The international student boom has destroyed higher education

By Leith van Onselen

Earlier this year, the Victorian Government called for a review of entry requirements into Australian universities after growing evidence that foreign students with poor English language proficiency are badly eroding education standards as well as placing undue strain on university teaching staff.

Immediately afterwards, academics admitted to Fairfax that they had lowered teaching standards and wrongly given passes to international students in order to maintain the foreign student trade.

Even the international student association called for greater regulation of overseas migration agents amid widespread cheating on English tests to gain access to Australian universities.

Yesterday, ABC business editor, Ian Verrender, penned a telling article arguing that Australia’s degraded higher education system is leaving graduates overqualified and undersupplied:

Missing from the same lengthy plan for our future [in the Budget], however, was anything that might help shift the focus of our tertiary education system from a dollar-driven export industry back towards its original intention: institutions for higher learning to equip Australians for the future…

On paper, it sounds like an unmitigated success story. Our education system is now our third-largest export industry, behind iron ore and coal.

Last year, more than half a million foreign students — 548,000 to be exact — clamoured for a spot at our universities. A further 220,000 attend other vocational education institutions.

They’re willing to pay for the privilege. All up, foreign students spent $32 billion in fees, a more than 10 per cent increase on the previous year.

Should that trend continue, Australia will overtake the United Kingdom as the second most popular destination for international students, possibly even this year.

Almost a third of these students come from China, while India and Malaysia come in a distant second and third.

The rapid growth of Australia as a centre for global learning, however, has not been without cost.

There are accusations among academics that in the race to attract more foreign students, teaching standards have slipped, with lecturers under pressure to pass students, even those with poor language skills who clearly can’t grasp the subject material.

Diligent educators who fail too many students run the risk themselves of being considered failures who quickly are moved on.

In addition, many foreign students enrol here as a soft way to emigrate, swelling the number of local undergraduates competing for jobs and depressing wages, initially in service industries while studying for degrees and later in their professions…

The sad truth is that vast numbers of young Australians are graduating with degrees in fields such as law, journalism and psychology, and there are nowhere near enough jobs to soak up the supply. Would-be barristers instead become baristas…

Well done Ian Verrender for calling a spade a spade. Blind Freddy can see that

Australia’s universities have morphed from “higher learning” to “higher earning”, as evidenced by the massive explosion in full fee-paying foreign students:

Australia’s education system has become an integral part of the immigration industry and the ‘Big Australia’ population ponzi – effectively a way for foreigners to buy backdoor permanent residency to Australia.

After all, the lobby group representing foreign students in Australia – the Council for International Students in Australia (CISA) – point blank admitted that students come here to migrate, not because of the quality of education on offer:

The Council for International Students in Australia said foreign potential students were attracted to Australia by the possibility of migrating here.

The national president of CISA, Bijay Sapkota, said… “For people coming from low socio-economic backgrounds there has to be a value proposition. If they go home they will not get value. So there has to be a possibility of immigration.”

It’s not like these concerns haven’t been raised before. Three recent Australian reports (here, here and here) have similarly raised the alarm about the flood of international students and the degradation of standards, as has lecturer Dr Cameron Murray. And yet all have been ignored and attacked by the rent-seeking Universities Australia.

The sad reality is that Australia’s universities are little more than giant rent-seeking businesses, which clip the ticket on the deluge of foreign students arriving in the hope of transitioning to permanent residency.

Instead of focusing on providing a high quality education and upskilling Australia’s population, the universities sector has become focussed on ramming through as many students as possible in order to maximise fees and profit.

The end result has been the dumbing-down of standards and too many university graduates chasing too few professional jobs.

The main beneficiaries from Australia’s rent-seeking university system are the vice-chancellors, whose pay has exploded to an average of $1 million on the back of the torrential student flood. Meanwhile, university students are stuck paying off expensive and increasingly worthless degrees, taxpayers are stuck writing-off unpayable debts, and the broader population is suffering under the never-ending population crush.

The federal government must put a firm leash on the university sector, beginning with removing the link between international students studying at university and gaining work visas and permanent residency.

Australia’s universities must be made to compete on quality and value alone, not as export businesses offering a pathway to backdoor immigration.

Swiss companies, embassy to promote cooperation in vocational education with Egypt

imgSwiss companies, embassy to promote

(MENAFN – Daily News Egypt) The embassy of Switzerland in Egypt, along with Swiss companies, will promote educational and vocational training cooperation, in collaboration with the Egyptian government, Paul Garnier, the ambassador of Switzerland, said. He added, ‘The Egyptian government declared 2019 as a year of education and we will leave our foot print on that.’

The ambassador’s remarks came over his speech at the event that was organised by the Swiss Egyptian Business Association (SEBA) last week

The ambassador affirmed that the Swiss private sector in Egypt is very active, mentioning that a large numbers of Egyptian students and teachers across Egyptian governorates are trained or educated by Swiss companies on a yearly basis.

‘Some of them are sent to Switzerland, we think that we should have a more systematic framework between the companies, workers, and the Egyptian government. That is why we have launched an initiative this year in the field of technical and vocational training,’ the ambassador noted.

‘The embassy and the SEBA will continue to work together to provide more opportunities for economic development in Egypt,’ he said, adding, ‘Today’s event is an indicator for SEBA’s power and possibility for good outcomes.’

Moreover, Garnier asserted the embassy’s intention to cooperate with the Egyptian government in order to boost Swiss investments in Egypt, adding, ‘We are proud of the accomplishment of Swiss companies in Egypt and we should work together to even increase Switzerland’s investments in Egypt.’

Additionally, the ambassador affirmed the importance of SEBA’s role in the fields of corporate social responsibility, and working with people with disabilities, noting that the SEBA paves the way to more Swiss projects in Egypt.

‘It is a pleasure to be with you today for the second time. During our initial meeting, the event was attended by Switzerland’s State Secretary of Economic Affairs, Marie-Gabrielle Ineichen-Fleisch, who launched the 2017/20 Swiss Cooperation Strategy in Egypt with the Minister of Investment and International Cooperation, Sahar Nasr,’ he mentioned.

Recently, Egypt welcomed the Swiss Federal Councillor, Ignazio Cassis, who had very fruitful meetings with the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and Sameh Shoukry, the minister of foreign affairs, the Garnier mentioned.

The talks with the president and the FM witnessed discussions of promoting bilateral relations that are going well, the ambassador noted, adding, ‘We signed a paper on the possibility of cooperating with Egypt in the field of peace promotion on the occasion of Egypt’s presidency of the African Union.’

The minister’s meetings were excellent ones which witnessed the discussions of the continuation of the joint cooperation programme, which is diversified, and even tackled the possibility of increasing the programme, the ambassador noted.

‘Minister Cassis attended the celebration of 110 business relations with Egypt in presence of Minister Nasr and the Swiss business community,’ Garnier added.

Actually the business relations with Egypt started in the 19th century, he added, noting that the economic relations were very active and organised in the 20th century.

‘We also want to present to the Egyptian government the needed projects for boosting development, for example, the placement services and training opportunities for skilled workers at Swiss companies in Egypt,’ he mentioned, affirming his country’s plans to look at possibilities of boosting the political and business cooperation with Egypt.

For her part, Marwa Taher, SEBA’s executive director, affirmed the importance of the continuous collaboration between the private sector, the governments, and business associations for helping achieve SEBA’s goal to move Egypt forward toward prosperity and better education.

‘I thank the Swiss embassy for the confidence they put in SEBA and their support. There is a sense of optimism that I can feel it and it shows that we are in a new phase of growth and opportunity, each one has a role to play in supporting the growth of our society and development of young people,’ Taher mentioned.

Higher education is failing our youth, leaving them overqualified and underemployed

They’ve become the forgotten generation. Or maybe just ignored.

A university student carrying books while wearing headphones.PHOTO: Education is now Australia’s third-largest export industry. (Unsplash: Element5 Digital)

It may have gone largely unnoticed, but the Federal Budget, handed down last week as the precursor to an election campaign, neatly included yet another tax tweak to the superannuation system that will allow those in retirement, particularly the wealthy, to stash away just a little more loot, to be subsidised naturally by the next generation.

Missing from the same lengthy plan for our future, however, was anything that might help shift the focus of our tertiary education system from a dollar-driven export industry back towards its original intention: institutions for higher learning to equip Australians for the future.

The university sector wasn’t entirely ignored last week. Buried in the tome was a commitment to invest $93.7 million in the university sector over four years for students attending regional universities or vocational education training facilities.

Just a few months ago, however, in the mid-year budget update, a further $328.5 million over four years was ripped out of research funding for universities, which included a freeze on PhD scholarships.

Knowledge nation

On paper, it sounds like an unmitigated success story. Our education system is now our third-largest export industry, behind iron ore and coal.

Last year, more than half a million foreign students — 548,000 to be exact — clamoured for a spot at our universities. A further 220,000 attend other vocational education institutions.

They’re willing to pay for the privilege. All up, foreign students spent $32 billion in fees, a more than 10 per cent increase on the previous year.

Should that trend continue, Australia will overtake the United Kingdom as the second most popular destination for international students, possibly even this year.

Almost a third of these students come from China, while India and Malaysia come in a distant second and third.

The rapid growth of Australia as a centre for global learning, however, has not been without cost.

There are accusations among academics that in the race to attract more foreign students, teaching standards have slipped, with lecturers under pressure to pass students, even those with poor language skills who clearly can’t grasp the subject material.

Diligent educators who fail too many students run the risk themselves of being considered failures who quickly are moved on.

In addition, many foreign students enrol here as a soft way to emigrate, swelling the number of local undergraduates competing for jobs and depressing wages, initially in service industries while studying for degrees and later in their professions.

A pathway to wealth or debt?

A degree no longer is an automatic gateway to a career. While you’re still more likely to get a job if you have one, there’s no guarantee it will be in your chosen field or even in a professional occupation.

A decade ago, around 85 per cent of new graduates had found a job within four months of leaving university. According to the most recent survey, that’s now dropped to about 73 per cent.

Then there’s the issue of full-time versus part-time work. Of those with a job, more than 32 per cent of men and a disturbing 41 per cent of women were engaged as part-timers.

Consider, too, that for our young full-time work isn’t what it once was. Nowadays, the norm is for our highly educated youth to be on an endless series of short-term contracts with little or no security.

While the survey paints a generally rosy picture about the benefits of higher education, it crucially does not incorporate the cost of a degree — and the associated debt — to compare with incomes. Are degrees really worth it?

Take psychology graduates. Only 60 per cent find employment within four months of graduation. Even if they could land a job in their chosen field, they could expect to be paid $57,600 but be saddled with a debt of close to $30,000.

The sad truth is that vast numbers of young Australians are graduating with degrees in fields such as law, journalism and psychology, and there are nowhere near enough jobs to soak up the supply. Would-be barristers instead become baristas.

A little over a year ago, then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull warned young Australians that it would be wise to shun his own chosen academic path, law.

“I’m a lawyer. If you want to be a lawyer, you’ve got to do a law degree, full stop, but a lot of kids do law as though it’s some sort of interesting background qualification and it’s not,” he told Canberra radio station 2CC.

Our universities are churning out 15,000 law graduates each year. Nationally, there are only 66,000 registered solicitors. Try breaking into that field, even with an outstanding academic record.

But still, our universities offer the places and take the students, knowing full well there are no jobs. Then there are the huge numbers that drop out along the way, international students included, owing exorbitant debts with nothing to show for it.

Who pays, user or abuser?

While education as an industry has been a work in progress for more than 50 years, it really took off after 2009 when then education minister Julia Gillard announced two major policy shifts.

The first was to remove enrolment caps at public universities, to allow them to enrol as many students as they liked. And the second was to give vocational education students access to the government assisted loan program.

That second shift is now almost universally regarded as a disaster, a move that encouraged unscrupulous players to entice youngsters into high-paying courses, many of whom had no chance of passing, causing an enormous blow-out in costs.

It could be argued a similar if less overt trend is occurring in our higher learning centres, focussed as they are on attracting as many students as possible, simply for the revenue.

But the plans for global education domination may not quite go according to plan. In order to attract foreign students, institutions need to rank highly on the global league tables.

Not surprisingly, it is the big-name institutions such as UNSW, Melbourne University, Sydney University, RMIT and Monash that dominate the field and therefore attract the foreign students, leaving many regional campuses struggling.

But there’s a catch for the majors, many of which find themselves in a bind.

The best way to maintain global rankings is to turn out groundbreaking research. That, however, is under attack from continued federal cuts to research, undermining the very strategy of promoting higher education as an export industry.

Perhaps we’ve finally achieved what many have long argued for: a highly educated and flexible emerging workforce, willing to be sacked, up stumps and relocate at a moment’s notice.

But the combination of massive education debt, little or no prospect of working in your chosen field, minimal job security and depressed wages doesn’t augur well for our future.

That’s particularly so for those who expect young people to pick up the tab for their retirement.

Engaging employers in apprenticeships: Making it happen locally

In Australia, the employment rate of the working-age population with vocational education was 81 per cent in 2017, well above the overall average employment rate of 61 per cent.

Within the VET system, apprenticeships are an underutilised but successful tool. They combine work-based training with classroom learning, leading to a formal certification or qualification.

For individuals, apprenticeships lead to better wages, higher job satisfication and future career progression opportunities. They can also positively impact the productivity of a region by creating a pipeline of talent within priority growth sectors.

Apprenticeships have gained a lot of attention across the OECD after the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. Countries with strong apprenticeship systems — such as Germany, Austria and Switzerland — performed better in containing rising youth unemployment after the crisis.

Australia can better capitalise on apprenticeships. The youth unemployment rate stood at 13 per cent in 2018, still well above the pre-2008 level of 8 per cent.

There has also been a decline in the take-up of apprenticeships with registrations, more than halving from 376,800 in 2012 to 164,000 in 2016-17. Going forward, more efforts are needed to improve the overall image of the VET sector and restore confidence in apprenticeship training. This requires better engagement with employers to give them a leadership role in steering the system at the local and national level.

The OECD has released a new report which sheds light on key lessons on how to co-design apprenticeships with employers.

The OECD collected information from more than 300 employers across Australia about their skills needs, mainly small and medium-sized enterprises. Half of the firms responding hired at least 75 per cent of their apprentices upon completion of training.

About 20 per cent of surveyed businesses noted that they did not offer apprenticeships because of lack of time or resources (e.g. financial and administrative). Another 15 per cent noted current apprenticeship programs do not adequately serve their needs.

The success of apprenticeships often depends on effective implementation at the local level, where regional and local governments play a critical role. They can develop a community-wide vision for training, while proactively working with employers to raise awareness about the benefits of apprenticeships. They can also work with employers to help them navigate Commonwealth and state programs that are available. TAFE institutions also have an essential role to play in conducting more outreach with employers to ensure training programs are providing apprentices with the right skills.

Flexibility in the delivery of apprenticeships programs through part-time and modular delivery, as well as a multidisciplinary approach to training, are also important. In Australia, group training organisations allow the rotation of apprentices among companies when required. This arrangement can enable apprentices to complete their apprenticeship training within a network of companies, as opposed to a single employer.

This is beneficial for small and medium-sized enterprises, as it reduces costs for them to participate.

In the Hunter region, STEMship provides an interesting example of how local partnerships between regional development organisations, industry and TAFE can encourage more apprenticeship training.

The program provides pre-employment training for secondary school graduates to enter apprenticeships as an alternative to university, leading to a certificate III qualification. By working closely with employers in STEM-related fields to drive curriculum development, this program was able to identify the necessary skills and align training with local industry demands in new and emerging occupations.

The OECD stands ready to support Australia so all communities can prosper in the new world of work.

Jonathan Barr is head of the employment and skills unit at the OECD Centre for Entrepreneurship, SMEs, Regions and Cities.

ASX International Education Stocks To Watch

ASX International Education Stocks To Watch

By Bob Kohut  08.04.2019

In 2015 Education as a major Australian Export moved from fourth place on the ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) list of our top export commodities to third place, bumping Natural Gas to fourth.
Unlike iron ore, education, like tourism, is not physically exported out of the country but is “purchased” by foreigners who come here and contribute to our economy with every dime they spend during their stay in Australia.
Education remains in third place, with international student enrollments here in Australia continuing an upward trend that began in 2014.
English has become the de facto international language, arguably from the preeminent position of American business and technology around the world.  Students everywhere with dreams of successful business careers know they need to be able to speak, read, and write English, regardless of the country where they eventually settle in their careers.  The global economy runs on the English language.
The US has the perceived reputation of having the best schools in the world, resulting in the majority of international students looking to the US for their education.
The picture has altered over the last four years as although the US still attracts the most students, enrollments in the US are declining.  The following graph comes from the Migration Policy Institute based on research from educational research and information organisation Open Doors.
The declines in the graph do not appear to consider the students who come to the US to study English in order to gain entry into a US college or university.  Here in Australia we call that educational category English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students (ELICOS).
A graph from Opendoors suggests an even larger decline in this category of students.
The reasons for the decline have been hotly debated with some arguing the declines correlate in time with the rise of anti-immigrant attitudes in the US and the changes in US policy following the 2016 election.  The following chart lists some of the reasons for the decline.
The survey included member institutions of the Institute and spans the gamut of rationales for the decline, including items sometimes ignored in press coverage of changes in sponsoring country’s scholarship programs for US study, including Brazil and Saudi Arabia.
Anecdotal evidence from US educators indicates the trend is likely to remain in place in 2019.  Tougher standards for educational visas in the US are accelerating the trend of the last few years (a 17% drop in calendar year 2017) of reducing the number of F1 Student Visas granted.  Add to the toxic mix the decline in granting the US H1B visas needed for foreign students to remain in the country seeking employment in the US.  The F1 Student Visa decline correlates with the timeline of declining enrollment starting in 2015.  From market intelligence firm ICEF Monitor, the following chart shows the drop, with country information included.
Given the boiling cauldron of the current political climate in the US, it is not surprising there is debate over the influence of the change in immigration policies under the Trump Administration.  A recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald entitled US plays ‘catch up’ after collapse in international student numbers interviewed a US State Department official who claimed the cost of a US education was more of a contributing factor than the Trump administration immigration policies.
In truth, to an Aussie investor the reasons for the decline are irrelevant.  The trend away from US schools to other countries, most notably Canada and Australia, is real and likely to continue.
Our government is looking to expand the number of international students contributing to our economy.  Many of these students come to English speaking countries with the dream of securing a job in the country of their choice for a few years of experience before returning to their home countries.  The stance in the US is to make that dream harder, with changes in the required H1B work Visa.  Here in Australia the government has extended the post graduate work visa from two years to three with the “Additional Temporary Graduate” visa.
There are currently three stocks on the ASX that operate in the International Student Sector now that Navitas Limited is about to be acquired by an Australian private equity firm.
Note that all three stocks have seen superior average annual rates of total shareholder return and substantial share price appreciation since the uptick in Australian international student enrollment began in 2015.
Academies Australasia Group (AKG) is the smallest of the three and the most revenue dependent on the 18 colleges across Australia and one in Singapore it operates, providing a range of educational programs from vocational and technical to Senior High School to certificates and undergraduate and graduate degrees to English Language Training.
The company derives 78% of its revenues from its International operations, with education as its only reported business segment in its financial reporting. Academies does offer “pathway” programs to assist international students find suitable programs in partnering schools. 
The financial performance is solid, if less than spectacular.  Academies has grown revenue in each of the last three fiscal years, with an FY 2016 loss of $4.2 million rebounding to a $3 million-dollar profit followed by a $4.3 million-dollar profit in FY 2018, a 43% increase.
Half Year 2019 Financial Results were solid as well, with a 9% rise in revenue and a 14% profit increase.  The company pays a dividend with a current yield of 3.9%.
A review of the company’s financial reports suggests its business model of operating colleges could limit growth, given the operating costs of running a school versus the recruitment model of placing students in institutions not operated by the company.  The company has a low P/E of 10.46, well below the sector average of 16.31.
Redhill Education (RDH) has what could be considered a hybrid business model, operating its own colleges and recruiting international students through its Go Study Australia placement offices in Italy, Spain, France, South America, and Australia.  Redhill claims it now places more than 6,500 students annually in more than 150 tertiary educational institutions in Australia.  
The company also operates independent colleges offering English language training at Greenwich College with the Academy of Information Technology offering vocational and high-level creative technology courses.  In 2015 Redhill opened Greenwich Management College, offering certificate and diploma level vocational training.  Student populations are mixed domestically and internationally with the new Greenwich Management College catering primarily to international students.

The company has campuses in Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane. The company has grown both revenue and profit in each of the last three fiscal years, with FY 2018 revenues rising 32% while profit rose a stellar 102%. Half Year 2019 Results were disappointing with a 10.8% revenue increase and a 19.5% drop in profit.  The company pays a dividend with a current yield of 1.6%
IDP Education (IEL) was 50% owned by Seek Limited (SEK) and spun off with an IPO in November of 2015.  The share price has shined since. 
Despite stellar financial performance in FY 2018 the company’s share price stuttered perhaps due to a perception of excessive valuation.  What makes IDP stand apart is its business model which is primarily recruiting through its student placement agencies, with more than 80 placement centres around the world guiding international students every step of the way for entry into one of hundreds of partnering colleges and universities in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK, and the US.  The company does operate English language training schools in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
IDP literally provides everything an international student needs to get accepted into an English language school, paid for by the school of the student’s final choice.  Services include academic counseling, application processing, and proficiency testing.
To gain entry into an English language school international students must demonstrate proficiency in English.  Currently there are two recognised proficiency tests – TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), owned by US-based Educational Testing Service, and IELTS (International English Language Testing System), co-owned by IDP Education and the British Council and Cambridge English Language Assessment.
In the not too distant past schools in the US did not accept IELTS but now more than 3,400 US higher learning institutions accept TOEFL, including most of that country’s prestigious “Ivy League” universities.
IELTS alone is a solid reason for investing in IDP.  Every time a student sits down anywhere in the world to take that proficiency test, the cash register rings at IDP.  The company’s Half Year 2019 Financial Results list IELTS as IDP’s top revenue generator, up 19% while total revenue rose 23% and profit jumped 31%
These results continued the trend set in the FY 2018 Financial Results with revenues up 25% and profit up 21%.   
The company is developing a digital platform for international student use, with online offerings of IELTS already in place.  This platform will mirror the services offered at IDP placement agency offices, enabling students from more remote locations to make use of the company’s full range of services.

LIVE: What the 2019-20 Budget means for the energy industry

The highly anticipated 2019-20 Federal Budget, which was announced on Tuesday 2 April, has some significant outcomes for the energy industry, promising continued emissions reductions, financial assistance for energy bills and more.

Since its delivery, the Federal Budget has been met with mixed responses from the Australian energy industry, with particular concern expressed that the Federal Government is not taking climate change or rising energy prices seriously.

Federal Budget initiatives

Energy Assistance Payment

The one-off Energy Assistance Payment is expected to assist more than 3.9 million Australians, who will be able to use the payment to help with their next energy bill and cost of living expenses.

The payment of $75 for singles and $125 for eligible couples will be exempt from income tax and paid automatically before the end of the current financial year, subject to the passage of legislation.

The payment will provide support to:

  • 2.4 million Australians receiving the Age Pension
  • 744,000 recipients of the Disability Support Pension
  • 280,000 carers receiving the Carer Payment
  • 242,000 Parenting Payment Single recipients
  • 225,000 veterans and their dependants receiving eligible payments from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs

The payment was initially criticised for excluding those on Newstart allowance, but on 3 April Mr Frydenberg announced that the payment would be extended to those receiving Newstart.

Climate Solutions Package

During the delivery of the Budget, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg acknowledged that the Federal Government has an important responsibility to protect the environment and address climate change.

With this in mind, the Budget includes a $3.5 billion Climate Solutions Package, $2 billion of which will go towards practical emission reduction activities in partnership with farmers and Aboriginal communities.

“Through our measures, as we have done in the past, we will beat our international emission reduction targets,” Mr Frydenberg said.

Snowy 2.0

The Snowy 2.0 project has been given the green light, with a $1.4 billion equity injection promised.

The project will provide more affordable, reliable and sustainable power for up to 500,000 homes.

Battery of the Nation and Marinus Link

The Australian Government will partner with the Tasmanian Government to accelerate the Marinus Link project, with the provision of $56 million for a second interconnector between Tasmania and Victoria.

This Budget allocation is expected to further unlock Tasmania’s hydro capacity, supporting more sustainable and reliable electricity for homes and businesses.

Combined with the Battery of the Nation, these projects will help cut power prices and maintain the reliability of the National Electricity Market, create up to 3800 direct and indirect jobs during construction, and deliver an economic stimulus of up to $7 billion.

National Skills Commission

With digital energy technology developing at a fast pace, the announcement of a National Skills Commission (NSC) could have a positive flow on effect for the energy sector.

The NSC will be established to drive long-term reform of vocational education and training (VET), delivering up to 80,000 additional apprentices over five years with a particular focus on digital technologies such as cyber security.

To ensure all Australians have the skills they need for work, the government will provide $62.4 million to establish a national program to deliver foundational training, including training in digital skills.

Energy Efficient Communities Program

Included in the $79.2 million for energy efficiency standards and programs is the new Energy Efficient Communities Program, which will provide $50 million in grants to eligible businesses and community organisations.

This is designed to assist businesses in saving energy by either installing new equipment or by reviewing and improving their energy management, contributing to lower power bills.

Eligible small businesses will be able to claim grants of up to $20,000, high-energy users up to $25,000 and community groups up to $12,500.

Priority Transmission Taskforce

The Budget also includes a $3.2 million allocation to establish a Priority Transmission Taskforce.

This is expected to speed up delivery of transmission projects identified in the Australian Energy Market Operator’s 20-year Integrated System Plan.

Underwriting New Generation Investments

The Underwriting New Generation Investments program is aimed at increasing reliable electricity supply and improving wholesale market competition to reduce wholesale electricity prices and support a roadmap for electricity generation opportunities in North and Central Queensland.

The program was allocated $13.5 million as part of the Budget.


A further $50.4 million was allocated to support feasibility studies for micro-grids in remote and regional areas, including off-grid and ‘edge of electricity grid’ areas where local distributed generation and demand management is used to ensure supply.

Other energy initiatives

The Budget included a range of energy-related initiatives around construction, infrastructure and homes, including:

  • Expanding the National Australian Built Environment Rating System (NABERS) to improve and increase energy efficiency in the commercial building sector
  • A review of the Commercial Building Disclosure (CBD) program to expand it to more high-energy use buildings
  • The Trajectory for Low Energy Buildings to help homes become more energy efficient
  • The introduction of a new energy rating label for heating appliances to help consumers make more informed choices about energy efficiency, which is expected to save households hundreds of dollars each year in heating costs

The Energy Minister’s take

The Minister for Energy, Angus Taylor, said that the Morrison Government is taking strong action on its commitment to deliver affordable and reliable power.

“This Budget will ensure that Australian households and businesses continue to benefit from the significant steps we’ve taken over the past year to lower power prices and guarantee 24/7 reliable power that is available when Australians need it,” Mr Taylor said.

Mr Taylor said that putting downward pressure on domestic gas prices while ensuring the security of supply remains a priority for the Federal Government.

“The Government will back jurisdictions that support gas exploration by investing $8.4 million to accelerate the development of the Beetaloo sub-basin,” he said.

“Our strong fiscal and economic management also allows us to invest in initiatives to reduce our emissions and meet our international commitments, without wrecking the economy and driving power prices up.

“We know rising power prices have been impacting household budgets and are stopping small businesses from growing and employing more staff. Our strong budget management is delivering practical measures to support Australian families and back Australian businesses by guaranteeing affordable and reliable power.”

Industry response

EY Oceania Power and Utilities Leader, Matt Rennie

According to EY Power and Utilities Leader, Matt Rennie, “The best way to judge a budget is how well it facilitates the future of energy provision out to 2040, which enables peakless energy distribution and regulatory change, accepts we will have between 40 and 50 per cent renewable generation, and prepares for a high technology energy future, and this budget is largely silent on those.

“This budget does two things. Firstly, it concentrates on the generation sector and reliability, which really hits some of the concerns that people have had about renewables over the last two to five years.

“Secondly, the focus on retail and retail margin and cost of living, the $75 rebate, and $125 rebate for couples, is a little bit of cash in the pocket but doesn’t really do much to help us prepare for the electricity system of the future, it’s a little bit of a spoonful of sugar if you like in relation to the changes we have to make.”

Mr Rennie also expressed concern that there’s nothing in the Coalition Budget around the distribution sector or around the technological changes that need to happen.

“It’s heavy on generation, it mentions transmission and talks about reductions in customer bills, but there’s nothing there around electric vehicles, batteries, subsidies or innovations to invest in new energy.”

Australian Resources and Energy Group

The Australian Resources and Energy Group, AMMA, has welcomed the increased Federal Budget funding for TAFE, VET and other training initiatives, stating that it will assist the mining, oil and gas and related construction sectors to address looming skills shortages.

Tara Diamond, AMMA’s Director Operations, said, “Resources and energy employers are proud to see record earnings from our industry have delivered a $20 billion boost to the 2019 Federal Budget, as well as contributed about 20 percent of all company tax revenues.

“To underpin further resources and energy earnings growth, more investment and more industry-government collaboration is required to address skills shortages and better meet the future needs of employers and the wider industry.

“Investing in the skills of the future is vitally important for a globally competitive Australian resources and energy industry, and sustaining the significant value such an industry delivers to our nation.”

She also said that the National Skills Commission will greatly assist in driving necessary reforms.

“Greater strategic coordination of curriculum and pathways across these education spheres will help unleash significant opportunities for Australian employees, employers, and all those regional communities and small businesses that rely on a thriving national resources and energy industry.”

Australian Council of Social Services

Initially, the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) was vocal about the exclusion of Newstart recipients from the Energy Assistance Payment.

“This Budget is the 25th in a row to refuse to deliver a real increase in Newstart,” ACOSS CEO, Cassandra Goldie, said.

“In a mean-spirited move, people struggling on Newstart are even excluded from the token one-off cash payment of $75 to single pensioners ($125 for couples). The government has once again turned its back on people who are going without food, unable to get their teeth fixed and trying to make ends meet on Newstart on $40 per day.”

Following the announcement on 3 April that the payment would be extended to those on Newstart allowance, Dr Goldie said that it is still “not enough”.

“People on Newstart shouldn’t have been excluded in the first place, and the one-off payment of $75 is a pittance compared to the high end tax cuts that mean more than $11,000 extra a year for people on more than $200,000 once they’re in place,” Dr Goldie told

“What people on Newstart – $15,000 per year – really need is an urgent, ongoing increase, after 25 years.

“The energy bills will keep coming and this one-off payment of $75 will do nothing to support people to get through tough times while they look for suitable paid work.”

More to come.

Federal Budget Skills Package fails to lift Australia’s digital potential, says AIIA

The Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) welcomes the Skills Package of $525.3 million announced in Tuesday night’s Federal Budget, especially the $15.6 million in capital funding over four years from 2019-20 to further improve the quality of the Vocational Education and Training (VET).

Sydney, Australia – 4 April 2019 — The Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) welcomes the Skills Package of $525.3 million announced in Tuesday night’s Federal Budget, especially the $15.6 million in capital funding over four years from 2019-20 to further improve the quality of the Vocational Education and Training (VET).

However, the AIIA is concerned it doesn’t go far enough on two critical priorities for driving Australia’s future economic growth: digital skills, and more women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).

In its pre-budget submission to Government, the AIIA identified the development and supply of digital skills as a key priority for Australia’s future economic growth. Today, the AIIA commends the injection of Skills Package funding but says the outcomes must be more clearly focused on identifying and developing digital skills.

“The proposed $20.1 million investment in emerging skills as part of the Jobs and Education Data Infrastructure Project is a solid start, but will do little to foster the calibre and volume of digital skills required to meet current demand in data analytics, machine learning, cybersecurity, robotics to support Australia’s digital economy,” says Ron Gauci, CEO, AIIA.

“It is also disappointing to see such a relatively low level of investment in addressing the persistent gender imbalance in STEM. A mere $3.4 million over four years to encourage more women into STEM education and careers is a drop in the ocean of possibility,” he says.

The peak member body for the ICT industry says active collaboration between industry organisations, government and research institutes is key to realising the economic potential of the fourth industrial revolution for everyday Australians. Therefore, the success of the soon to be established National Skills Commission, Skills Organisation and National Career’s Institute in fostering digital skills and careers will depend on cross sector collaboration.

”Our pre-budget submission to Government highlighted the urgency of addressing Australia’s significant digital skills gap. If we are to keep pace with other developed economies, we must up-skill and cross-skill our workforce as an absolute priority, and work together to achieve clearly articulated shared outcomes,” said Mr Gauci.

“AIIA members anticipate working with the Government to develop a digital curriculum for its proposed $67.5 million over five years trial of 10 national, school based, VET training hubs aiming to provide school leavers with the digital skills required by local industry,” he added.

AIIA members look forward to viewing the opposition’s policies on fostering digital skills in Australia.



To kick off our succinct Budget recap, the government has committed $50 million over three years to create and invest in iconic tourist attractions. The government hopes the National Tourism Icons Program will drive tourism growth, create jobs and diversify local economies.

The government is also maintaining funding for Tourism Australia to continue to promote Australia overseas, which it is also banking on to drive tourism growth, particularly in regional areas.

Government funding for Tourism Australia in 2019-20 includes appropriations of $135.6 million, $14.0 million for the Asian Marketing Fund, and $2.5 million for the Working Holiday Makers visa program (which has been extended by one more year).

Furthermore, Tourism Australia’s involvement in Implementing Sport 2030 program (support for the International Cricket Council T20 World Cup) is a new two-year commitment with $2.0 million in 2019-20 and $3.0 million in 2020-21.

As widely expected, the government has also committed $100 million to upgrade regional airports.

Deputy Prime Minister and Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Minister Michael McCormack said the Regional Airports Program will ensure airport facilities meet the needs of communities and local industry now and into the future.

“These airports are vital for our regions, ensuring access to emergency services and providing a link to domestic and international markets and employment opportunities,” he said.

Meanwhile, the NSW accommodation sector received welcome news last night of a financial injection for a skills package in the Budget.

Federal government support for the skills package will include a $525.3 million contribution to improve the quality of the Vocational Education and Training (VET) system nationwide.

Of that, $200.2 million will go to a new apprenticeship incentive aimed at creating 80,000 additional apprentices nationally over five years in priority skills shortage areas.

The incentive will double existing payments to employers to $8,000 per apprentice placement. New apprentices will also receive a $2,000 incentive payment.

Tourism Accommodation Australia NSW acting chief executive Dr Adele Lausberg said the association had been running its own industry programs to address the sector’s labour challenges, but federal government support was needed.

“We currently have an investment pipeline of approximately 3000 rooms in NSW over the next three years, which obviously creates an ongoing need for skilled and managerial staff, so we can’t afford to have a failing labour force,” she said.

“We welcome new training measures along with programs to develop better pathways to long-term careers and we look forward to working with the government to ensure the accommodation sector in NSW is able to benefit from this investment.

“This Budget starts to address the importance of developing a strong and connected workforce that can help deliver better outcomes for tourism, and particularly the hospitality sector, in NSW.”


The 2019 budget has promised new training hubs for areas in need

Apprenticeship numbers in Australia have fallen significantly due to COVID-19
Hamish Chamley was one of 16 national WorldSkills competition medallists from throughout Australia selected to take part in the BBM Youth Support Skilled Futures Awards scholarship. Picture: Brodie Weeding.

 Hamish Chamley was one of 16 national WorldSkills competition medallists from throughout Australia selected to take part in the BBM Youth Support Skilled Futures Awards scholarship. Picture: Brodie Weeding.

Skills and vocational education minister Michaelia Cash said the government would create training hubs for regional areas.

“The delivering skills for today and tomorrow package will provide greater job opportunities for young people in regions with high youth unemployment through ten training hubs that create better linkages between schools and local industry ($50.6 million),” Ms Cash said.

Demographer at the University of Tasmania’s Institute for the Study of Social Change Lisa Denny said she was concerned the hubs could be duplicating services that already exist like TAFE and the University of Tasmania.

“We have had trade centres that haven’t worked in the past, I don’t know how are these any different,” Ms Denny said.

She said more should be done to look into why people were not completing courses and fix that problem rather than spending more money.

“The reasons why we have had employment decline has been a direct result of globalisation and the manufacturing industry decline on the Coast. Youth unemployment has be the result of a loss of jobs in the region.”

She said the program would need to be focused on where the demand was.

Liberal senator Richard Colbeck said locations for the training hubs would be determined in the coming weeks.

He said his strong belief was that North and North-West Tasmania would benefit from a training hub, particularly due to demand for skills generated by a growing economy.

“Our increased investment in training and skills is a good problem to have and is caused by strong economic management, we will need to support even more people to take advantage of these new job opportunities and reduced unemployment,” senator Colbeck said.

He said he expected small business investment would create greater demand for skilled labour.

“As part of delivering our strong economy the Liberal National government will be supporting training for 80,000 new apprentices, including in North-West Tasmania.

“The Liberal National government’s surplus Budget is an outstanding one for Tasmania and Australia and will help secure the future of our strong economy.”​

Labor Braddon member Justine Keay said federal Labor had a better plan for Braddon.

“The budget fails to reverse cuts to TAFE and apprenticeships, in the past six years the Liberals have cut $3 billion from TAFE and skills and in Braddon we have lost almost 700 apprentices,” Ms Keay said.


Labor, Coalition outline plans to lift regions

Labor’s spokesman for regional services and communications Stephen Jones. Picture: Justin Brierty
Labor’s spokesman for regional services and communications Stephen Jones. Picture: Justin Brierty

Labor has foreshadowed a suite of policies to correct a decline in educational opportunities for young people in regional Australia by providing a “pipeline” to skills, higher education and jobs.

The opposition spokesman for regional services and communications, Stephen Jones, told The Australian announcements would be made to “open up education and skills development pathways”.

Mr Jones said TAFE closures and capping of university funding had “kneecapped” such institutions, but Labor would announce a series of measures during the election campaign to rebuild regional education.

Mr Jones spoke to The Australian this morning after addressing the “Regions Rising 2019” conference held by independent think tank the Regional Australia Institute in Canberra.

The conference on future employment opportunities in regional and rural Australia discussed a report released today by RAI entitled “The Future of Regional Jobs”, the product of an extensive study funded by the state and federal governments.

The report found young adults in regional Australia are twice as likely to be early school leavers, with 28 per cent dropping out overall, compared with 14 per cent in metropolitan areas.

In some rural areas the early dropout rate rises to 36 per cent, while barely half completed high school compared to 80 per cent among young people in metropolitan areas.

Nearly 20 per cent of 20 to 24 year olds in metropolitan areas have a university degree, compared to 9 per cent in regional areas.

The report also found a chronic and widespread shortage of skilled labour in the regions.

In his address to the conference, Mr Jones said “part of the answer to that is immigration”.

But he said “if that is all we do we have sold the current generation of kids short”.

“The biggest deficit we have is a deficit of hope,” Mr Jones said.

It was important for young people to know that “if they work hard at school there is something there in that town for them”.

“We have got to invest in human capital,” Mr Jones said.

“We need a pipeline of investment — great teachers in great schools.

“We need to be investing in vocational education and training.”

Mr Jones said if Labor wins the May election, it would implement policies but also develop a “narrative” to bring the voters with it over time.

“You need governments that can win an election, win the narrative, and then win the next election,” he said.

“It requires the roots of reform to go deep so they are not blown over by the next political storm.”

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack. Picture: Gary Ramage
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack. Picture: Gary Ramage

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack also addressed the conference, saying the government’s $520 million skills package would go a good way towards dealing with the problems of skill shortages and opportunity in the regions.

“The budget has done some wonderful things for regional Australia,” Mr McCormack said.

Mr McCormack also pointed to big infrastructure programs in the regions, both new ones announced in the budget and those underway including the inland rail project.

He said the inland rail program would not just create jobs during the construction phase, but beyond, including in “intermodal hubs.”

The NSW central west town of Parkes would be one key beneficiary of ongoing economic activity, Mr McCormack said, because it was at the juncture of east-west and north-south transportation lines.

“It will become a boom town, the opportunities there are quite incredible.”

Mr McCormack told the audience he had not had time to read the 45-page “The Future of Regional Jobs” report by RAI which his government had helped fund and he helped launch today, but said he had flicked through it, found it to be excellent and would read it tonight.

Mr Jones said he had not read it either, but said his staff had briefed him on its essential components.