The terms and conditions of success for any nation in the 21st Century begin with its investment in its people and creating an innovative society. As Einstein said, no problem can be solved by the same thinking which created it.
Einstein is right when it comes to the Government's record of cutting $1 billion from universities since coming to office, and watching cheerfully as business expenditure on R&D fell from 0.86 percent of GDP in 1995-96 to 0.67 percent in 1998-99.
In fact, current investment in R&D is 33% lower than it would have been had it continued to grow the way it did in the three years before Mr Howard cut the 150% tax concession.
Making Australia a Knowledge Nation must start with our education system. I want to make 2001 the year in which education is recognized as the number one political issue for Australia.
Last year’s Workforce 2010 report showed that by 2010, 40% of all new jobs will require a Bachelor's degree or higher. And yet currently only 15% of Australia's workforce has this level of qualification.
This means we must increase by tens of thousands the number of university graduates every year.
We now know that the Howard Government's increases in HECS have flattened demand for university places. Enrolment demand for university undergraduate places has fallen by 3.6 per cent since 1996, most dramatically among mature-aged people who have to repay HECS as they study, on top of their other financial commitments.
The plan to create full fee-paying undergraduate courses for the so-called 'rich and thick' has been a complete flop, with enrolments virtually at zero.
In Labor's last seven years, we increased the number of Australian undergraduate students by more than 100,000. Since the election of the Howard Government this rate of growth has slowed dramatically. And now I discover from the DETYA website that the Howard Government achieved a new benchmark in the year 2000 by actually reducing the number of Australian university students by more than 4,000.
We can only guess at the impact on enrolments of Mr Howard and Dr Kemp's preferred plan – still in the bottom drawer – to deregulate university fees and replace HECS with real interest rate loans. The $100,000 dollar degrees!
The additional graduates we need by 2010 present a challenge every bit as great as that which confronted the Whitlam and Hawke Governments, and which led to the massive expansion in the number of Australians getting a tertiary education during the 1970s and 1980s.
A Beazley Labor Government will establish a new public university – the University of Australia Online, or UAO.
This is an edited version of Mr. Beazley’s Address to the National Press Club, Canberra on 24 January 2001. For the full transcript, click here.
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