Australia enjoys among the best health systems in the world. The quality and capacity of that system relies on the capability of our health practitioners, the majority of whom are educated in our universities.
Traditionally, universities have worked in close conjunction with health service systems, the professions and highly skilled practitioners to ensure the necessary mix of academic and practical experience in their education. These arrangements are long-standing and robust, but subject to financial, technological, regulatory and demand pressures and change. Ensuring funding and support arrangements work effectively in the contemporary environment and are sustainable has been identified by Universities Australia as a policy priority, requiring collaborative action.
Responding to current and projected workforce shortages, Australian universities have doubled the number of students enrolled in health professions education over the past decade. Improvements are being seen in the supply of health practitioners across a range of disciplines and locations, enabling people to access to health care that would have otherwise not been available.
Universities also play an important role in workforce distribution. By providing education and placement opportunities across Australia, universities contribute not only to a better distribution of future health professionals, but also provide support to health services, practitioners and their patients now.
Over the past decade Australian governments have actively sought to increase and distribute an increase in the number of health professionals nationally. This national reform agenda, prompted by major projected shortages in health workforce numbers, has critically involved the university sector. The number of people studying to practice as a health professional has virtually doubled over the past decade and represents around 10 per cent of total university enrolments. This growth has been possible due to Australia’s highly collaborative health and higher education sectors. However, that same growth is impacting profoundly on the capacity of the system as a whole to support and sustain the clinical education of health professionals.
In 2012 Universities Australia established the Health Professions Education Standing Group (HPESG) as a university sector and discipline-wide advisory body to strengthen the capacity of Australia’s universities to work with governments and other partners to address the significant health workforce challenges the nation faces.
The HPESG brings a unique perspective to deliberations on health and education strategy and policy and is working with officials and other key stakeholders across Australia to promote a much needed national discussion about the how we can ensure the effectiveness and sustainability of our health education system as a whole.
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