Business Council of Australia Chief Declares ‘The Best’ Education and Training to be a ‘Moral Imperative’

The self-styled “queen of capitalism”, Business Council of Australia (BCA) CEO Jennifer Westacott, says that providing the best education and training to Australians as a “moral imperative”.

Speaking at the National Press Club on 11 October, Jennifer Westacott proposed a new tertiary education and training system “to prevent Australians falling through the cracks as technology continues to transform the economy.”

“My focus is on building the tertiary sector as a whole, and in particular, restoring the status of our neglected vocational education and training (VET) system,” Jennifer Westacott said.

“We’re talking about removing the distortions in funding and governance and creating a single tertiary system with a reinvigorated VET sector as a cornerstone. Once and for all we need to fix this cultural bias, reinforced by a funding bias, that a VET qualification is a second-class qualification to a university one. It isn’t. In a world where machines and people will work together and technical skills will be needed by all workers, that cultural bias can only create damage,” she said.

Community Colleges Australia (CCA) Comments

“The BCA has provided an excellent contribution to the national discussion on the future of Australian VET. For too long Australian VET has been the ‘forgotten middle child’ of education, and has long lagged behind other education sectors in funding,” said CCA CEO Dr Don Perlgut.

“CCA is thrilled that Australia’s peak business group has made such a definitive and powerful statement in support of government investment and the role that education and training – including lifelong learning – plays in the future of Australia,” Dr Perlgut said.

“The major drawback is that this report does not acknowledge the contribution that community education providers play in Australian VET. In 2016, 9 percent of total VET students enrolled with community providers,” Dr Perlgut said.

“CCA is pleased that the BCA acknowledges the importance of foundation studies,” Dr Perlgut said. “Jennifer Westacott made a powerful statement of support, when she said that, ‘The other area that is often overlooked is foundation studies, and we simply cannot afford to let this fail. We can’t neglect adults who lack functional literacy and numeracy…. I don’t want to live in a society that abandons these Australians.’”

“It’s not every day that the peak national business organisation’s report – in its chapter entitled ‘The Purpose of Universal Education’ – quotes Aristotle, Confucius, William Ralph Inge, Eleanor Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, Alfred North Whitehead, C.S. Lewis, Norman Cousins, Anthony Burgess, Malcolm X, Dr Martin Luther King Jr and James A. Baldwin,” said Dr Perlgut.

Education: An Economic Priority and a Moral Imperative

Towards the end of her speech, Jennifer Westacott explains why she feels so passionately about education and training: “Education is dear to my heart because it changed my life. I grew up in public housing and my grandmother believed education was my opportunity. She was right. Education was the game-changer for me, as well as my brothers and my sisters. My education is why I’m standing here now, and why I have had remarkable opportunities throughout my life.”

“Education is the great enabler. It is the best way of tackling inequality. It is a lifelong voyage of discovery. I want [every Australian] to have access to the best education and training system in the world. Because this not just an economic priority, it’s not just a social obligation – it is a moral imperative,” she said.

News coverage:

Robbie Buck interviewed Jennifer Westacott (on the Wendy Harmer program), ABC Radio 702, 11 October 2017. Macquarie Community College (and CCA Board Director) CEO Theresa Collignon, is interviewed in response (approx. 19’ into the program; link available until 18 October 2017).

“Business Council education revolution would treat technical education like university,” The Sydney Morning Herald, 11 October 2017.

“Business council chief calls for overhaul of ‘unfair’ student loan system,” The Guardian Australia, 11 October 2017.

“BCA proposes ‘life-long skills account’ for every Australian,” ABC Radio PM program (with transcript), 11 October 2017.

“Fix the TAFEs, don’t touch university funding: Greg Craven,” ABC Radio PM program (with transcript), 11 October 2017.

For more information:

Read Jennifer Westacott’s speech.

Read the BCA media release.

Read the full paper here.

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