I think the Monash Commission is really important, because in this country at this point in time the whole question of the future of education – primary, secondary as well as post-secondary education – is at a tipping point. There's so much coming out in terms of disruption, global trends ... what millennials and Gen Zs want from education is sometimes very differently delivered, and different content. This is the time to be asking some questions – some thoughtful questions.
We’ve assembled with the Monash Commission a great group of people who will think outside the square on education and help us to consider what the future of education, especially higher education, should be.
My vision for the higher education system in Australia is one that provides adaptable, capable global citizens who are both job-ready in one sense, but more importantly ready for life, able to contribute both in workforce and to society. And I think our students are – particularly our universities are – doing that, but there’s scope as we move further into the 21st century to do much more of that.
I think that one thing the Monash Commission will be able to look at is what’s happening in other countries. And I don’t know this well, but my peers tell me that Germany is a really good model – so that it’s not a status system, it is what is in each student’s best interests to match [their] skills and to improve on them. And on that basis you go to a university or to a TAFE or somewhere else for your training. I think we’ve got too much status invested in the current system, and we need to be much more pragmatic about it.
I think the whole question of parental attitudes to careers, occupations, needs a significant shift.
Even today, many – probably too many – parents would aspire to medicine or law for their children, and I think as a community, as a community-wide conversation, we need to talk about the importance of lifelong learning. And the fact that people in primary school today, or in secondary school today, will have multiple roles – they might start their own business or start-up. They might work in very different fields over the course of what might be a much longer career than our parents and grandparents enjoyed. I think we need to have a really sensible conversation about it and to see the value of doing a trade or starting your own business – in Israel, one of the things people aspire to is starting your own business, rather than being a lawyer or a doctor. I think there’s a lot of things we’ll be able to learn during the course of the Monash Commission about how these things are done in other places.
I’m not sure that this is missing, but I think there’s a whole issue around the vocational education space. Apprenticeships are dropping at an alarming level, and if we only focus on higher education – and if by that we mean university and post-university – then that piece where people need really good skills, in advanced manufacturing, in trades. We’ve got so much infrastructure to build in this country, and if we don’t have the people with these skills, and we’ve cut back on 457 visas, we don’t have these skills. Then there’ll be a very big gap. We’re seeing too much youth unemployment, and many of those young people should be going into trades and into specialised trades, if not to university, and I think we’ve almost thought of it in one stream – high school to university – but there are many other paths.
I had the first two years of my education after high school at Sydney University at the height of the Vietnam War and moratoria and demonstrations. It was a very active time as a teen to be on campus, and it was both intellectually challenging and a great opportunity going from an all-girls' school to a very vibrant campus. Then, two years into my course, I married and moved to Melbourne and finished my degree at Latrobe University, mostly part-time because I had a daughter, and that was a very different experience at campus – almost out in the countryside in those days, with a young daughter. Then I started in the workforce and started a law degree at Melbourne University, and that was again part-time. Again, a very different experience being with older students on a much more traditional campus and almost having a professional – even though I hadn’t practised as a lawyer – a professional qualification.
That variation in my education wasn’t planned, but certainly being able to be at three campuses and three different universities experiencing different teaching styles [and learning from] really interesting thinkers … was really helpful in forming me as a person, as well as somebody in the workforce.
There was some change in the technology over the years, but this was all before online delivery. I graduated from my second degree in 1986, so it was still sitting in lecture theatres, writing it down on notepad with a pen, or when you weren’t there, relying on your friend’s really good notes to catch up with lectures, so there wasn’t much change in delivery. To give you an example, my husband did law, also at Melbourne, in the '60s, and I was able to use his notes, which weren’t all that much changed in 20 years. I think the real revolution has been since then, in terms of how today’s students of whatever age expect delivery – sometimes smaller, shorter courses. I think the attention span is probably shorter than it was then, so I think the changes have happened since I was at university.
I think the one thing we can do differently is that community conversation. Universities might not intuitively be seen as the place where that might start, but I think that if we can be successful at the Monash Commission in starting a conversation with students, with school principals, with the broader community, hopefully with politicians, that will help feed into the political and financial issues that we need to face when we’re looking at the future of post-compulsory education.
The Commission is really well-placed to have that conversation with the community. With the people on the Commission we’ll have conversations with school principals, with teachers, with students, with the broader community – politicians – so that we can raise some options and show that there is a future, which includes what we’re doing now, but hopefully also some things that we haven’t thought of and are not yet doing.