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I would like to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land where we meet today, the Ngunnawal people, and pay my respect to their Elders past and present.
Thank you, Troy Williams, Chief Executive of ITECA, for the opportunity to speak to you all and for bringing the leaders of the independent skills training and higher education provider sectors together today at Parliament House, and also for your work on the Australian Universities Accord Ministerial Reference Group.
It is a pleasure to be here representing the Minister for Education, Jason Clare. The Minister is unable to attend and asked me to pass on his apologies.
May I also acknowledge my parliamentary colleagues, including the Minister for Skills and Training Brendan O’Connor. Brendan has been working around the clock to drive much-needed skills training policy reform.
He and I both know that as a government we have an enormous responsibility to get the settings right, not just in skills & training, but also in higher education. We also have a responsibility to communicate that reform and listen to stakeholders and today is an important opportunity to do that.
I’d also like to thank all of you who have contributed and engaged with us as we’ve set about making the whole sector fit for purpose and fit for the future.
The numbers tell us that the independent tertiary education sector in Australia is growing, in both skills, training and higher education. In higher education there are about 10 per cent of all students currently studying with independent providers – that’s over 160,000 students.
A skilled and educated workforce is vital to the social and economic security of Australia in the years to come as we plug the skill shortages.
And everyone here today is committed to growing a skilled and educated workforce, relevant to the needs of today and the needs of future generations.
Since forming government last year, we’ve embarked on an ambitious and necessary process of reform across the education, and skills and training sectors. From early childhood education to our tertiary sector, we’ve conducted reviews, organised advisory panels and engaged widely with stakeholders and communities across the country.
Many of you have been a part of this.
Brendan will talk more about skills and training sector reform shortly. But a large part of my focus, and that of Jason Clare’s as Education Minister, has been on reform in the higher education sector, through the Australian Universities Accord higher education review.
It has been the first major review of higher education since 2008.
ITECA has been a key stakeholder in the Accord process. Advocating for the independent tertiary sector at every step of the way. I really appreciate the commitment and voice that ITECA has brought to the table on behalf of its members.
The Accord panel’s final report is due to be delivered next month by the review panel Chair, Professor Mary O’Kane.
When the Accord’s interim report was released in July, we were given a clear indication as to how much consideration the panel was giving to addressing barriers that prevent VET and higher education working together, especially in courses and institutions that partake in both sectors.
The report identified that nine out of ten jobs that will be created in the next decade will require either further education through vocational skills and training or higher education obtained through a university.
We need as many young people as possible to finish school and move on to either vocational education or university, or through a mix of both.
And to succeed we must have a system that’s flexible and relevant.
The Accord interim report identified more than 70 policy ideas for the Accord Panel to consider including in their final report.
These ideas included, addressing barriers that prevent VET and higher education working together, especially in courses and institutions that involve both sectors. Improving skills pathways by creating qualifications that are more modular, stackable and transferable between institutions and institution types. And giving further consideration to examining new and effective mechanisms for rapid reskilling, including micro credentials.
There will be many of you here today who will already be experts in rapid re-skilling and pivoting to the needs of the economy.
However, we need the whole system to be able to move seamlessly together, public and private, vocational and higher education.
Brendan, Jason and I talk regularly about this. We understand just how interrelated our respective portfolios are. We are committed to maximising the opportunities, learning pathways and environments through which students can obtain the mix of skills they need.
And we need more people to get those qualifications. More young people getting degrees and more people in the workforce up-skilling and re-skilling.
It’s essential to Australia’s future prosperity and the skills and education you provide are vital to this. And it will require greater collaboration between all stakeholders in the system.
I’m really proud to say that one of the recommendations in the Interim Accord Report, which the government has acted on straight away, is the expansion of the university study hub model into the suburbs.
The existing Regional University Study Hubs are there to support all students whether they are studying and learning at a private or public institution, and they are already proving to be really successful.
In 2023, Regional University Study Hubs are supporting more than 3,400 students, studying more than 1,000 different courses, through more than 200 tertiary education providers.
We have committed to doubling the number of Study Hubs, and we are investing $66.9 million dollars to do this, which will include 20 additional Regional University Study Hubs and 14 new Suburban University Study Hubs.
These Hubs are incredibly important for access and equity and also for our future workforce and society.
I know you are all looking forward to seeing the final Accord Report. And I thank you all for your contribution and engagement to date.
I want to also talk about the reforms we are implementing in the international education space.
Earlier this month, the Government responded to the findings of the Nixon Review, which has given us all a frank picture of the exploitation of vulnerable people who come to Australia to study.
Australia is not alone in facing corruption and exploitative practices in international education. It is happening in all other countries – and their respective governments are moving to act against it. So are we.
It’s in everyone’s best interest that we protect the integrity of the education sector as a whole, and root out corruption and exploitation.
As a government we are committed to ensuring that the higher education and VET sector is positioned to supporting quality providers and the ethical agents they work with.
And that they’re able to offer premium Australian education products to international and domestic students.
Strengthening integrity in the sector means international students can come to Australia to study and not be exposed to exploitative practices.
That criminal trafficking networks have no foothold in our education or migration system. Cleaning up the sector is good news for Australia’s global reputation.
Good news for students who will go home to recommend Australia to friends and family, and good news for the majority of quality providers who want to teach international students and produce graduates who are eligible and capable of taking up skilled occupations in need.
Thank you again for the opportunity to say a few words today. I look forward to the next few years, working with you all as we implement these reforms.
Thank you to ITECA and to all of you for the professionalism and service you provide in this vitally important sector.