It’s hard to believe it was 50 years this month that I watched, cross-legged in a classroom, Armstrong drop from that last rung of the ladder.
While this seemed like such an incredible feat of technological brilliance at the time, there is no denying that we are currently experiencing a time of unprecedented technological disruption.
From any historical distance you care to choose, we live in by far and away the most remarkable era of human innovation and technological advance humans have hitherto experienced.
Universities make a positive contribution to humans surviving and thriving, in business and for real during this remarkable time.
From wi-fi to plastic money, a breadth and depth of scholarship, discovery and invention, Australian universities and the wider scientific community have got a lot of things right.
We punch well above our weight.
In my own university days, I experienced genuinely magnificent scholars in full flight. Scholars all across the range, from Ken Galbraith to Graham Worrall to Howard Zinn to Noam Chomsky.
The best university teaching I saw was utterly first rate and like my Labor colleagues, I wish for this experience to be in reach for all Australians, no matter your income.
As Labor’s spokesperson for employment, industry and science, I am acutely aware of the interconnection of universities and industry in maintaining and growing employment amid future challenges.
While many people may feel anxious about what the future may bring, one thing is certain, we cannot advance as a society, or keep up in a global economy where technology use is increasing, if we do not invest in research and education.
This is becoming ever more pertinent as each year passes without a future path or plan.
As a country, it is in all of our interests to make sure students going to universities are prepared for the jobs of today and also just as capable of doing the jobs of the future.
We must ensure that we are investing in vocational and tertiary skills, so that we have at our disposal, the skills to support the areas of emerging demand in our labour market, while anticipating the effects of a growing global shift toward knowledge based, service industries.
According to the Department of Jobs and Small Business, over the five years to May 2023, growth is expected in health care and social assistance, construction, education and training, and professional, scientific and technical services.
Australia’s future depends on a focus and investment in science and research, which will drive innovation, particularly in these areas. However, the latest Productivity Commission Bulletin highlighted that productivity growth has been sluggish partly due to weak investment, particularly in research and development, “The share of businesses that are innovators – which goes beyond R&D spending – is no longer growing.”
This is problematic because it is essentially putting the hand break on skills development and innovation.
Research and innovation is absolutely fundamental to the prosperity of this country, particularly if we want improved living standards, an increase in productivity, decent and well paid jobs and to become globally competitive.
We live in an age where the necessity for lifelong learning is essential and universities are at the centre of providing this opportunity.
A university is a community, it is an institution, it is an organism, but not a machine, never a machine. Universities must continue to exude social cement and buttress civil society. They must continue to cherish curiosity and inquiry.
Governments in their turn have to fund and lead rather than micromanage our research institutions.
Australia needs leadership.
Australia’s government must pursue a vision for our future. An inclusive, bold and productive vision, where innovation, industry and research are paramount. And where Australian universities are at our core.
As a country we must choose to build a nation rich in educational, training and employment opportunities, with a broad based engine of economic growth.
This is my choice.