SUBJECTS: COVID-19 and universities, Research funding, International students, Click Against Hate
Sharri Markson: And, welcome back. Now, The Australian reveals today that Australia’s top universities could permanently lose 6,700 jobs – researchers, mainly – because they’ve got a funding shortfall, with COVID-19 keeping away full fee paying overseas students. We’re going to cross live now to Education Minister Dan Tehan in Hamilton, Victoria. Minister, has the university sector asked for funding and assistance, and are you considering this?
Dan Tehan: So, we provided assistance to the sector earlier in the year. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the university sector came to the Government and said what they wanted guaranteed was the $18 billion of funding that we provide the sector, or will provide the sector, this year. So, we have given them that guarantee that that money will be provided. Now, obviously, from what we’ve seen happening, especially in Victoria, where we hope that we might have made some progress with international students, and we were potentially looking at pilots, obviously, all that now has been pushed back. And, international students provide much needed revenue to the university sector, and 250,000 jobs. So, what we’ve done since we announced the $18 billion funding guarantee, is that we’ve announced some reforms to enable more Australian students to be able to go to university. Because, we know, as a result of what’s going to happen to youth unemployment, there’ll be higher demand there. And, we’re in discussions with the sector about what we can do around research funding, and those discussions continue apace. I met with a small group of Vice-Chancellors on Monday, who I’ve said I will work with to look at what we can do with research in the lead up to this year’s Budget, and to next year’s Budget.
Markson: So, how much extra funding has the Group of Eight asked for? Research funding.
Tehan: Look, yeah, we haven’t discussed quantum’s. What we’re looking at, at the moment, is what will happen ...
Markson: … They haven’t put a figure to you on the table?
Tehan: No, they haven’t put a figure to me at the table. What we’re doing is, at the moment, we’re in preliminary discussions. Obviously, we’ve got to understand what it means that we won’t have international students here this year, and what that will mean in terms of the flow on impact to the university sector. So, we’re having those discussions now, and working through all that.
Markson: Minister, doesn’t this pandemic, though, just expose the flawed university funding model, where they’ve been relying too much on foreign students?
Tehan: Well, it’s why we were very keen, obviously, to make sure that we were putting the focus back on to domestic students. It’s why we announced the reforms we did three weeks ago, and they’re about increasing the places available for Australian students, so that we can provide them with the higher education that they need, and, in particular, the skills that they’ll need, to go on to have really good jobs and be able to make that wonderful contribution to society. But, we also have to start …
Markson: … But, do you agree that the universities have been relying too much on full fee paying students, particularly from China?
Tehan: Look, we’ve been telling the university sector for a couple of years now that they have to make sure that they were putting away reserves as a result of the income they were getting from international students, that we had to make sure that there was a balance in, in the markets that they were drawing students from. But, I don’t think anyone expected anything like what we’ve seen as a result of COVID-19 – a complete stop to all international students. And, I think, we’ve got to recognise, like the tourism industry, when it comes to what, the impact of COVID-19, the complete halt of all international students – given that they were providing a roughly around 25 per cent of the revenue to the sector – is something that we do have to take account of.
Markson: Yeah. Look, just on another topic now. There’s been a spate of quite serious anti-bullying, sorry, anti-Semitic incidents and bullying incidents in Victorian public schools – some that have even now involved the police. Why are the police involved in this?
Tehan: Because, what is occurring is absolutely deplorable, and we need to take the most serious action, because it is racism at its worst, but it’s also bullying at its worst. And, it’s something that we need to address. Now, I was made aware that this was going on before the last election, as was the Treasurer Josh Frydenberg. We actually met with two young children who were bullied, who were at the end of some of the worst anti-Semitism that you could see, and were fighting to have this addressed. So, in the lead up to the last election, we now, announced a $3 million initiative called Click Against Hate, where we can provide materials, courses into schools, to make sure that this type of anti-Semitism has no place, and that will be rolled out beginning next year. But, I would say to all my state and territory counterparts, and, in particular, in Victoria, that we have to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to stamp this out.
Markson: Minister, we’re almost out of time, but I just want to quickly ask you, you know, you announced that funding previously, but there’s been this new incident reported where Victorian public school teachers refuse to acknowledge that two students had come from Israel, saying, insisting that they were Palestinian. You know, are these teachers getting disciplined at all, or they’re just being allowed to continue this sort of conduct?
Tehan: Well, the Victorian Education Minister has said that there will be a full inquiry into this, as there should be. We have to make sure that our teachers and our students understand that we cannot tolerate this type of behaviour, and it’s one of the reasons why we’ve invested in Click Against Hate. Because, not only will it help students understand the importance of appreciating faith of all types, but, also, it helps educate teachers, as well, how to address this. And, also, to understand the importance of the leadership role that they have on this issue.
Markson: Yeah. Thank you very much for your time, Education Minister Dan Tehan. Appreciate it.
Tehan: Thanks, Sharri.