The Australian education sector will benefit significantly from both a boost in the number of school age children and the increased demand from older Australians looking to develop or refresh their skills to remain active participants in the workforce.
Births have risen to around 310,000 per year, up from 250,000 a decade ago. This is pointing to around a 25 per cent rise in the number of Australian secondary school students in the 2020s. Thirty years ago one in every four students were educated in non-government schools, this ratio is now more than one in three.
Education is already Australia’s number one service export worth around $17 billion annually. The good news is this is set to continue but the education sector will be further boosted by a growing demand for kindergarten to year 12 schooling. Given the underlying trend towards private (non-government) schooling in Australia, this is particularly positive for the private sector.
The growth isn’t just a product of increased domestic demand: Asian middle class parents have always placed a high value on western education for their children but more of them now have the wealth necessary to access this. The private school sector provides a clear pathway to further education in Australia’s universities. If the private school sector can leverage this successfully, it could be poised to be one of the key growth engines for the Australian economy.
Reskilling an ageing workforce
With growing numbers of older Australians extending their careers by choosing a different role or a new industry, opportunities will arise for education and training providers to assist with developing the new skills required to make the best use of this pool of experienced and productive workers.
Some office workers already work well into their 60s and 70s but that is less true of more manual workers such as tradespeople and soldiers. Federal Government policy aims to substantially lift the share of the population with tertiary qualifications. That will directly add to opportunities for the education sector and also boost demand from older workers for training in new skills.
At the same time, workers will need to stay abreast of increasingly rapid technological change as digital technologies change not only the way we live but also the way we work.
There is however one glaring obstacle in the way of education realising its potential as one Australia’s major growth sectors: we need to address the entrenched idea that education is primarily for people aged under 25 and tweak policies to ensure the support such as student loans are available to older people.