“Where you live, how much your parents earn, whether you are Indigenous or not, is still a major factor in whether you are a student or a graduate of an Australian university. I don’t want us to be a country where your chances in life depend on your postcode, your parents, or the colour of your skin. The consequences are intergenerational.”
Speaking at the Universities Australia conference in July, Australia’s new Education Minister Jason Clare signaled the way ahead under the new Labor Federal Government. As well as promising a ‘reset’ in relations between universities and the government, he focused on the government’s commitment to closing the skills gap and addressing education equity through access and retention. Faster visa processing for international students was flagged as an immediate priority to support our sector.
Under Labor, the former Department of Education, Skills and Employment has been split. There is a new Department of Education, with Jason Clare responsible for higher education policy, programs and regulation, research policy (in relation to universities), research infrastructure, research grants and international education.
As the new Minister for Skills and Training, Brendan O’Connor takes responsibility for the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations. Minister O’Connor’s early language on skills and training has, encouragingly, sought to avoid framing the nation’s skills shortage challenges as a binary choice between skilled migration and investing in the domestic skills and training system.
He has spoken about the need to combine short-term actions such as skilled migration with longer-term structural capacity. Positive indications include a focus on streamlining qualification development and design, and a willingness to consider new approaches to expanding skills training options, especially in emerging growth and technology industries. Given bipartisan acceptance of the current workforce skills gaps, we believe this augurs well for online educational delivery.
Under Labor, the government also intends to elevate TAFE qualifications and pathways given the potential of the vocational sector to provide needs-focused training outcomes at a lower cost and with a shorter training cycle than university alternatives.
Separately, the Immigration Minister, Andrew Giles has been speaking about the need to improve alignment between the skilled migration program and the government’s broader skills agenda. Essentially, the new government is more focused on permanent migration pathways. International education plays an important role here, as an established pathway for permanent migration to Australia.
In the current environment, the Federal Government has a fair field and all favour to trial new approaches. There is an opportunity to fund a variety of programs to bring more people into the skilled labour force and make education more accessible.
OES will be advocating for the role of online education to address these challenges. We know from more than ten years of experience that online learning is a powerful tool for equity and accessibility, supporting students from diverse backgrounds and locations to achieve a post-secondary qualification. Online delivery is also uniquely capable of deploying timely foundational programs to industries in shortage. By offering online and hybrid models, vocational education providers in particular may find it easier to reach their enrolment requirements.