
Tehan: I want to see the university sector emerging from this pandemic educating young Australians for the jobs that we need, giving them the skills that they need to be contributors to our community more broadly. I think they’ve got an absolutely vital role to play as we come out of this pandemic, and I continue to work with them to make sure that they’re going to be fit for purpose to undertake that role.
Aloisi: And, how will they be fit for purpose? I think what I meant by my question was, given they’ve had such an upheaval, how will they emerge from the pandemic able to provide the tertiary education we want for our kids?
Tehan: Well, they’re very well-placed to do so. We’ve got, I think, some of the best universities in the world. They are, they’re renowned. That’s why we have international students from across the globe wanting to come here and study. So, I think, what we’ve got to do is make sure that we continue to support them, work with them, and they will be very well-placed to help us come out of this COVID-19 pandemic.
Aloisi: And, finally, Minister, can I just ask you about the cluster, the COVID cluster in, particularly in one school in New South Wales, in Sydney. How concerned are you about that? And, how concerned are you that perhaps other schools might actually throw this sort of cluster up, too?
Tehan: Well, we continue to take the advice of the medical expert panel – that’s the medical experts from all states and territories and the Chief Medical Officer of the Commonwealth Government – on what we should be doing to make sure that our schools are safe. They continue to provide advice to the Government that schools are safe. But, we’ve got to put in place proper protocols to keep teachers safe, and, also, to make sure that the engagement outside of school is done according with the restrictions or rules that are being put in place by various states or territories. So …
Aloisi: … So, at this stage, you’re happy with the protocols in place for school students, at the moment?
Tehan: Absolutely, and we continue to ask our medical experts to continue to provide us with updated advice. But, their clear advice is, that with the right protocols in place, schools remain safe to be open.
Aloisi: Alright, Minister, I thank you for your time this morning.
Tehan: Been a pleasure, Sandy. Thank you.
Aloisi: That’s the Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan.