Politics with Michelle Grattan: Jason Clare on Australia’s education challenges
New Education Minister Jason Clare is travelling the country taking soundings in the education sector.
This, he says, is “the best way to get across this big, vast portfolio that stretches from the education of our youngest children right through to the incredible work our brilliant postgraduate people are doing in our universities.
"What am I hearing? What am I learning? I get the impression that a lot of people are desperate for re-engagement with the government.”
Outlining his plans for an Australian Universities Accord, Clare says there’s a desire for the government “to work with our universities, not just our vice-chancellors, but everybody who works in our universities and harness all of the skills and expertise that sit within our universities. I don’t think we do enough of that.”
One of Clare’s main imperatives is to address equity issues. “It’s in our collective interest as a country to make sure that more people – wherever they live, whether their skin is black or white, whether their parents are rich or poor – get access to university, and when they get there that they stay there and get a qualification.”
He strongly argues that “there’s more work we need to do in helping young people get access to university.
"I’m conscious […] that all the answers don’t lie at the front door of the university. The work that we do long before someone is old enough to go to university – that’s critical here. But universities can help answer this question too. What are the things we do from the age a child is born and until they’re five, that set them up for success? Because if we narrow the gap in opportunity there, the impact will be enormous come university.”
The COVID pandemic has had a major impact on Australia’s international education program. “International education was crushed by the pandemic - when the borders shut, that shut out students.”
Australia’s international education program is “an incredible national asset, extraordinarily important for the Australian economy. Before the pandemic [it was] something like $40 billion. [It’s] now about half that. We’ve got to rebuild it. It’s important not just because of the money it makes us, but because of the goodwill that it provides for us.”
There is currently a “backlog of visa applications. International students [are] hungry to get back to study here in Australia, particularly ahead of semester two. And there’s work that we need to do there to assist in that processing task.”
One of the most pressing issues in education is the teacher shortage, which includes the challenge of retention,
“It’s about what we do to encourage people to stay being teachers. In all of the conversations I’ve had with educators, they’ve made this point to me time and time again - that people are feeling burnt out mid-career and that they’re hanging up the boots and leaving teaching. We’re expecting the shortage of teachers to get worse and worse in the years ahead. Something like 4,000 teachers short of what we need by 2025.”
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