Interview on Channel 10’s The Project with Carrie Bickmore, Peter Helliar, Waleed Aly and Gretel Killeen
University course completion rates; Turnbull Government’s measures to support uni students to make the right course choices

Carrie Bickmore: Well, Education Minister Simon Birmingham joins us now. Senator, I mean, is it really any surprise that a decision we might make at 18 might turn out to be the wrong decision? Is the idea that we are a nation of dropouts a bit overblown?

Simon Birmingham: That statement is absolutely overblown. The vast majority of Australian students who go into university succeed, pass their course; if not their first choice, they might shift along the way and they pass their second course. And there are many reasons why students may not pass the initial course in which they enrol.

Carrie Bickmore: But, I mean, more to the point, should we be rushing 18 year olds,19 year olds into making that kind of decision so soon if the cost is so great?

Simon Birmingham: Well, I think it’s a logical pathway that outside of school students do go on to undertake further study, and for many of those students, of course, it proves to be exactly what they want to do and it’s a very successful pathway for them. What we are trying to do is make sure that there is as much information as possible available, so the students can make the comparison between different courses at different universities to determine what suits them best and their needs best.

Peter Helliar: Birmo, you seem to be on your way to growing a reasonably impressive hipster beard. You’re not going back to uni are you, by any chance?

Simon Birmingham: [Laughs] no, not on my way back to uni, and my four year old said to me this morning that the beard has to go, and so it will be gone by the weekend.

Carrie Bickmore: Hey Simon, when did you decide that you wanted to be a politician?

Simon Birmingham: Look, in terms of actually running for parliament – look, I got involved in student politics while I was at uni; I probably didn't decide to run for parliament for quite a few years after that.

Carrie Bickmore: You strike me as somebody that picked what you wanted to do and had your eye on the prize and did your course within the required time, is that right?

Simon Birmingham: Actually no, it’s not correct. I didn't actually complete what was my initially enrolled-in course. So I have all sorts of sympathy and …

Waleed Aly: [Interrupts] Made a bad decision, did you? Just a bad decision?


Simon Birmingham: Well maybe it was. In my case, it was a case that I started to work more, and work took over studies to a sense, and it wasn't until I came back to do some other studies that I put the priority on studies at the same time as work. So I do sympathise with people.

Waleed Aly: You know what? This is actually really interesting. Would you say that that first course that you went through and then decided wasn't for you, was that a total waste of time, or did it actually help in some way in your education and you discovering what you were about?

Simon Birmingham: Well it wasn't a total waste of time, but of course it was time that I was otherwise out of the workforce. It did cost in terms of fees, and it obviously was a cost to the Government of the day too. And so I think in many cases students get all sorts of value, but of course we want students to make the most informed decision possible. There will always be a level of students who don't complete for a whole raft of reasons, as I said before – personal, family, work, all of those circumstances – and many of them, if they do a year or two of study, will get a lot of benefit out of that study as well.

Waleed Aly: Just one final question: if we stop people dropping out from university, where will we get our comedians from?


Simon Birmingham: I thought that’s what we were doing with law degrees nowadays?


Peter Helliar: I take offence to that; I never went to university.

Carrie Bickmore: You were a career comedian. 

Peter Helliar: Yeah, exactly.

Carrie Bickmore: All right, Simon, good to chat. Thanks for your time.

Simon Birmingham: Thanks so much.