Higher education enrolments are declining at a time Australia needs more university-educated workers, falling from 1,161,912 in 2021 to 1,102,683 in 2022 (a five per cent drop).
Universities Australia Acting Chief Executive Renee Hindmarsh said the government had responded to Australia’s need for more workers with a post-school qualification with fee-free TAFE and has an opportunity to address sliding university enrolments in the 2024-25 budget.
“Fee-free TAFE is a worthy endeavour that should be replicated for universities considering the nation’s need for university graduates is increasing,” Ms Hindmarsh said.
“Education is one of our most valuable assets in preparing Australia for future skills challenges, and meeting those challenges is essential to driving our economic growth and prosperity. We need to be doing more now to ensure we have the university graduates we need tomorrow.”
Projections show the university system will need to support 1.8 million Commonwealth-supported students in 2050, up from 900,000 now, to meet Australia’s skills needs in a future where half of all new jobs will require a university degree, while nine in 10 will require a post-school qualification.
Much of the growth required to meet these targets requires lifting participation of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, who remain underrepresented at university.
“Australia requires more university-educated workers to drive economic growth and prosperity, but as demand for graduates grows, less Australians are going to university,” Ms Hindmarsh said.
“University-educated workers make our economy $185 billion bigger and underpin a higher standard of living for all Australians. They are essential to helping Australia grow and prosper.
“Fee-free university for disadvantaged students in areas of critical national priority could help attract more people to university who otherwise wouldn’t pursue a degree. This is what the nation needs.”
Universities Australia’s call for the government to match its $493 million funding commitment could support up to 20,000 fee-free university places for Australians in areas of critical skill shortages.
In its 2024-25 pre-budget submission, Universities Australia is also calling on the government to:
- gradually increase the number of Commonwealth-supported university places to meet Australia’s future skills needs
- provide cost-of-living support for students undertaking compulsory placements and greater financial assistance for PhD students, and
- increase funding in research and development to support the delivery of national priorities and maintain Australia’s world-class research reputation.
Read Universities Australia’s full 2024-25 pre-budget submission.