Media & Speeches

Interview with Ross Stevenson, 3AW Breakfast

Ross Stevenson, host: Australia needs to end its obsession with thinking that university degrees are the only way to get a good and interesting job, and they ought to do more to promote TAFE says the CEO of the Business Council of Australia, Jennifer Westacott. Jennifer, good morning. When did this obsession with universities, the university degree start, like 20 years ago maybe?

Jennifer Westacott, chief executive, Business Council of Australia: Yeah, probably about 20 years ago. And I think there's nothing wrong with doing a university degree, I just think that we're telling our kids that's the only pathway for them. I think we kind of think that a TAFE qualification is a  second class qualification and I think we've got to stop that because the world that we're going to be in, it's not going to be the world where everyone needs to do an Arts degree or a law degree. They're going to need very technical skills. I was out at Broadmeadows yesterday. We've got 17 per cent youth unemployment. We need to give kids a better pathway other than just university.

Ross: What is the dividing line between something you got to uni for and something you go to TAFE for?

Jennifer: Well, here's a good example and this is where the system is kind of wrong. So let's take nursing for example, if I go to university to become a registered nurse, I'm entitled to a subsidy of $40,000 pretty much in every state and a loan that I have to pay back obviously of $99,000. If I'm an enrolled nurse, I'm not guaranteed that subsidy that would depend on each state. And I've got a loan option of about $15,000. Now most people are going to choose a university qualification because they get higher subsidies. The reality is as we go into an aging population, we're going to need more people with enrolled nursing qualifications to provide that care in aged facilities and things like that. So it's a great example of how the system distorts people into a particular qualification. But everyone with a family listening, everyone will have someone in your family who went to university, who didn't like it, who wasn't suited for it, dropped out, wasted quite a lot of time. And then ended up going to TAFE or sometimes, unfortunately, was unemployed. We've just got to give people a more realistic sense of the options and the potential that you're going to have  if you do a technical qualification.

Host: Is part of the motivation of having so many university degrees, simply selling them to overseas students?

Jennifer: I think that's absolutely right and look that's a whole other conversation. But you know, I think we just forget that you know, a lot of tradies earn a very, very good income. And you know, a lot of jobs are going to require a quite technical skills as people work with more machinery or more technology, we need to rethink the whole apprenticeship system, it’s not just going to be in plumbing and stuff like that, that will still be important, but we need digital apprentices. We just need to rethink it. And then we also need to think how people are going to re-train for the rest of their lives. But the other stuff is obviously a big part of that. But I think most people will still, when they go to school, it's that final mark they get in year 12 that seems to be the pinnacle of everyone's success or not. I just think that's not the way that we should be letting kids get into tertiary education.

Host: At what level do you think a kid ought to reach the fork in the road and make the decision about which way he's going to go? I remember, the system they had in Britain, the "O" levels I think was, where kids of about 10 or 11 were hived  off into different areas. Is that a good idea?

Jennifer: Well, I think that's one option. I think career counselling has not done what it needs to do. That's not a criticism of the people doing the job, but if you say to a kid now "train to do this job" that job might not be there in 10 years’ time. So we need to say to them "what are you good at? What do you like?"  And then start giving kids a choice around that time you're talking about, but maybe even earlier at least making sure they've got the foundation skills. Look, if you're not good at maths and if you haven't gotten some kind of capability digitally, you're going to be excluded from a lot of jobs. You don't have to be a computer scientist or a rocket scientist, but you will need to understand some of the digital stuff, so making sure kids have got that. 

Host: Making sure they've got it is going to be important, but I don't have it. 


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