Interview on ABC Radio Adelaide with Ali Clarke and David Bevan

Topics: ATARs for teaching courses




David Bevan:                But let’s go to Simon Birmingham, federal Education Minister, right now. Good morning, Minister.           


Simon Birmingham:     Good morning, David.


David Bevan:                Is it too easy to get into a teaching degree?


Simon Birmingham:     Look, it’s for universities to make sure that the people they admit are going to be able to meet the standards that we expect, and the Turnbull Government does expect high standards in terms of the graduates in teaching qualifications. It’s why the types of reforms we’ve asked the states to ensure are enforced are enforced; are reformed to provide for minimum literacy and numeracy skills in teaching graduates. That means people are tested and assessed to make sure they’re in the top 30 per cent of all Australians in terms of their literacy and numeracy skills. We also want to make sure that every university program running a teaching course also has clear practical placements in classrooms and that people are properly assessed in those placements to make sure that they’re classroom-ready before they graduate. Now, these are some of the reforms that states and territories signed up to over the last couple of years as we said we need to do more to lift to quality of teaching graduates and what I’ve done in light of these ATAR figures is remind the states that they need to enforce those reforms through their teaching registration bodies.


Ali Clarke:                    But if we’re jumping up and down and saying it’s the ATAR score, it’s the ATAR score, what do you say to someone like Franco from Hawthorndene, who says my son missed out on getting into teaching in Flinders University. He was devastated. And then he finds out that Flinders University admitted a student with an ATAR score of 35.8 this year, much lower than what he got. How can that happen?


Simon Birmingham:     Universities, and you’d have to get Flinders Uni on air to answer that question as to why it is they undertook that placement. Of course, many students are admitted outside of the ATAR system, which is why just focusing on a minimum ATAR doesn’t necessarily work. It’s why the reforms we’ve focused on are the quality of the graduates leaving the university and the university has to then be held to account to make sure that they are admitting people who have the skills and the capability to meet those minimum literacy and numeracy standards and to be classroom-ready when they graduate. Because if the universities aren’t admitting people who can meet those standards, then they’re wasting the time of those individuals, the money of those individuals and the funds from the taxpayer, and of course it’s another reason as to why one of our other reforms is to put in place some degree of performance standard around university funding so that we actually hold unis to account for ensuring that their graduates are successful, are recommended by employers and ultimately meet the standards required.


David Bevan:                Where did you get your figures from because one figure that was bouncing around was that the University of Victoria had accepted a person into a teaching degree with an ATAR of just 17.9. So where did you get this stuff from?


Simon Birmingham:     Well, these are figures provided by tertiary admission centres and universities and published by my department in response to a Senate question.


David Bevan:                Okay. And you responded with a please explain?


Simon Birmingham:     I have put out a please explain, but also more particularly a reminder to the states and territories that they’ve agreed to implement reforms championed by the Turnbull Government, reforms that focus on the quality of the graduates leaving our universities and they must ensure those reforms are fully implemented and enforced so that everybody can have confidence that the teachers entering our classrooms are of the quality that our kids deserve.


Ali Clarke:                    So Susan Close, I understand we have you back. You’ve been listening to this, shadow State Education Minister. Is that fair enough?


Susan Close:               Look, we put in place all of the reforms that were worked on with the other states. I’m not sure how bad my phone line was earlier so if I can just return to the questions of masters degrees, we had the ambition that South Australian teachers would graduate with masters, the Commonwealth refused to play ball and give sufficient places to the universities. Now, of course there are different ways of getting into university and we have three excellent public institutions, maybe soon to be two, and what is- firmly in their province is if a student is coming through another pathway, they work out whether that student has got the capability of doing well in a course. There’s nothing in it for universities to have students who are incapable of undertaking the study.           


Ali Clarke:                    But then it’s I guess hard, and I put this to Simon Birmingham, for someone like Franco whose son got a higher ATAR than 35.8, which got someone into teaching at Flinders and he was much higher.


Susan Close:               I totally sympathise and what I always used to try to tell students when I was the Education Minister was as the ATAR date loomed is there are multiple entry points and never give up. There are other ways of getting into university. If you go in as a mature-age student you can do Year 13 and get that ATAR up higher. So go and talk to course counsellors both at school and at university [indistinct].


Ali Clarke:                    But this person’s ATAR was higher. This person’s ATAR was higher than…


Susan Close:               Yes, but what we don’t know is the path that the other student took, the circumstances that might have affected them. I heard universities yesterday talking about a student who’d had a death in the family the year of Year 12, hadn’t done so well, had done another form of assessment to have school entry and was deemed acceptable. So we have to let universities do that, that is their business, but an individual student, please go and have a chat to your local school, have a chat to the universities. There is usually a way around if you’re really willing and you’re going to work hard at that uni.


David Bevan:                Simon Birmingham, are you buying this?


Simon Birmingham:     Well look, Susan said right, that there are multiple entry pathways into uni and that’s why, as I said before, you’d have to ask Flinders Uni as to why it is that a student with a higher ATAR wasn’t admitted, while someone with a lower ATAR was. The likelihood is they came through some sort of different pathway, but that is why, again, we’re putting in place transparency reforms around university admissions. But also I’m happy to respond to Susan in relation to the call for everybody to have to get a masters degree to go into teaching. That really is waving the white flag on a four-year teaching degree. Surely, four years at university doing a teaching degree ought to ensure that people leave able, qualified, proficient to be high quality teachers in the classroom.


David Bevan:                Before you leave us, there was a front page piece in The Fin Review on Friday covering a meeting between the Prime Minister and the Group of Eight universities, in which the Prime Minister basically gave them a dressing down over their reliance on Chinese students. Do you agree that our universities are far too reliant on Chinese students?


Simon Birmingham:     No, our universities have done a fabulous job building a strong international education market which is to the benefit of all Australians. It provides more resources in our universities, more economic activity in our cities. It’s to the benefit of domestic students in terms of the resources in the unis, as well as the opportunity to study in an environment that is more like the real world in terms of the mix of different cultures. But of course, universities also have to make sure they uphold their standards of academic integrity, academic freedoms and that they’re not influenced by anybody.


Ali Clarke:                    Okay. Simon Birmingham, thank you, Federal Education Minister, and Susan Close, shadow State Education Minister.