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What does tonight's Federal Budget mean for the next generation who will inherit it?

Vice-Chancellor and President Tim Brailsford dissects the key issues surrounding tonight's Federal Budget announcement...

It is that time of the year.  Yes, it is Budget time. The time of the year when our elected representatives think we all sit around the wireless in front of the log fire listening to the short-wave signal from Canberra telling us how much the cost of a smoke and a schooner will increase.

But wireless no longer means an analogue receiver, log fires have been replaced by underfloor heating, and schooners are no longer the drink of choice at a funky bar.

These days Budget night has lost much of its lustre.  In part, the spin-kings have rained on the parade as they stage manage the release of all the Budget nasties beforehand, thereby leaving clean air for the Treasurer to deliver only good news.  And in this day and age, where good news from our nation’s capital generally underwhelms, our collective interests lie elsewhere.

Budget night also appears prehistoric in the digital era where information runs thick and fast in 24/7 mode, reaches all corners of the globe (with apologies to our friends in North Korea), and our news is delivered through the web.

The biggest impact of the Budget is on the next generation as they will inherit tonight’s decisions. The news about education is already out there.  University students will pay more for the privilege, and funding for our schools will change.

There are now more than 1 million Australians enrolled in our universities.  That is a big number which is twice the size of the population of Tasmania, almost as big as Adelaide and dwarfs the number of Gold Coast residents. This year the Government will invest over $16 billion in the higher education sector. But unlike the schools’ sector where the Government funds both public and independent schools, you can count on a woodchopper’s hand the number of non-government funded universities, which includes the Gold Coast’s own Bond University.

These big numbers put in perspective why the news last week was dominated by the university funding debate. To reiterate, the news about students having to pay more has a direct impact on over 1 million of our fellow citizens. But rather than getting bogged down in the debate around funding and costs, the big picture is passing us by. 

When these one million people graduate, and while some already have jobs, the vast bulk will enter the professional workforce looking for a career start or a new career.

A university degree used to provide its holder on their graduation with a smorgasbord of jobs to choose from. But today, that smorgasbord has turned into a bun fight as graduates ferociously compete for an interview and opportunity to show their wares, while the big end of town cherry-picks the best students usually well before graduation day.

In this new age, both students and their parents are entirely justified to question the value of a university degree and ask where their degree will take them.  The cost of an education is only one consideration and, by any measure, education is still the best long-term investment anyone can make.

The jobs of tomorrow will require our graduates to possess the knowledge, skills and ability to compete, survive and succeed in a brave new world. The digital era is upon us and technological change will continue to accelerate. Attributes such as adaptability, resilience and creative thinking will become even more important.

We have a Prime Minister who understands the power of the internet, believes in innovation, and is committed to technological advancement. So how does his Government, which is our Government, construct a set of policies supported by funding that transforms our economy and the next generation’s future.

We need a framework that rewards and encourages our entrepreneurial spirit, one that accepts independence of thought which is not driven by politics, one that engages all citizens and leaves no one behind. We need policy that integrates across portfolios and does not bow to sectoral interests. And we need to provide a pathway to the millennials that allows them to prosper in the new economy.

Make no mistake, investment in our physical infrastructure is critical.  Roads, railways, airports, ports, public transport, hospitals and schools are essential for our nation’s development. But equally, how do we create a game changer that brings with it capacity, and develops our capability as a nation, to successfully compete in the modern world?

Our great challenge is how to unite the nation in a vision of the future, and then execute a plan that is sustainable, long-term and affordable. Our children surely deserve our best efforts. Let’s hope tonight is a step in that direction. 

Professor Tim Brailsford, Vice-Chancellor and President, Bond University


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