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Tehan puts microcredentials at centre of tertiary relief package


Short courses will retrain workers who have lost jobs because of Covid-19, says education minister

Australia’s universities are to provide online microcredential courses to retrain up to 20,000 unemployed workers in critical areas—including health and technology services—as part of a Covid-19 higher education relief package announced by education minister Dan Tehan.

The six-month courses, which aim to retrain workers who have lost jobs as a result of Covid-19 closures and staff cuts, will start in May.

The package guarantees that the government will deliver $18 billion—pledged in the last federal budget—to support domestic students, regardless of enrolment numbers. It also includes a waiver of around $100 million in fees charged by education regulators such as the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency.

Tehan said the short courses would help universities work more closely with industry to “meet the skill demands for the new economy that will emerge from the pandemic”. They will also increase tertiary education opportunities for people in rural areas.

“Like the rest of the Australian community, the higher education sector has taken a financial hit because of the coronavirus. These reforms will help universities pivot towards a closer alignment of domestic industry and student demands through innovative microcredentials delivered flexibly online,” he told a media conference in Canberra.

“This plan will help Australians who have lost their job or are looking to retrain to use their time studying nursing, teaching, counselling, allied health or other areas considered national priorities. It will also provide a revenue stream for universities and private providers to assist their financial stability.”

Universities Australia, which represents the country’s vice-chancellors, has estimated that higher education could face losses of up to $4.6bn chiefly due to a decline in international student numbers as a result of the global pandemic. It had proposed a system of hardship payments to help international students continue their studies in Australia.

However, Tehan said the federal relief package was “unashamedly focused” on supporting domestic students.

“We have seen in some universities a drop in the number of domestic students, and that’s what this package today is all about—it’s putting a ballast into the university sector in that what they had planned their income to be for domestic students will now be the actual income that they’ll receive,” he said.

“And, where there has been a drop in domestic students, these short courses give the opportunity for the universities to fill those places, in areas of national priorities—whether it be teaching, nursing, counselling, IT—all areas where we’ll need a good, strong workforce to help us get through the other side of the pandemic.”