The “I give a Gonski” campaign has been successful. That is, politicians have listened and are acting on the recommendations made by the Review of Funding for Schooling chaired by David Gonski. Over the weekend, the Federal Government announced plans to increase school funding by $14.5 billion over six years – $2 billion of this funding will come from existing university funding. The funding plan has been met with widespread criticism and condemnation, with supporters of education funding arguing that you can’t take funding from one part of the education sector to give to another.
Under the propoal, school funding would be increased by $14.5 billion over six years – $12 billion of that will be directed to public schools with Cathloic schools picking up an extra $1.5 billion in funding and independent schools getting an extra $1 billion.
The proposal aims to create a school resource standard; that is an amount of money the Government says is required to educate a child. According to the proposal the base amount of funding for primary students is $9 271 per child and $12 193 for secondary pupils. These figures are based on what it could cost to raise 80 per cent of students above the national minimum standards for literacy and numeracy.
The funding will only be provided if the states and territories join the Gonski party and boost their spending by three per cent. The changes will be put to the Premiers at a COAG meeting this Friday.
“I make an offer to premiers and chief ministers around the country which is for the extra money required to get us to the school resourcing standard for every $1 they are prepared to put in to get there, I am prepared to put in $2,” Ms Gillard said.
But, the Gonski reforms are already facing a hurdle: No states or territories have indicated they will support the reforms at COAG. Western Australia is even insisting they will reject the current plan.
Gonski funding breakdown
State Extra funding Total public investment 2014-19 NSW $5 billion $87 billion VIC $4 billion $68 billion QLD $3.8 billion $65 billion WA $300 million $38 billion SA $600 million $21 billion TAS $400 million $7 billion ACT $100 million $5 billion NT $300 million $5 billion Catholic schools $1.4 billion $50 billion Independent schools $1 billion $35 billion
Funding is based on a formula of a base amount per student plus “loadings” that are given when certain criteria are met.
Source: ABC News
This will mean the already embattled Federal Government will have to enter into one-on-one negotiations with each state and territory to ensure the funding plan can work.
Opposition education spokesman, Christopher Pyne, has unsurprisingly slammed the proposals and has promised that if the Coalition wins the election in September – something that is looking more and more likely with each passing day – and all the states and territories haven’t signed up, then the deal will be canned.
“If the Gillard Government can’t get all the states and territories to sign up at COAG on Friday, her school funding model is dead in the water,” he said.
“Education is not like health; we’ve never operated that way. We’ve always had a nationally consistent model and we will not have different states operating under different models.
“So no state should sign up thinking that they will have that agreement honoured if the other states do not… It’s all in or none in.”
And it’s not just Christopher Pyne that isn’t happy. Surprisingly, David Gonski himself has expressed his disappointment. For Mr Gonski, Chancellor of the University of NSW, and chair of the Review of Funding for Schooling, the announcement must have been a stab in the heart. The recommendations he headed, and had given his name to, were going to be implemented, but at the cost of university funding.
“As chairman of the review of school funding, set up by the Federal Government, my fellow panellists and I were not asked to consider how our final recommendations should be funded,” he said.
“As chancellor of a leading Australian university, the University of NSW, I fervently believe in and will continue to advocate that increases be made in funding the university sector, to ensure Australia is able to provide quality teaching and research in its universities.”
As of next year, universities will be hit with an efficiency dividend of two per cent and 1.25 per cent in 2015 which will save about $900 million. Of more concern to the average voter, especially those of university age, the Federal Government will save a further $230 million by cutting the current 10 per cent discount students enjoy if they pay university fees up front. In another disappointing move, the Federal Government will save $1.2 billion through changing the Start-up scholarship into a loan-type scheme. This will mean students who receive the scholarship will have to pay the money back once they reach an earning threshold. For the 2012-13 income year, the compulsory repayment threshold is $49, 095.
It’s the changes to the HELP discount scheme and changing the start-up scholarship to a start-up loan that voters need to concern themselves with, as these will directly hit university students, and parents of university students, in the hip pocket. The removal of the HELP discount scheme removes the incentive for students to get on top of their university loans through paying upfront, while the changes to the Start-up scholarship just put another roadblock in front of financially challenged students, as the prospect of having to pay more money back could discourage them from entering higher education.
While changes to benefits students received are of concern, changes to direct university funding aren’t as negative as some interested parties are making out. The direct changes to university funding actually only amounts to $900 million, which Dr Chandra Shah from Monash University says is the figure we should be looking at.
Dr Shah, an academic specialising in the economics of education, believes the money will be better spent on schools and argues that the scale and impact of the cutbacks on tertiary institutions has been overstated.
“It’s not going to suddenly stop universities from operating, and it is over two years and then it reverts back,” he told the ABC.
“Generally there is higher pay-off into spending money into good quality primary and secondary education, and then you have set up a good base for further education for those students.”
The Greens education spokeswoman, Lee Rhiannon disagrees with the views of Dr Shah, saying it’s ludicrous to cut one education sector to fund another.
“So many of our students at schools in coming years will want to go to university and when they arrive there they will find under-resourced institutions with overworked staff, overcrowded classrooms,” she said.
“This is no way to build an innovative nation with an educated population.”
Despite the widespread criticism, the Prime Minister has committed to getting the Gonski reforms through parliament and into legislation by September; before the election that is likely to see her and her government ousted.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s announcement that she will cut university funding to fund the Gonski education funding reforms hasn’t been a popular one, with politicians and academics condemning the move, which is really just a simple shuffle of funding. Education has always been a priority of the Labor government, both under Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, and with these reforms dividing politicians and academics alike, education funding is certain to be another 2013 election issue.