Promote growth in economic productivity and social wellbeing through access to quality higher education, international education, and international quality research, skills and training.
Robust higher education, vocational education and training (VET) and research sectors are vital to Australia’s long-term economic prosperity and development. The department is increasing economic growth and social wellbeing through access to quality higher education, VET, international education and world-class research. It is through our higher education and training systems, that Australia ensures graduates have the skills to realise their career aspirations and be internationally competitive.
More people than ever before are enrolling in Australian higher education and developing the skills needed to succeed in a globalised and knowledge-based workforce. In 2014, more than 1,370,000 students were enrolled in higher education. This represents a 4.5 per cent increase compared to 2013, or approximately 60,000 additional students. Notably, the proportion of undergraduate students from low socio-economic backgrounds also increased over this period.
Higher education provides an important platform for research and innovation—both of which are essential to growth in productivity. Continued and sustained investment in research, research training and research infrastructure has ensured that Australia has a highly competitive and well‑resourced research capacity. Our researchers are leading the world in solving some of the most pressing problems facing Australia and the world through a highly competitive and well-resourced research sector. In 2014–15, more than $1.76 billion was provided to eligible higher education providers in research block grants to support research and research training. This funding also supported just under 3500 new Australian Postgraduate Awards and 330 new International Postgraduate Research Scholarships. To support the translation of research into benefits for Australia, the department actively supports collaboration between universities, research institutes, government and industry.
The VET system provides highly-skilled graduates to meet the needs of Australian businesses. Ensuring that students are well-prepared for the workplace is critical to Australia’s ongoing prosperity and international competitiveness. It is estimated that during 2013, three million students enrolled in VET courses around Australia.
Over the year, the department has focused on progressing the Government’s significant reforms for the higher education and VET sectors. The proposed reforms in the Higher Education and Research Reform Bill 2014, introduced on 3 December 2014, aim to enhance competition, improve quality and expand opportunity and choice for all students. The reforms are designed to encourage competition and innovation by deregulating university fees and expanding the demand-driven system to non-university and private higher education providers and to the sub-bachelor level. The department has worked closely with universities, non-university higher education providers and students to explain the proposed changes and seek their views. The Government remains committed to working with the higher education sector to pursue implementation that is practical and achievable.
Initiatives to promote quality have been at the centre of the Government’s VET reform agenda and the department’s work. VET reform has focused on improving the quality of training and job outcomes for students. This will ensure the VET system provides high-quality training and the skills Australian employers need in an efficient and competitive market. Throughout the VET reform process, the department has worked closely with stakeholders to build a flexible, high-quality national training system, with industry at its centre.
The department continued to support Australia’s thriving international education sector. Between 2013 and 2014, international student enrolments increased by 12 per cent. In 2014–15, the international education sector, including higher education, VET, English language training and schools, contributed over $18 billion to the Australian economy. In April 2015, the Government’s Draft National Strategy for International Education was released for consultation. The strategy underscores the importance of international education to Australia’s economic prosperity, social wellbeing and international relationships. The department supports the quality and integrity of international education services offered by Australian institutions through its administration of the Education Services for Overseas Students (ESOS) legislative framework.
Implementing and supporting the Government’s commitment to reduce red tape has also been a focus of the department’s work this year. In line with this agenda, the department commenced a review of the ESOS legislative framework in 2014. The review will ensure the legislative framework minimises the regulatory burden for education institutions and supports Australia’s global competitiveness.