Australia must secure 15.9 million tertiary jobs by 2050

17 May 2024

As Australia's economy grapples with lackluster productivity growth and pressing skills shortages, the government's review of the higher education system couldn't have arrived at a more crucial juncture. With the federal budget looming, the nation faces mounting demands on its tertiary education sector from both domestic businesses and international students.

Despite the enduring popularity of Australian universities among students, both local and global, a concerning trend has emerged: student satisfaction levels have plummeted to their lowest since 2012. In response to these challenges, the Australian Universities Accord has released its final report, met with broad positivity given the prevailing economic climate.

The report's projections paint a stark picture of the future landscape: an estimated 82% of jobs, roughly 15.9 million, will necessitate tertiary education by 2050. This surge is driven by growth in sectors like health, professional services, and education, which boast the highest rates of tertiary education.

Meeting this ambitious target requires substantial growth without compromising quality—a daunting task that forms the crux of the Accord's recommendations. These proposals lay the groundwork for the sector to confront its impending challenges head-on.

Key areas demand immediate attention if Australia aims to bridge the gap between future workforce demands and its higher education offerings. Firstly, funding the sector effectively within budget constraints is imperative. While the Accord's proposal for a needs-based funding system is a step forward, the absence of incentives tied to educational quality risks incentivizing quantity over excellence. Universities must also streamline operations and leverage technology to enhance productivity and financial viability.

Secondly, ensuring flexibility within the labor market is paramount. With upskilling and reskilling needs projected to drive 30% of labor market demand over the next three decades, collaboration between higher education and vocational sectors is vital. The establishment of a national skills passport and modular skills framework, as recommended by the Accord, could facilitate this transition, though overcoming administrative hurdles remains a significant challenge.

Lastly, prioritizing student needs is non-negotiable. Addressing the misalignment between students' chosen fields of study and industry demands is crucial. With shortages looming in critical sectors like construction and aged care, aligning educational offerings with workforce needs is imperative for the nation's economic sustainability.

Amidst these challenges, UQSchoolsNet's professional development courses offer crucial support, empowering educators to prepare the next generation for the evolving workforce landscape.

Australia faces a formidable task in recalibrating its higher education system to meet the evolving demands of the 21st-century economy. While the Accord's recommendations provide a roadmap for progress, sustained efforts in funding, flexibility, and student-centered approaches are essential for ensuring Australia's tertiary education sector remains a global leader in the years to come.


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