THE ALP’S POSITION
Since gaining power in 2007, education reform has been a key platform for the Australian Labor Party. This has in part been a result of the passion and leadership of Julia Gillard who entered Federal Parliament with a personal mission to drive changes to the Australian education system. The initiatives implemented under Labor include:
- The ‘Building the Education Revolution’ school infrastructure program
- NAPLAN testing and the MySchool website
- A national school curriculum
- The school laptop program
- The “Bradley” review of the higher education system
- The establishment of the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency
- The review of university base funding
- Reviews of international students and international education
- Streamlined visa processing for international public university students
- The ambition to increase the proportion of 25 to 34 year old Australians with at least a bachelor level qualificaton to 40 per cent by 2025
- Demand-driven funding and the uncapping of Commonwealth-supported university places
- The MyUniversity website
- The review of higher education regulation
The education initiative which has gained the most attention has been the Better School Plan (formerly known as the “Gonski” education reforms), which is designed to revamp the way schools are funded and managed. The new funding model will see $15 billion phased in over six years from 2014, with nearly $10 billion coming from the Commonwealth. Right to her final day as Prime Minister, Gillard drove a crusade to sign up the States and Territories to these reforms; a quest continued by Kevin Rudd. The potency of this has however been diluted by the decision to strip $2.6 billion from the tertiary education sector in order to fund the school reforms and the capping of self-education tax deductions.
WHAT WILL THE ALP DO IF RE-ELECTED?
The ALP will continue to drive reform in the education system, with a focus on improving quality. The National Plan for School Improvement aims to place Australia in the top five schooling nations worldwide for reading, science and maths by 2025. Labor plan to keep the National Curriculum and will continue to improve the MySchools website. Labor will introduce a Schoolkids bonus for eligible children of $420 per year for primary students and $820 per year for secondary students to assist parents meet the costs of educating their children. In a further appeal for the votes of working mums and dads, Labor has announced the ‘Better Schools: Before and After’ program, a new $450 million fund that will provide funding for up to 500 schools to offer more flexible supervised care programs outside normal school hours. Tertiary providers will see the ALP reform higher education regulation, although Minister Kim Carr has suggested the current system of funding based on demand for university places may be reconsidered. In response to vocal disdain from the education and professional sector, the ALP has chosen to defer its planned $2000 capping of self-education tax deductions.
THE COALITION’S POSITION
In a nutshell, the Coalition is promising two things for the education sector – “certainty and stability”. Early into the campaign, details on how they will achieve this are sketchy, however there are some clues.
Rather than repeal the school funding reforms, the Coalition announced that it will honour Labor’s commitment on funding irrespective of whether the states and territories have signed a deal with the Gillard or Rudd Government. They do, however, plan to amend the Education Act to overcome “Labor’s Canberra takeover of state schools”.
By 2014, the Coalition want to see 40 per cent of Year 12 students studying a foreign language, preferably Asian. The Coalition will keep the School Chaplaincy Scheme, scrap the School Kids Bonus and establish a capital infrastructure fund.
It will be of interest to see what influence, if any, The Greens may have on the school funding reforms under a Coalition Government. In particular, they would like to see additional funding to support teacher training and will advocate for removal of the Chaplaincy Scheme to achieve this.
As for higher education, Tony Abbott has recognised the sector’s support for many of the ALP reforms and has consequently promised to “fine-tune the existing system rather than to constantly try to re-engineer it.
The Coalition has said they will work with universities to expand their share of the international higher education market. By 2014 they have committed to establishing a new, two-way Colombo Plan, exchanging Australian students with their counterparts from the Asian region.
Red tape in the system continues to be a concern, with the Coalition promising reductions. An immediate priority will be to reduce the time required for researchers to submit grant applications and the regulatory and compliance burden.
The Coalition will also develop polices to assist higher education institutions to take advantage of the growth in online learning. The Nationals meanwhile will continue their push for further enhancements to Tertiary Youth Allowance to ensure all prospective students from regional and remote areas have equal access to assistance irrespective of their geography.
The Coalition has however been silent on its plans for the ALP’s $2.6 billion funding cut to the tertiary sector, preferring to make a decision once in Government. Similarly, while echoing concerns raised regarding the planned $2000 self-education tax deduction cap, the Coalition remain silent regarding its plans.