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Investing in ourselves

By Sandra Haukka and Bruce Muirhead - posted Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Governments everywhere talk about the importance of investing more in people. They want us to know what they are doing, what they have achieved, and what they intend to do.

We are expected to be well qualified and highly skilled in what we do, keeping pace with a rapidly changing world at the same time. In return we are supposed to get better jobs, earn more, work smarter, and contribute to a healthier economy.

Many of us who are parents want our children to do well at school so they too can enjoy these benefits.


There is no doubt Australians are becoming better educated and more productive. Over the past decade, the proportion of people with a vocational or higher education qualification rose 10 per cent. Australia's productivity rate has increased by an average of 3 per cent a year from the late '90s to today. Our governments spent just over 14 per cent of total public expenditure on education, which is above the OECD country mean.

But there is a need to do more to encourage Australians to keep investing in education and training. This may be difficult when the financial returns for doing so might not be that encouraging. Australia is well below the OECD average in regards to relative earnings.

In the lead-up to the 2007 federal election we are hearing about Labor's education revolution where investing in Australians is the heart of productivity growth and competitiveness.

The Liberals believe choice in education and training is the answer.

Regardless of how many policies, programs and initiatives are pumped out by governments, many of us do not have the time, finances or support from our families and employers to keep investing in ourselves.

When we want to, we may not find exactly what we need. If fact, we may not be interested at all. This doesn't mean we haven't learnt or strove to do better - it is probably the opposite.


Do governments know what sort of labour force they will need in future? Do they know where the skills are needed? Do they know what programs actually work in providing skills? How do they prioritise investment in people? How do they reinvest the returns they get from their investments?

Governments must consider these issues before they decide how it will invest more in its people. They need to rethink investment in a way that engages people and reduces barriers to participation. Governments must track the programs' impact to make sure they meet the changing needs of people.

Governments face three challenges in making this happen.

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First published in The Courier-Mail on September 10, 2007.

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About the Authors

Dr Sandra Haukka is a Research Fellow with the Eidos Institute.

Professor Bruce Muirhead is CEO of the Eidos Institute.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Photo of Sandra HaukkaSandra HaukkaPhoto of Bruce MuirheadBruce Muirhead
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