The move by the Federal Government to cut tertiary funding to fund the recommendations of the Gonski report is a short-sighted approach to education funding in Australia. The education system needs adequate funding from early childhood through to university. Our children should commence their educational journey with the guarantee that at every stage through which they pass – pre-school, primary, secondary, vocational and university – the education they receive is of a high standard. This is an educational journey that should continue throughout their lives with opportunities for further education as mature learners as well. It does not make sense to compromise the quality of one part of the education system by cutting its funds in order to give to another.
The measures announced by the Federal government do not result in additional funding for quality education in Australia. The contribution that education makes to the wellbeing of individual citizens, our economy and Australian society as a whole is widely acknowledged and proper resourcing across all phases of education is needed. According to OECD data the proportion of national wealth spent on educational institutions in Australia in 2008 was below the OECD average. Expenditure for all levels in Australia as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product expenditure is below the average and lower than a variety of countries including Korea and New Zealand.
The level of funding of education is not the sole or necessarily the most significant factor in determining the standard of education. A challenge to this premise is presented in the most recent Policy Brief of the Melbourne institute. Proper resourcing of education in schools is but one strand of the complex fabric that is a high standard education. Discussion of educational achievement in Australia demands a more complex response.
The impact of the quality of teaching on student achievement is significant. How can we ensure that teaching practice is of a high standard; that the curriculum guiding what happens in schools across the nation is not simply standardised, but enables the development of essential lifelong attributes such as analytical thinking and problem solving skills, creativity, the ability to work collaboratively – and independently.
Cuts in State Governments’ funding to the TAFE sector have already had a significant impact on the vocational educational sector. Cuts in federal government funding to universities will mean that universities will need to decide which courses, subjects and student services they can no longer afford to offer. Small, specialised courses may disappear, subject offerings in courses will be reduced resulting in a narrower range of electives available. Student services such as counselling, study skills and language support are also likely targets for cuts.
The Prime Minister argues that universities have a vested interest in increased funding of schools so that students are better prepared for university entry. It seems illogical to privilege one level of education at the expense of the other.