Dear Minister Dan Tehan,
Amidst the ravaging of COVID-19, you have been tasked with introducing a piece of legislation designed to bring much needed reform to higher education in Australia. However, there are widespread fears and legitimate concerns that the outcome will dismantle the higher education sector in Australia. Framed around the intangible notion of ‘job-ready graduates’, it is likely that the legislation will not achieve its stated aims. A quick review of relevant literature may have delivered the signal this legislation has clearly missed. Namely, that target disciplines grouped together in Categories 2-4 are among those currently in the process of undergoing rapid automation in workplace settings.
What does this mean? That the jobs of the future assumed by the legislation will in many instances be performed by machines.
See, for example, the following report by Deloitte:
The rebuilding of Australia’s economy will depend heavily on an educated population able to work in sustainable tertiary economies. Without this capacity, the country will struggle to support an ageing population amplified by reduced levels of immigration. Moreover, financing the massive budget deficit from a taxation base not generated by a tertiary economy will inflict hardship on the people of this nation for years to come.
Astute governments around the world have realised for decades the key role that universities have to play in fostering civic populations able to work in advanced economies. The rebuilding of post-war Germany is a case in point. The Scandinavian countries would be other examples. What lessons can be gleaned from how these national economies approach the governance and funding of higher education?
Designing legislation able to support higher education in ways that prepare graduates for the future of work is a hugely important undertaking. Your ambition to address this matter is highly commendable. Certainly the sector needs policy attention. Yet to the extent numerous scholarly studies and empirically informed policy reports can ascertain, the impact of automation technologies on the future of work indicates that your legislation will have corrosive effects that undermine social cohesiveness and economic prosperity.
Please do take the opportunity to consult experts before proceeding further. The country and world is at a tipping point and smart thinking is required to design and orchestrate new paradigms of social and economic life. At this historical juncture, legislative reform for the higher education sector presents an opportunity to make critical decisions that contribute to the national interest—rather than damage it.
Professor Ned Rossiter
Associate Professor George Morgan
Dr Geir Henning Presterudstuen
Western Sydney University