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Address to Australian Technology Network of Universities’ Future Learning Summit

Good morning everyone.

I am delighted to join you for the Australian Technology Network Future Learning Summit. Apologies I couldn’t be with you today.

May I start by acknowledging your new ATN Chair, Professor Harlene Hayne, Vice-Chancellor of Curtin University with whom I met a few weeks ago.  Harlene’s reputation as a champion for education, student success and industry partnerships makes her an excellent appointment, and I look forward to working with Harlene in the months and years ahead.

And also a quick hello to Luke Sheehy whose works extremely hard on the challenges and opportunities for Curtin, Deakin, RMIT, UTS, and the Universities of Newcastle and South Australia.

You have an ambitious agenda ahead of you for the next day and a half.  It’s wonderful to see the Summit’s focus on the student experience, for both domestic and international students.

After what so many students endured through the pandemic, there has never been a more important time to focus on how universities can better serve students – not just during their learning journey, but well beyond – after all, life is one long learning journey!

Universities have a very big responsibility to ensure students are properly prepared for the world of work, including for jobs which don’t yet exist.

Since taking on the education portfolio, I’ve learned that while Australian universities are doing such extraordinary work, there is much more to do.

As more and more students face cost of living pressures to study, particularly for those who have to relocate from the regions to attend university, we need to ask – what more can we do?  How can students succeed in their studies when they’re battling to pay the rent or put food on the table, whilst being burdened with HECS debt increasing at rates not seen since the early 1990s?

It was inspiring to learn of UTS’s plans when I visited recently for the country’s first residential college for indigenous students, so congratulations to UTS on that.

Delivering value to students is absolutely critical. That’s why the Coalition opposed the government’s Startup Year loans scheme which charges student entrepreneurs for accelerator courses they can currently do for free. Regrettably, even our attempt to give students the right to refunds for deficient courses was opposed by Labor and the Greens.

Certainly, if universities are going to continue to sell the dream of an Australian education to international students, the sector must take greater responsibility to ensure students don’t end up couch surfing just to make ends meet. With 1.5 million migrants heading our way over 5 years, Labor’s Big Australia policy also has big consequences for domestic students who need access to affordable housing and strong job prospects to thrive and succeed.

Last year, international students in Australia contributed $25.5 billion to the national economy, but our reputation which drives this huge dividend for our country can never be taken for granted.

Of course, students attending university won’t thrive unless they get the very best start.  Despite a 60% increase in schools funding over two decades, we’ve seen a marked decline in standards.  Shockingly, 20 per cent of students starting Year 7 have the reading ability of a Grade 4 student.  The Coalition is determined that our nation must do better than this, which is why evidence-based learning such as explicit instruction must be introduced into every Australian school.

If students are not engaged, they will not learn.  Certainly, the QILT student experience survey tells us we must do a lot better to engage tertiary students – only 55 per cent reported a positive learning engagement experience which, post-pandemic, shows our universities have a lot of work to do.

Universities should be compelled to be transparent about how they teach – face to face learning which is a feature of so many courses in the ATN network is a key driver of learning engagement.  For instance, it’s not good enough that half of all students who enrol in a teaching degree drop out.  No wonder there is a growing teaching crisis in this country.

As the Liberal Party’s founder Sir Robert Menzies said “We must choose our road. Upon our decision will depend the future and fate of this nation”.

This summit is an important opportunity to consider the future and fate of our nation, through the eyes of the next generation of innovators, business leaders and visionaries.

I wish you all the very best for the next day and a half – be brave and bold as you tackle each topic.

That is certainly the approach I am taking as Shadow Minister for Education

Thank you.

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