Executive Director for Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta Greg Whitby has called on the Federal Government, universities and other training institutions like TAFE to work together to cover the cost of the first degree or training course for every graduate of the Year 12 Class of 2020.
While acknowledging the work done by Federal and State Governments in responding to the economic challenges brought on by COVID-19, Mr Whitby argues that it is critically important that we keep our eyes of the ‘long game’, which is to make sure we don't forfeit the contributions of a generation of young people who have been so adversely affected by this crisis.
Citing the years of sustained growth that followed the Whitlam’s government’s decision to make post-school education free back in the 1970’s, Mr Whitby said that “it’s time” for a similar approach to ensure the nation is well equipped to manage the transition out of the COVID-19 economy.
“The Year 12 Class of 2020 have had to manage so many roadblocks this year,” Mr Whitby said. “Surely we must be prepared to invest in the skills of our future workforce at a time like this! We’ve been rightly focusing our spending on the jobs, but how about the training and learning end of the equation? This is the perfect moment. Think of it as a gift from the nation.
“For those of us old enough to remember, the social dynamic in Australia was changed forever in the 1970s when the Whitlam Government made tertiary education possible for everyone, including kids from Sydney’s western suburbs like me. First in my family to even so much as consider going to university, I scored a scholarship. It set me up for life. The decision transformed the country and set it on a path for decades of growth and prosperity.”
Mr Whitby said that though it may seem counter-intuitive to invest additional government resources when the bottom line is already well on the red side of the accounting ledger, the country desperately needs long- term, big-picture thinking so it has at the ready the people and the skills needed to “get the economic band back together” post COVID-19.
“The declining birth rate, the fall in overseas immigration and absence of short-term and seasonal workers who are able to visit Australia make it vital that we invest in our young people right now. And it could be just the stimulus that universities and training organisations need right now.
“My own kids left school to a range of opportunities: gap years, employment, university, other training opportunities. What’s in store for the class of 2020?
“I’m proud of these young people, their resilience and continued focus on their learning as the COVID-19 crisis rages around them. Don’t we owe them something better than cranking up the prices of some degrees, notably humanities degrees, and making post school study and training inaccessible for so many of them? We need to be making access to knowledge, training and skills development easier, not harder. We will be relying on this resilient group of young people in the years ahead. We need to back them in now.”
“I believe the investment will repay itself many times over.”
Greg Whitby is the executive director of schools for the Catholic Diocese of Parramatta. Follow him on Twitter @gregwhitbyLearn more about Greg