Last month saw the University’s mid-year Open Days and Graduation ceremonies.
Both are about celebrating university education – Open Days marking the start of the journey into the higher education sector and Graduations celebrating achievement and the new opportunities created by university participation.
Our longstanding tradition of educating outstanding students to the highest levels, taking the best and brightest from Tasmanian and Australian schools, and welcoming outstanding colleagues from around the world, produces graduates of whom we can be proud.
The events prompted thinking about whether there is more that we might do to bring students to our campuses.
National policy establishes ambitious targets for higher education participation, arguing that there is a direct link between education, social and economic development.
This is at a time when many observers see Tasmania as on the cusp of change – with traditional industries such as forestry and food agricultural production responding to opportunity and constraint, and basic economics dictating budget cuts across mainstream service areas. There is a need, at a state level, for a highly-skilled population that has the resilience to deal with these changes and the capacity to seize opportunity in industries, traditional and new.
The sobering fact is that Tasmania’s participation rates in education beyond year 10, let alone in higher education, are far too low to achieve these objectives. Compounding low participation rates are levels of education attainment - in reading, mathematical and scientific literacy - below recognised OECD averages and Australian norms. This means that the pathways to higher education, whether university or VET, are not always clear or visible to prospective entrants.
Tasmania also has some defining challenges, including a large proportion of its population classified within the low socio-economic bracket. Research shows that low SES communities participate less in higher education. It is important that we, as an institution, challenge the barriers to participation
that come from a lack of familiarity, confidence and knowledge about the higher education system.
In doing so, we will both recognise our responsibilities as the sole university on our island, and benefit from the life and vigour that new students will bring to our activities.
Debate is emerging in Tasmania about the value of education in the community. It is a conversation
that the University is keen to participate in and promote.
Improving both education attainment, from school to higher education, as well as participation in higher education, opens up choices for our next generation and builds dynamic and resilient communities. Access to education is also about achieving fairness and equity in society.
The University seeks to drive and support any measures that reinforce that agenda.