COMMENT

RAISING THE BARR: A university education isn't for everyone, but it is for some

ACCESSIBLE: Cessnock has one of the world's best universities right on our door-step, at Newcastle.
ACCESSIBLE: Cessnock has one of the world's best universities right on our door-step, at Newcastle.

I have written in this column on many occasions that we, in the Cessnock electorate, have much to be concerned about when it comes to our long term trends in education.

But before I get into the detail (this time), I want to acknowledge some of the insanely wonderful stuff currently happening in our local schools. Congratulations to the many inspiring educators that have blazed new pathways for our next generation.

Breaking the cycle of our community disadvantage, career pathways and future prosperity starts and ends with our approach to education.

I don't want to sugar-coat it, or mix my words. People, we have to start loving education and embracing the power of education for our children. Get on board or get left behind!

I have recently pulled together some Census data figures to give a sense of where we are currently at when we consider university education as a pathway. Because let's face it, we have one of the world's best universities right on our door-step, at Newcastle.

Our historical response to the idea of university has been "not everyone needs to go to uni" and this is 100 percent correct. We have people doing wonderful things in our community who never went to university, but overall, our local balance of those with uni qualifications and those without uni qualifications is way out of whack!

Digest this: there are 93 state electorates (areas with a local MP) in NSW and of those 93, in 2001 we ranked 92 (second lowest) for uni qualifications; in 2006 we ranked 93; in 2011 we ranked 93 and in 2016 we ranked 92. We have only 15 percent of our population with a uni degree in 2016, up from nine percent in 2001. The state average is 27 percent of all residents with a degree, so we have quite a long way to go to provide any balance to our community.

Historically, right across the Hunter, our people received little or no training after school, or achieved a trade. They worked hard, made a decent living, bought a house and raised their families on their blue-collar wage. It was hard-earned money and well-deserved.

But those jobs have largely disappeared and/or are currently disappearing. Manufacturing is gone and coal jobs are far fewer than they used to be when the work was done more by hand than machine. Desktop computers have taken the jobs of typists and admin workers.

In the future, there are going to be so many people without qualifications out of work, that employers are going to be able to pick and choose and the wages will stay at all-time lows. These wages won't provide enough to the average households to pay bills and put food on the table.

The solution is education. To protect ourselves from future poverty we need to get a qualification or a skill, make ourselves a skilled and valued employee on a higher wage and ensure that we don't get left behind. A university education will be the answer to some of these challenges for some people.

  • Clayton Barr is the State MP for Cessnock. Contact his office on (02) 4991 1466 or cessnock@parliament.nsw.gov.au.

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