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Job Ready or Job Illusion? Assessing the Higher Education Reforms by the Australian Government


Samuel Denham

By

October 19th, 2020


Are the new education reforms by the government making our workforce more job ready? Or is that just an illusion? Join Samuel Denham-White as he investigates the reforms implemented by the Australian government and what they mean for everyday Australians.


The federal government’s Job-ready program re-allocates higher education funding subject to a student’s choice in faculty. Degrees that are classed as areas of national importance, such as nursing or maths, will receive higher funding and reduce student cost (1). Faculties classed as less critical will have their funding cut, increasing prices by as much as 55% (2). Many believe it represents an attack on student choice and the devaluation of humanities in our society, while others applaud the government for trying to make universities better reflect the demands of the economy. This article will explore previous education strategies and examine the repercussions that this new funding change represents for the Australian student.  

Changes to bachelor’s degree prices under Job-ready funding [7]

During the early 2000’s, Australia used a Block grant system which provided a fixed amount of funding to universities, while also placing limits on how many positions could be offered by individual institutions (3). The total number of places was set below demand resulting in an estimated 19,200-24,300 prospective students failing to gain a university place in 2004 (4). This led the federal government to implement a demand-driven system in 2012, which allocates funds based on individual enrolment. This allows universities to better react to demand whilst also facilitating improved quality of education as institutions must compete to attract new students (5).

Bachelor degree participation (1989-2017) [3]

The new Job-ready program adapts the demand-driven system to artificially manipulate student enrolment to maximise predicted economic gain and increase the number of university places by 39,000 by 2023 and 100,000 by 2030 (1). The government maintains this will lead to increased graduate employment as more students leave university with the skills needed to find work.

Conservative politicians are sending very mixed messages, they want to adapt higher education from elite institutions to public services whilst at the same time providing them with less funding. Greater participation in higher education is a perfectly commendable goal as it increases job-security during recessions and is highly correlated to productivity growth. But universities cannot be expected to grow their available positions when the proposed Job-ready fee changes will cause a revenue reduction of 6%-17% per person (6). Making universities do more with less will only result in falling quality standards and increased reliance on international students.

Productivity and educational attainment (2006-2019) [1]

The government has severely overestimated the influence of price for new university students, making the job-ready program a waste of taxpayer resources. HECS-HELP allows students to incur very low upfront costs, with many already considering a variety of factors like interest and difficulty before cost (6). The government’s goal of pricing art majors out of the market represents a serious miscalculation. Research suggests that arts students are most likely to pick courses based on passion rather than career progression (7), making them extremely tolerant to the price increases Job-ready will cause.

Forcing universities to reduce their humanities and arts faculties while also trying to boost STEM at the university level is far too late in the education process. To increase STEM involvement, funding should be prioritised to programs like Early Learning STEM Australia (ELSA), which can grow student’s understanding and interest making them more likely to choose STEM-related fields at the undergraduate level (8).

Overall, the job-ready program represents a clear plan to influence the decision making of new university students. The government is trying to disincentivise the arts as an area of study while at the same time aiming for higher participation in tertiary education. These double standards will seriously threaten the professional standards we have come to expect from our educational institutions.

• References:

 [1] “Department of Education, Skills and Employment,” Job-ready Graduates Higher Education Reform Package, 2020, [Report]. Available: https://www.dese.gov.au/system/files/doc/other/job_ready_graduates_discussion_paper_2.pdf

[2] I. Marshman & F. Larkins, “The Conversation,” The government is making ‘job-ready’ degrees cheaper for students-but cutting funding to the same courses, 2020, [Online]. Available: https://theconversation.com/the-government-is-making-job-ready-degrees-cheaper-for-students-but-cutting-funding-to-the-same-courses-141280

[3] A. Norton, “Grattan Institute,” Why Australia should revert to demand-driven funding of universities, 2020, [Online]. Available: https://grattan.edu.au/news/why-australia-should-revert-to-demand-driven-funding-of-universities/

[4] “The Sydney Morning Herald,” One in 10 miss out on uni places, 2004, [Online]. Available: https://www.smh.com.au/national/one-in-10-miss-out-on-uni-places-20040430-gdiu3m.html

[5] D. Kemp & A. Norton, “Department of Education,” Review of the Demand Driven Funding Systems, 2014, [Report]. Available: https://docs.education.gov.au/system/files/doc/other/review_of_the_demand_driven_funding_system_report_for_the_website.pdf   

[6] C. Duffy, “ABC News,” University fees to be overhauled, some course costs to double as domestic student places boosted, 2020, [Online]. Available: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-06-19/university-fees-tertiary-education-overhaul-course-costs/12367742

[7] N. Morrison, “Forbes,” The Surprising Truths About How Students Choose Their Majors, 2015, [Online]. Available: https://www.forbes.com/sites/nickmorrison/2015/06/22/the-surprising-truths-about-how-students-choose-their-major/#2f3c55822cb5

[8] “Department of Education Skills and Employment,” Early Learning Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), 2020, [Online]. Available: https://www.education.gov.au/early-learning-science-technology-engineering-and-mathematics-stem

The views expressed within this article are those of the author and do not represent the views of the ESSA Committee or the Society's sponsors. Use of any content from this article should clearly attribute the work to the author and not to ESSA or its sponsors.

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