SUBJECTS: ‘Be That Teacher’ campaign; Australian Universities Accord; International education; Electoral boundaries review
MATTHEW DORAN: It’s been described as one of the most important jobs in the world, but Australia faces a critical shortage of people willing to become teachers. The Federal Government’s launched a $10 million campaign to try to fix that, shining had spotlight on stories of inspirational educators across the country hoping they’ll inspire the next generation.
The Federal Education Minister is Jason Clare. He joined us earlier from Sydney. Jason Clare, welcome back to Afternoon Briefing. You’re launching the Be That Teacher campaign today. Can you talk us through the ethos of this campaign?
JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: Teachers do the most important job in the world, Matt, and the truth is we don’t have enough of them. Over the course of the last 10 years we’ve seen about a 12 per cent drop in the number of young people going to university to become a teacher. Only about one in two people who start a teaching degree finish it. And about 20 per cent quit being a teacher in the first three years. And all of that’s led to a teaching shortage crisis.
Now, there’s lots of reasons for that. Part of it is pay. Part of it is workload. The idea that teachers start at 9 o’clock in the morning and finish at 3 is rubbish. But part of it is also about respect. If you ask most teachers, they’ll tell you that they don’t feel valued by the community. Surveys show that most teachers don’t think they’re valued by their local community. And we need to change that. I want to change the way that Australia thinks about teachers, and I want to change the way that teachers think that Australia thinks about them. And that’s what this campaign is all about.
DORAN: It’s a pretty lofty ambition there Jason Clare. How hard a task is that going to be?
CLARE: It’s a big task to turn this around. As I said, a 12 per cent drop over the last 10 years. We’re starting to see some green shoots. The increase in enrolments this year for next year is about two and a half per cent. But there’s a lot of work to do. It’s going to take some time to turn this around.
This campaign is one part of it. To try to move and inspire young people and older people to think about becoming a teacher rather than a lawyer or an engineer. Because, in truth, it’s our teachers and what our teachers do that help our children to aim higher, to work harder, to be braver, to be kinder and to believe in themselves. And that’s what changes lives each and every day.
DORAN: Speaking about inspiration is one thing, but you yourself have highlighted the pay and conditions that many teachers are experiencing. We’ve heard so much in recent times about low pay, about teachers burning out, finding the workload is just too much. Does it – is it sort of hollow to be saying look what you could be when those issues are still outstanding?
CLARE: I’d say this is the foundation we’ve got to build on. What New South Wales did a couple of weeks ago with a massive increase in teachers’ pay is a good thing and a great thing that we’d like to see emulated across the country. We’ve got to do something about workload too, because I made the point a moment ago that the idea that teachers start at 9 and finish at 3 is wrong. There’s also things that we can do to make it easier for students while they’re at university. So in a couple of weeks‘ time, we’ll open applications for scholarships that will be worth up to $40,000 each to encourage more young people to want to be a teacher. We’ve got to improve the course at university to make sure that students have got the fundamentals they need to teach young people how to read and write and do maths and improve the prac that teaching students get so they’re ready on day one.
But we’ve also got to fix funding for schools and make sure that we tie that funding to the sort of things that are going to help kids who fall behind at primary school to catch up and to keep up at high school and make sure that we get more young people finishing high school. Over the course of the last few years we’ve seen a drop in the number of young people, particularly in public schools, finishing high school and particularly from young people from poor backgrounds. Next year we’ll strike a new National Schools Reform Agreement and that will be about making sure that we fix funding but we also fix the education gap that is chronic and exists in this country where young people from poor backgrounds and from the bush are more likely to fall behind at school, more likely to stay behind and less likely to finish school or go on to TAFE or uni. I want to fix that. This campaign is just the start.
DORAN: You’re wanting to reform the school sector but also the higher education sector. Those discussions clearly ongoing. I noted with some interest over the weekend that there was seemingly a bit of backlash to a proposal for a levy on universities, some reportedly calling it a Robin Hood tax. Can you explain before we get into the merits of it and some of the reactions what this proposal for a levy actually is?
CLARE: Yeah, it sort of makes me think Robin Hood was one of the good guys. But this is one of about 70 ideas in the Accord Interim Report that I released in July. An independent group of people designed to come up with reforms to set up the university system and the higher education system for the next decade and beyond. The big challenge here is that in the years ahead more jobs are going to require a university qualification. At the moment it’s about one in three jobs. By the middle of the century, it will be about one in two. That means more people going to uni and more universities, more higher education institutions.
Now, at the moment almost one in two young people in their 20s or 30s has a uni degree. But not where I grew up in the western suburbs of Cabramatta – it’s more like 20 per cent. And not in the regions. Just like at school, I want to close that education gap, make sure that we give more young people a crack at going to university. That report has a bunch of different ideas – some big, some small, some uncontroversial, some a bit spiky. And this one, the idea of a levy on universities on international students to help fund reform, is one of those. And over the course of the last few months and between now and Christmas there’s a real debate going on about what are the reforms that we should prioritise. We can’t fund everything. We can’t do everything. But I’m asking the Accord Panel to tell us what are the top priorities that we should try to implement now and over the next 10 years and how do we fund them. And this is one of those ideas.
DORAN: A slightly spiky proposal, to use your words there. Do you understand why there’s already pushback from the university sector, suggestions that it could encourage students, international students, to go elsewhere?
CLARE: International education is the biggest export we don’t dig out of the ground. And it doesn’t just make universities money, it doesn’t just make us as a country money; it makes us friends because when you come here and study, when you go home you take the love and affection for Australia back home with you. So it’s important. And over the course of the pandemic lots of people were told to go home, really knee-capped that part of the economy. Students are now coming back, but it’s important here to make sure that as students come back we don’t have shonks enter the system. We’ve seen a bit of evidence of that, to be honest, over the course of the last few months. And there’s reforms to fix that.
But we also need to think as the higher education system is reformed over the next few years how we fund that reform. There’s no magic money tree here, and so we’ve got to look at how we do it, and this is just one of the ideas in that report. I described it as a spiky idea. The Accord Panel put an echidna on the front page for a reason, and we want this debate to happen. I really want people’s ideas. Tell us what you like. Tell us what you hate. Tell us what ideas in there should be discarded and tell us what ideas aren’t in there that we should be implementing so that we can set up our university system for the next decade and the decade after that.
DORAN: Jason Clare, before we let you go, let’s go from one spiky area to another – going from policy to one of politics here. I note that the New South Wales Liberals are suggesting that your electorate of Blaxland should be abolished in the next seat redistribution in New South Wales. Are you going to be looking for a new home at the next election?
CLARE: I’ll take it as a compliment, mate. Look, the truth is both parties put in submissions to the Electoral Commission about how they think the boundaries should be changed, what seat in New South Wales should be abolished. The great thing about this country is it’s not the parties who decide what the boundaries are, it’s an independent electoral commission. And they’ll put out their draft boundaries next year. Hopefully, Blaxland will still be there. I love doing this job because of the opportunity that it gives me to help to improve the lives of other Aussies. A little bit like those teachers that I talked about in this campaign, they do a hell of a lot more than I do, but if I can continue to play a part in this role, then I’d love to do it.
DORAN: Nice pivot there Jason Clare. Thanks for your time today.
CLARE: Cheers. Thanks, mate.