Saturday, May 4, 2013

School vs. university

Over the last few weeks it has been in the headlines all over: the Gonsky reform plans. The Australian schooling system suffers from a large gap between high and low performing students and the Gonsky school reform aims to improve this. The Australian schooling system is quite complex and responsibilities as well as the degree of schools autonomy vary from state to state. Schools funding is fed from both the states and territories as well as from the commonwealth and one can imagine that it is difficult to figure out how much money a certain school should actually get. And then there are very different requirements of the schools throughout the country. Schools in rural areas have different needs than schools in the city, private schools differ a lot from public schools - and the Catholic Church plays a major role in the schooling system as well. The Gonsky reform aims to account for these differences on a financial level and to close the gap between high and low performing students. Schools which e.g. have a high percentage of students from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds or kids with disabilities will get more money per student to be able to provide high quality education. The whole plan sums up to a A$ 14.5 billion injection in the school system over the next 6 years.
But where is the money supposed to come from? The Commonwealth will contribute about 2/3 of it and to do that,.... well, the plan is that about A$2.3 billion of it will be stripped from the universities. About A$900 million will be taken from the general university grants and the rest will be saved by converting student scholarships into loans and by cancelling the discounts for students who pay their student fees upfront. That does not sound incredibly much in the first place and universities calculated that it comes down to a cut of about A$200 per student. The total funding of the Commonwealth to the universities will still increase, just not with the same rate as expected. But as the reform is planned to commence in 2014 we talk about money that in principle is already planned into the budgets and nearly spend. Combined with the earlier termination of the Future Fellowship program and the funding cuts from last year this adds up to a critical level. 
But besides the fact that nobody wants to have money taken away from them even if it is for a very good cause such as better school education: isn't it a weird thing to do? To aim for a better education on the primary and secondary level but then reduce the possibilities for the same now better qualified students to study at an Australian university? Esp. in a public university system which already has one of the highest student fees world wide? Isn't the higher education lifted into a new level of luxury by that?
Until now the whole Gonsky reform still isn't finalized. The states have to give their consent to it, because the schools are primarily their responsibility and so far just New South Wales has signed the agreement. And then there are elections coming up later in the year and maybe this changes everything anyways - at least that is what the opposition claims to do now in the pre-election phase.

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