Page 961 - Week 03 - Thursday, 19 March 2015

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Prior to this second failure, as we heard, the federal education minister was attempting to hold the jobs of 1,700 scientists and researchers to ransom in an attempt to win Senate support for his plans. That shows just how much damage the federal Liberal government is willing to invoke in this sector in order to pursue a particular ideology. The damage that package would have done to newer universities such as the University of Canberra and other regional universities is very clear. And the stress that $100,000 degrees would place on less affluent families would have driven many away from reaching their full academic and career potentials.

That government’s approach to the higher education sector is in quite stark contrast to the approach that the ACT Labor government brings. We seek collaboration, we seek cooperation and, importantly, we seek a respectful partnership with the higher education institutions based in Canberra. The contrast between our approach and that of the Liberal Party could not be more stark.

Let us be clear, Mr Assistant Speaker: this government is about growing the higher education sector in Canberra, allowing our universities to build on their strengths to present the most attractive package for prospective students, researchers and employees. We want the campuses in this city to be thriving places that attract employment and collaboration opportunities with outside partners.

It is important that students, kids growing up in this city, do not have to leave—do not have to move away from their support networks, their friends and their family—in order to obtain world-class higher education. It should be available here, and with our policies it will be. The importance of growing the higher education sector in the territory is manifest for our educational pathways, for our economy, for innovation, for technological innovation opportunities and for our city’s international reputation.

Our universities have gone from strength to strength in recent years. They are conducting leading-edge research, increasing the range of courses on offer in our city, specialising to cater for demand and delivering a world standard education.

In what are very challenging external economic times, the higher education sector is acting as a partial economic defence against the savage commonwealth Liberal government public service cuts. A stronger higher education sector reflects a more diverse ACT economy. I believe the ACT government’s role is to work with the higher education and research sector to grow its presence and strength in Canberra for the benefit of our entire community.

At least one in nine of our residents either work or study at a university in Canberra. This is the highest proportion of any city in Australia. It provides us with a well-qualified and skilled labour market and gives us a clear competitive advantage in knowledge and service based industries when compared with other cities.

The sector is a key economic driver in the ACT. It is worth repeating the key findings of a 2014 Deloitte Access Economics report which found that our two major universities, the ANU and the University of Canberra, are contributing over $1.7 billion per annum to the ACT economy and are generating around 11,500 full-time equivalent jobs.

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