Universities urge education policy rethink

A university graduate outside Parliament House
More than 40 per cent of people in Australia aged 25 to 34 have a bachelor's degree or higher. -AAP Image

As a skills shortage grips Australia, the head of the peak body representing universities will urge the federal government to recognise their importance as "engines of opportunity".

In a speech to the National Press Club on Wednesday, Universities Australia chair John Dewar will outline how the government can reset education policy to address skills deficits and boost the economy.

Data from the latest census revealed 43.5 per cent of people aged 25 to 34 have a bachelor's degree or higher.

Among women in this age group, more than half have at least a bachelors degree, up from 26 per cent in 2001. 

The census results demonstrate how universities have transformed Australia in the past generation, Professor Dewar will say. 

"Universities are no longer bastions of privilege, they are engines of opportunity," he says.

"People know the importance of our universities and want their government to act to improve them."

Without universities, every industry would struggle to operate, particularly in the middle of a skills crisis Australia is experiencing, Prof Dewar says.

He points out universities are responsible for training essential workers such as teachers and health professionals.

The federal government must also invest in research to benefit the economy, Prof Dewar will urge.

"If we could lift investment in higher education research and development by just one per cent we could lift productivity and increase the size of Australia's economy by $28 billion over 10 years," he says.

"The role of universities is particularly obvious in the regions, especially those with economies and communities in transition, in need of new skills and careers for their people."