SUBJECTS: Jobs and Skills Summit, international students, review of Australian Research Council, teacher shortage
ANDY PARK, HOST: If you’re going to address the nation’s jobs and skills shortage, education is going to play a key role. There is a natural synergy at play here, the demand for more skilled workers and the need for people to train. Immigration and attracting new migrants are clearly vital. However, only 16 percent of international students who come to Australia end up staying after completing their studies. The Education Minister is Jason Clare. Welcome to RN Drive.
JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: G’day Andy.
PARK: You've floated to the idea that work visas for international graduates could be extended to three to four years. Broadly speaking, it has backing from the university sector. In the context of the national labour and skill shortage, which we are hearing a lot about right now, what's stopping you from making that extension?
CLARE: Well, think about this. We've got 370,000 international students in Australia right now. A lot of them will deliver food to your door at night or coffee during the day. And as you pointed out in your introduction, only 16 per cent stay on when they finish studying and work here in Australia. Now, if more stayed on and worked in some of those areas where we've got chronic skill shortages, that would help us to tackle some of the problems that businesses are screaming out about at the moment. And so that's why I'm floating this idea. I want to get feedback from the community, I want to get feedback from businesses and hopefully it'll be one of those things that is discussed over the next two days.
PARK: About one in six students who come to study in Australia stay on after their studies have concluded, whereas I believe in Canada, it's one in four. What else needs to be done to make Australia more attractive for prospective students? What is Canada doing that we could borrow?
CLARE: I think Canada cottoned onto this in the teeth of the pandemic and they changed their visa settings to encourage students to come and study there. While Australia was locked down, Canada was opening up and so they got the jump on us. They also don't have the disadvantage that we have of the bad feeling and the ill will that still exists around the world in some quarters from the former Prime Minister telling international students to go home. We've got to send the message loud and clear to international students that we want you to study here. This is an incredible national asset. International students don't just make us money, they make us friends. And if people come here, study, fall in love with Australia and stay, then they pay taxes and they help us fill those skills gaps. And when they go home, they hopefully take that love and affection for Australia back with them. And in the world we live in, in the region we live in at the moment, then you can't get enough of that.
PARK: Would you expect the review into the Australian Research Council will also help to achieve that goal of keeping students on after their studies finished, even though it includes keeping the national interest test, which is controversial in itself?
CLARE: Well, that's about making sure that the Australian Research Council is fit for purpose. We have some of the best researchers in the world. Some of the most incredible research that you can think of around the world has happened here in Australia. A lot of it with the financial support and backing of the Arc, but it needs reform. It hasn't undergone a proper review in over 20 years and that's why I announced that yesterday. But think about this. Think about John O'Sullivan, a bloke from the CSIRO investigating how to find tiny black holes in the corners of the universe back in the 1980s. He didn't find them, but the technology he used to try and find black holes ended up creating Wi-Fi. I'll give you another example of a woman named Katalin Karikó. A Hungarian biochemist who was obsessed for decades with an idea that never won a government grant and got her demoted at university. We know what that idea is today, Andy, because most of us had it injected into our arms in the last two years. It's called mRNA, we call it more often than not Pfizer or Moderna. The point of that is that the sort of research, the sort of big ideas that are developed in our universities help to change the world. And I want to make sure that the ARC has what it needs and what it takes to make sure that our universities continue to be the places that develop this sort of extraordinary research.
PARK: So, on the ARC review, you said that we should take the politics out of research. For anyone who's had to apply for a research grant, this would be very familiar complaint. What are your concerns about how the ARC has been governed in recent years?
CLARE: Well, under the Liberal Party, you've seen grant applications knocked off because they just didn't like the topic. And that is not going to happen on my watch. Labor Governments don't do that. We’ve seen too much of that over the last 10 years, and that’s why I’ve said you’ve got to get the politics out of this. But you’ve also got to make sure that when people make an application and it goes through the peer review process, it meets the national interest test, that the funding is announced and delivered on time. If you don’t do that, it ruins our international reputation as a place for great research. And it also means that researchers in universities that rely on that funding in order to do the incredible work they do, don’t get retained and end up losing their job.
PARK: On RN Drive, you’re hearing from the Education Minister, Jason Clare. Let’s move on to this idea of recognising overseas qualifications. Last week, you met with the Indian Education Minister and reached an agreement on the mutual recognition of qualifications. This is to be finalised by Christmas, we believe. What are the qualifications you’re expecting to be included in this?
CLARE: This is something that came out of the free trade agreement that was struck with India earlier this year, and it’s a pretty simple idea that we recognise each other’s university degrees. It makes it easier, for example, for an Australian student to study in India, and have that qualification recognised when they come back home and vice‑versa. We’ve got a lot of Indian students studying here in Australia, whether they’re undergraduates or PhD candidates, but if we make sure that both countries recognise each other’s university degrees and qualifications, that will mean more and more students studying in each other’s country. So, it’s a pretty simple, straightforward, common-sense idea.
PARK: For the education sector, once that’s approved, how much of a difference is it likely to make with the sector, which is crying out for teachers as we hear?
CLARE: You’re talking about schoolteachers, in particular, are you, Andy?
CLARE: Well, you’re right, and this is happening right across the country. We’ve got more and more kids going to school than ever before. That’s a great thing, but you’re getting fewer young people opting to go to university and study teaching. We’ve seen a drop, I think, of about 16 per cent in the last 10 years. More and more teachers mid‑career are leaving the profession feeling burnt out and worn out. There are not many jobs in this country that are more important than schoolteachers. We don’t have enough of them. There were three things that came out of the meeting with teachers and principals and ministers a couple of weeks ago; and, that is, what practical measures can we take to encourage more people to become teachers, what can we do to better prepare teaching students to become teachers, and how do we keep those incredible teachers that we’ve already got?
PARK: What updates can you give me about the national action plan? I mean, this is urgent. You accept that. The sector accepts that. Are you confident that it will meet the deadline given this urgency?
CLARE: I can. The Secretary of my Department met with Secretaries across the country only yesterday and the day before, working on that plan. They’ll report back to me and Ministers in the next couple of months and we’ll have an action plan ready for us to approve in December. And again, I don’t want this plan just to be developed by public servants sitting in a room in Canberra; I want it developed with the help of teachers and principals across the country. So, they were involved in some of the discussions over the last few days and they’ll be involved in pressure‑testing some of the ideas that are developed over the next few months.
PARK: I just want to play you some words from the Vice‑Chancellor of Sydney University, Mark Scott, who spoke today about helping attract people from outside the profession into teaching. Take a listen.
[Beginning of excerpt]
MARK SCOTT: I think teaching should be a very attractive profession for some people who’ve already had a career and now they’re looking to make a change. But I think it’s very hard for many of those people. They might be in their late 30s or 40s. They may have a mortgage. They may have families. They have an expensive life. It’s very hard to say to them, take two years out of the workforce and go back to university, and I think one of the issues that Governments around the country may have to realise is they may have to pay those students while they study.
[End of excerpt]
PARK: So, Minister, off the back of Victoria paying nurses to study, is this something the Federal Government would consider - paying for more people to change career and to study teaching?
CLARE: It’s something the Commonwealth Government already does through programs like Teach for Australia. We committed, in the course of the election campaign, to expand that funding. But Mark’s point is bang on, and I know Universities Australia has made this point as well. If you’re in your 30s, you’ve got a couple of kids, you’ve got a mortgage, you want to be a schoolteacher, but you can’t afford to take two years out of the workforce. Then you need to look at new models to help to pay people while they learn and get them into the classroom earlier.
I’ve appointed Mark to do a review of initial teacher education, of the way in which we teach teachers to become teachers and I’ll announce the terms of reference and the panel that will support him in the next few weeks.
It’ll look at this – about how we make sure that we’ve got the settings right to get people mid‑career to become teachers, but more than that, Andy, I think we’ve got to look at the curriculum, how we teach teachers, how do we make sure that we’re making sure that teachers have got the skills they need to teach young kids how to read, how do to maths, how to manage classrooms. But also, how we make sure that teaching students are ready for the day when they start teaching by giving them more experience in the classroom while they’re still at uni. It’s haphazard at the moment. Some universities do it better than others. I think practical experience from the first year of university is critical. So, the review will look at that as well as one other thing, and that’s this: only 50 per cent of teaching students end up completing their university degree and becoming teachers. Now, the average at university is 70 per cent of students who start a degree finishing it. It’s only 50 per cent for teachers. If we can increase that rate and get more young people who start a teaching degree to become teachers, then we’ll go a long way to tackling the teacher shortage that has beset us right now.
PARK: Minister, I appreciate your time. Thank you.
CLARE: Good on you. Thanks, Andy.