Future-Proof, the Business Council of Australia’s case for a coherent secondary and tertiary education system, is a valuable articulation of the reality that all Australians need to complete year 12 and then complete at least one further qualification, whether vocational or higher education, to be confident of a successful working life.
The BCA deserves praise for presenting the case and encouraging all parties to engage.
The paper rightly argues that the various components of education need to work together to support each person. Each sector has its particular challenges, which tend to dominate the ongoing policy discussion. There is sense to the policy approaches sharing common elements, subject always to whether they fit, recognising that there are important differences that should not be ignored.
Future-Proof has two main elements.
The first is the analysis of the need for an effective school and tertiary education system that provides all Australians with both a useful level of knowledge about society and the world and the essential capabilities for employment. These are not conflicting ambitions but have long been part of education systems.
The second is consideration of the regulatory, funding and charging arrangements that could ensure the education system delivers as expected.
Future-Proof addresses the first element well but the second is less well considered. Too much recycles tired ‘reforms’ that have not proved practicable. If we are to be more imaginative about the need for a cohesive secondary and tertiary system, we need to bring more imagination to the discussion about how it should be achieved. The funding and regulatory arrangements have to face up to the consequences of almost all Australians needing to achieve a tertiary level qualification.
The Paper ignores a significant part of university operations – research and innovation. While these can be formally considered distinct, the extensive overlap in personnel (the academic mind that researches and teaches) and the facilities that support it in practice argue against any simplistic separation.
The challenge ahead is to have the needed discussion to create a stronger sense of common purpose about the need for the system, finally putting down arguments that all would be well if we could have things as they were in 1960 or 1980.