More teachers are needed but uni reforms could fall short in delivering quality graduates

Professor Barney Dalgarno said a broad education was necessary in order to prepare students for the jobs of the future. Picture: Jamila Toderas
Professor Barney Dalgarno said a broad education was necessary in order to prepare students for the jobs of the future. Picture: Jamila Toderas

It's a good time to be a graduate teacher for those up for the challenge, according to University of Canberra's executive dean of education Professor Barney Dalgarno.

The Costello baby boom is growing up, meaning there will be about 20 per cent more students in a decade on than there are enrolled today. Australia will need more teachers to educate them.

"Good students are almost sure to get a job in the ACT at the moment so we feel confident with the likelihood of increasing demand that we can safely take on quite a few more students and still be pretty confident that they'll all get jobs," Professor Dalgarno said.

Australia is facing a shortage of teachers but it's unclear whether a major overhaul of the higher education sector will deliver more quality candidates to the profession.

Under the job-ready graduates package, the student contribution for teaching degrees will drop from $6804 per year to $3700.

In announcing the package, Education Minister Dan Tehan said he wanted to encourage future arts students, who are facing a 113 per cent fee increase, to consider doing a teaching degree in their area of interest in order to fulfill teaching jobs.

Education commentator Dr Peter Goss said it was right to identify teaching as an area of national priority, but it was important to attract more high achievers in order to lift the educational standards in Australia.

"Even though they call it a national priority and they make it cheaper, they've just missed the point about what will make it attractive to the high achievers that we need," he said.

"The problem that Australia faces is we've gotten stuck in a downward spiral."

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He said high achievers were being put off the profession because of a lack of career progression options outside of non-classroom school leadership positions, which then would stall their earning potential later in their careers.

When high achievers don't apply for teaching degrees, the ATAR requirements are lowered.

"Saving $9000 when you're 20 to forgo in fact $50,000 every year in your 40s and 50s, no one rational is going to take that bargain."

Dr Goss said the government should offer scholarships for higher achievers to go into teaching degrees while working on making the profession more attractive in the long term.

Australian Catholic University executive dean of education and arts Professor Elizabeth Labone said the reforms were good news for her faculty, especially at the Canberra campus where secondary teaching and maths and English subjects will be introduced in 2021.

"We've been saying for a long time as a university that the shortage of teaching is coming and it has eventuated so supporting students into teaching is a really good thing."

Professor Dalgarno said postgraduate and older students might consider the size of their HECS debt more than undergraduate students when making a decision on what to study.

He said it was understandable that the reforms were focused on preparing young people for the workforce in the current economic climate but it was a short-sighted strategy.

"We do need to be giving them some kind of broad educational capabilities that they can use to springboard to go off in different directions.

"If we narrow our offerings so much that everybody is qualified for a really narrow area then who's going to do those jobs that haven't been invented yet?"

This story Australia stuck in a 'downward spiral' attracting top teachers first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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