Equity is no longer an option - it's an imperative
Type of Publication: Professional commentary
Lead Organisation: University of Melbourne
Year Published: 2017
Lead Researcher: Erin Watson-Lynn
Written by Erin Watson-Lynn for HIGHER EDITION, Universities Australia.
23 February 2017
Erin Watson-Lynn is Chair of the Advisory Board, National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education and Director, Asialink Diplomacy, the University of Melbourne.
Seismic shifts in our economy and our society are here.
Our globalised economy has seen technology disrupt jobs, industries and markets.
Our workforce is also increasingly polarised; with high-paid, technology-based and knowledge-driven jobs at one end of the spectrum and low-paid, unskilled increasingly casualised jobs at the other.
In both cases, many of the jobs that are around today won’t be here in 20 years’ time.
Children being born today will be employed in jobs that we can’t yet imagine. The drivers of this change are varied, from advanced robotics and autonomous transport to artificial intelligence and machine learning.
These radical changes in technology are also being accompanied by rising geopolitical volatility, changes in how we work, climate change, natural resources, and new disruptive models such as crowdsourcing.
Knowledge and an equitable higher education system are central to the creation – and mastering – of all these changes.
Technical skills will be vital for all successful societies, economies and individuals.
Digital literacy, too, will be essential for the vast majority of people, of all ages and in all jobs and occupations.
In the past, however, equity has been simply “tacked on” to economic or education policy, sometimes with good intent, sometimes for the need “to tick a box”.
We’ve seen positive results in equity in the form of gradually improving participation and success rates for students from disadvantaged backgrounds in higher education.
We shouldn’t understate the importance of the flagship Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program (HEPPP) in achieving those equity gains.
HEPPP, however, has had to endure successive budget cuts and policy uncertainty. Yet we know that long-term stability and investment is crucial to make real headway on equity.
Equity needs to be squarely at the centre of economic and educational policy.
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