Education: who will get some?

Commenting on the 2014 federal budget is something I keep trying to stop doing, but every time I look at a newspaper, I get irritated and feel like wrangling these op-ed writers.

Today it was Amanda Vanstone that set my fingers itching for the keyboard. I have periodically agreed, to varying degrees, with Amanda. I am, after all, not a “leftie” so that is to be expected. However today I found myself disgruntled. The spin was a bit over the top for my liking.

I didn’t like the last paragraph at all, which seemed to imply we should all be grateful the right wing “allow” us to live in a democracy. Perhaps some would prefer a right wing single party system, but I’m not one of those people.

Moving on to the introduction of universal education, Amanda says:

Not surprisingly, there was no dramatic change to the socio-economic make-up of university students. This grandiose gesture did not let more poor kids in to university. What it did was pay for all the so-called rich kids who were going to uni anyway. In an effort to help the poor, taxpayer dollars were shovelled into the mouths of the rich. Not surprisingly, they liked it. A lot.

The concept of universal education was good, but the implementation was a disaster in Amanda’s view. It may very well have been. I didn’t pay a lot of attention at the time as I was a mature-age student working full-time and studying part-time and putting two kids through, shock, horror – private school. I know quite a few people from what Amanda might classify as “poor” backgrounds who did go to university and many were the first in their families to do so. I was the orphan daughter of an illegitimate father: does that classify as disadvantaged? Would I have my degree if I’d had to pay up-front? No, I wouldn’t.

Even so, I take note of Amanda’s point about ensuring kids in Year 12 from less rich families are prepared for university. This is where she should have been supporting the Gonski recommendations! The best way to ensure kids are prepared to go to university is to ensure education outcomes are equitable across the board. Rich kids go to private schools (as a generalisation) and private schools do have a strong focus on achieving entrance to university courses and invest accordingly. Public schools need, in some cases affirmative action style, support to ensure those equitable outcomes for all students who might aim for university. To open the eyes and minds of students from poorer backgrounds to the possibility of a university education.

Only a few of the hundreds of thousands of people who go to university each year will end up being our leaders. The rest will just have higher incomes and more job security and social status than many who do not get the opportunity to go to university.

So what? We still need doctors, lawyers, dentists, accountants (well, maybe not accountants – we have a huge number of them already) and a host of other people that will never become leaders. Define “leader” in this context. University qualifications are not about producing leaders alone. In some cases we are pumping out too many graduates of some professions and in other cases we are not protecting graduates’ jobs because we bring in overseas workers on 457 visas. I am the first to acknowledge not everyone needs or wants a university degree. We need valuable tradespeople, we need factory workers, we need people to collect the rubbish from our homes and streets. Apprenticeships should be better supported by Australian businesses and government. Perhaps private schools need to offer alternatives to university educations as well! HOWEVER:

Yes, we should. The best and brightest who WANT a university education should be the ones we, as a nation, invest in. Not the ones who need to gain a degree to please their parents, the parents who can afford to foot the bill.

How many rich kids drop out? How many graduating rich kids manage to afford expert legal and tax advice to minimise their repayment of the HECS debt? I paid mine, I wasn’t rich enough to be able to avoid it. I keep thinking of the young man who gave the valedictory speech at Miss O 1’s high school graduation last year. Brilliant. The son of a refugee. What will these changes mean to his future? I don’t know, but I can hazard a guess there may be a considerable impact.

What of our four young people who are all highly motivated to gain university qualifications? After the Labor government slashed our family’s financial state with no accountability or care, we will find it damn hard to pay anything up-front for all four – unless we sell those movie rights (hint, hint). Will they have to re-calibrate their expectations? Yes, I do have a personal interest in how this pans out. I don’t want to see our kids denied an education because we are not rich.

I agree many have won university places and not had the ambition or motivation to see it through – but who were they predominantly? The article makes it sound as if it was never the rich kids who had Daddy’s and Mummy’s money to fall back on or the family business to inherit who dropped out. I’d like to see a real analysis. The dig about lower ATAR scores to gain university entrance in 2014 also carried an implication it is all about the young people trying to rip off the taxpayer, because the poorer applicants dragged down the scores.

Certainly young people should NOT be getting a free (or greatly reduced cost) education if they are simply trying to rip off the taxpayer for a few years and avoid working (working includes REAL study). I’m not convinced that is the case; are you? There may be an element of truth to the “me-me-me attitude” and I say that because I’ve already written about my own concerns about society’s What’s in it for ME? attitude. The spin of this sentence was a little too clear though.

These protesters say to all the tradies, cleaners, sales workers and others whose taxes have funded their education, ‘‘Thanks for the loan, suckers.’’

An attempt, perhaps, to appeal to traditional Labor voters or the Liberal voting small business owners that they’ve been being ripped off? The problem is, those are precisely the parents who are trying very hard to get their kids into university – and in saying that I am quoting a local high school teacher.

Should we means test university fees? If parents can afford twelve years of private schooling many of them are more than capable of affording a few more years of university. Would there then be a dramatic shift away from private schools to avoid being considered able to be charged university fees? Should we set up a system where for every rich, fee paying student there is a reduced fee place for the bright kids from less advantaged backgrounds? Real scholarships? Maybe we need fewer universities, reduce costs, economies of scale. Let us not end up in a situation where degrees can be bought, irrespective of intellectual or academic merit, as is the case in some countries of the world.

Amanda’s article offered no solutions, although her support for the right to protest was a good thing. This IS still a reasonably free country and we do generally have the right to protest. A revolution may be a bit of a stretch in this day of advanced weaponry at the beck and call of the government, but so far we can still protest! Maybe those jets were actually to control, rather than defend, the populace!

There is no easy answer to balancing the needs of the nation’s education and the funding thereof in a fair and equitable way. But I don’t need to have an answer, I’m not running the country. What I need are politicians who can balance these competing requirements without us returning to the days when only the rich went to university. That diminishes all of us.

13 comments on “Education: who will get some?

  1. […] Gough Whitlam has drawn comparisons of the costs of education then and now. We’ve seen the Gonski reforms disappear. Education is the way forward, yet our government is not too helpful when it comes to […]


  2. I hate to use anything which was used by Mr Abbott, but when it comes to Education, his party “Just don’t get it”.

    Many years ago, our clever leaders made sure that education in Australia was free. It was paid for by all tax payers.

    Free education is a smart investment in Australia’s future, and if they can’t see that, then they’re lacking in education.

    The government has the power to change it back to free education, but not the will or common sense to do so.

    One of my favourite cartoons on the topic . . . .





    • Thank you for sharing a supportive perspective Mick.

      You are right, they don’t get it. In fact I wonder if they actually got any as some sound rather uneducated.

      I love your favourite one! 🙂


  3. Education is the key to a successful and prosperous nation. Conservative policies and this Budget spell the end of aspirational politics. This generation of youth will be the first in this nation’s history who will not ‘do better’ than their parents.

    I do understand about not wanting to write anything on this Budget from hell. It becomes a question of where does one start.

    You just keep doing what you are doing. I always love to read your contributions.

    Joan xxxx


    • Thank you Joan. Amanda’s article was so much spin I just had to put my thoughts out there. I find the whole thing very frustrating.

      It will be interesting to see what they deliberately put in, with the plan to drop during negotiations with the Senate. I’m guessing they never planned to get it all through, there will be hooks in there to snare opposition.


  4. There are always lots of discussions on education in our family with 2 teachers and myself a manager of a small private RTO. The current system of primary & secondary schooling is broken..it is inequitable and unfair. Many kids are being left behind. Gonski offered promise although probably too ambitious. I agree with Noely that funding for private schools especially the elite amongst them should be cut and the funding re-distributed amongst the poorer schools. I am a fan of the Finnish model of quality education for all..its not just about jobs but offering a way out of poverty & hopelessness that impacts on so many of our young people. As for university and VET, dont get me started…I agree totally with Bill Shorten ” what have young people done to deserve Tony Abbott” Eductation should be the most important business of any government..sad that it not!


    • I have no problem with reduced funding for private schools. The Finnish model is great but it would take time for us to transition. For example I know someone in a “posh” area of Melbourne where there are NO state schools. He hascto go private or move. Private school was not his preference. So we have to get a public system up and running that could cope.

      Agree re education most important business Betty. Very sad situation.


  5. How about we stop paying money to private schools (as the rest of the bloody world does) and divert those funds to Universities & TAFE, at least the nation gets something back then with those funds as HECS pays back?


    • I’m not in favour of no government funding to private schools but that is a whole other discussion. I am certainly against the decimation of the TAFE system (see my other response).

      Unpaid HECS is, I think, an issue. People should pay. Maybe if we FIXED the non-payment issue, the system would work as designed? Just a thought.


  6. Umm fewer Unis is not the answer. You also have to figure in that kids outside cities already have a harder time going to Uni as they don’t have the luxury of being able to live at home while there. We had that with daughter going to Gold Coast for Uni, only lasted a year as could not get casual work to support herself while at Uni. These new rules just make that harder. Even with a scholarship, that only pays for the Uni degree itself, you still need to pay rent, feed yourself & transport (which is not bloody cheap anymore, even public transport) to still go to Uni.

    What peeves me is the people making these decisions, in the majority, had free University. It is actually quite offensive. We should just leave HECS as it is, PLUS we should allow living expenses of some sort to be added to HECS so that more kids can actually study.

    Not just at Uni either. I don’t know about other states, but Qld Govt is decimating TAFE, well the TAFE’s that are on prime Real Estate so they can flog the property, plus have upped the costs something shocking. So how this earning or learning will work when you can’t afford to go to Uni or TAFE, plus no jobs in some regions, stuffed!!!


    • They are decimating TAFE’s around the country. Very sad and very short-sighted in my view. We’ll have no tradespeople at all if they keep it up.

      Very good point about reducing university numbers, but I was just throwing ideas out there – I am a yellow quadrant thinker, after all. Condier any and all options!

      I actually think the New Zealand system worked. Not sure if it is the same now, but back in my day those who didn’t pay fees were contracted to the government for a number of years after completing their degree. That seemed to work, although I am sure someone will suggest it was an unmitigated disaster. I was too young when I lived there to remember, I just know how it worked.

      You’ve raised great additional points, Noely. Hopefully one day we will get a decent system.


  7. Selfish I know Robyn, but please don’t stop writing on this important subject (or any other as the muse or irritant takes you). Many times you speak for me and when you don’t, the theme is at least rational, liberal (ha!) and considered.

    Hmmm, rational, liberal and considered …. all things I want in my politicians. Robyn for PM?


    • Jan, I think my chances of ever being PM are slim. I don’t believe I am on the Christmas Card list of either of the mainstream parties!

      I like the adjectives, thank you. Plus I received balanced and compassionate for yesterday’s article. I’m feeling very chuffed! 🙂


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