Well, the long-awaited response to the Gonski review into education has finally arrived- or has it? The Prime Minister made an appearance at the National Press Club to launch what was supposed to be her response to the the recommendations of the report by businessman David Gonski into how to better fund our education system in the future. Julia Gillard spoke of the need for a new model of funding along the lines of that suggested by Mr Gonski in his report. But what was missing was the dollar amount though the Prime Minister says the Gonski recommendations would require about $6.5 billion. After winding us all up with expectations of new education dollars the exact financial commitment was left unsaid.
The new model of funding that the Prime Minister has accepted calls for a base level of money which is directly in relation to the number of students enrolled in a particular school. On top of that, the Gonski scheme of school funding calls for loading for schools that are in a rural or remote area, teach children with poor levels of English, if the school is smaller, has students from low income families enrolled or caters for people with a disability or those from an indigenous background.
From the outset, the Gillard Government knows that they have little money to play with and that any would be borrowed, so this is not a good starting point.
Like the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the future funding of the new system of education will be fought over in Council of Australian Governments meetings. This is certainly why the PM didn’t announce a price tag for the much needed education reforms.
The Prime Minister today signalled that negotiations over the joint funding of the future of education will take place between the commonwealth and the states. This could well lead to the collapse of the proposed policy before it begins, the COAG process isn’t exactly a walk in the park, and at the very least this will result in protracted negotiations.
There’s also the small matter of the timing of the implementation of the new framework. Prime Minister Gillard announced that there would be a six year process of policy implementation which would start in 2014. Based on this timetable alone it is within reason to think that the Prime Minister is not serious about setting up the new system. It’s increasingly likely that the Prime Minister and her government will not be in power from 2013 and we already know that an incoming Coalition Government would get rid of this vital education reform.
It seems clear that this announcement today is about pretending to do something while not taking seriously the need to put the ideas that Mr Gonski put forward after his review into action. There have been a number of policies where either the money has been announced or just the policy itself, or in the case of the NDIS, some cash put towards the scheme, but not enough. This isn’t brave, it’s just pure politics.
The report has been sat on for months and all that the ALP have managed to come up with is a timetable and a promise to negotiate with the states and territories, knowing full well that at the very least negotiations will take a long time. and at worst, the talks will collapse completely without an outcome. Or alternatively, and more likely, a Liberal and National Party Government would repeal the legislation and money upon taking office.
What is a real shame about the half announcement today is that there was no immediate commitment to the loading payments for various types of disadvantage which have been overlooked with previous ways of dealing with education costs. Indigenous students, children from low income families, rural and regional students and those with a disability are the most in need of increased support and have fallen behind because that extra financial commitment for their specific needs has not been available.
This is clearly a policy response on the run and gives the appearance of action to the naked eye. When you look closely there’s no clear goals, other than for Australia to be in the top 5 countries in reading, science and maths by 2025. This is another policy area that the Labor Government would well know is almost certainly not going to come to fruition and that’s a big shame given that it’s about education and providing equal access to learning opportunities. This should, for the most part, be a politics free zone, especially when developed from expert advice.
A good and diverse education is probably the most important part of the life of any child or young adult growing up in any nation around the world. So it goes that the Colombo Plan introduced by Sir Robert Menzies while in government, with a main goal being to foster the education of people from developing nations in our region was a good idea with a strong world view a major outcome for students involved.
Further, so it goes too that the idea of a reverse Colombo Plan as proposed by the Abbott-led Opposition is a smart adaptation of the current iteration, the Australia Awards, which will give more Australian based students the opportunity to study in an Asian nation, better preparing those chosen for the already proclaimed ‘Asian Century‘.
The Colombo Plan as far as it went for Australia as with the current Australia Awards grants students from Asian nations scholarships to attend university here in Australia and it had been undertaken by some now very well established business and political leaders in our region.
Not only was the original Colombo Plan responsible for educating some of the talented people in leadership positions around Asia but it was and is also a very smart diplomatic move that was in a big way a part of Australia beginning to open itself up to the non-European world which really first started to occur under Menzies and successive Liberal and Labor Prime Ministers and has continued to evolve ever since.
A strong worldview is very important in the development of the minds of students who as a result become well-equipped to deal with and be aware of their region and the world around them.
The Colombo Plan and its latest version too has and will allow young adults to get a better education than they may well have been able to have had they remained in their country of birth for tertiary studies.
The plan to send Australian students on scholarship to Asian universities will have much the same effect on our students that the Coalition plans to give the opportunity to travel overseas for their education.
It will allow Australian students a first-hand experience at cultures they may have been exposed to here in Australia but may not have immersed themselves in or learnt so much about the particular range and diversity of cultures and beliefs that exist in our regional vicinity.
The knock-on economic benefits of a Colombo style plan, whether it be the existing setup or a future reverse iteration would also surely be a not insignificant positive because of students plunging money into universities here and abroad through purchases made on campus that aren’t part of scholarship funds.
Not only that but the positives for the broader economy of respective nations having extra people coming in and spending money not just on education but on leisure and tourist activities are also a worthy part of the equation.
There is an argument that has been doing the rounds, courtesy of former Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, that the reverse Colombo Plan would be responsible for less overseas students being funded to come to Australia and this is in some respects true. If funding levels remained the same on our behalf and there was no funding agreed to by Asian nations as part of the plan, of course the result goes without saying.
However, there is no particular reason why funding could not be negotiated between nations involved in the Colombo Plan so that Australian students could benefit from an overseas education in Asia. It doesn’t have to result in the same or similar numbers of Australian students being given scholarships to be educated in Asian universities as those from Asian nations educated here, though that would be the optimal outcome.
The extra funding too could be found by engaging with businesses from Australia and the Asian region and seeking funding from them to allow for more scholarships for Australian students to study in this corner of the globe and this has been highlighted as an avenue of investigation by the Coalition. It seems reasonable to assume that businesses would certainly be amenable to the move, especially if it meant access to a broader range of talent.
Continuing and expanding this program to include a bigger outward flow of students is a positive idea from the Coalition and one that deserves more thought and planning so that it is actually realised under a future government and is an idea that would benefit from an earlier implementation if they felt like they were struggling for a good idea.