While investment in education is increasing worldwide, Australia's deans of education say that expenditure there is declining.
In America, federal spending on education doubled in the eight years to 2004 while, in Britain, education funding will have more than doubled between 1997 and 2007, the deans say.
In countries such as Singapore, Malaysia and China, public expenditure on education as a percentage of gross domestic product is rising rapidly. Yet in Australia, the ratio has fallen over the past 30 years.
Mary Kalantzis, president of the Australian Council of Deans of Education, said the need for a greater commitment by Government was urgent.
She said: "There is good reason why the rhetoric of the importance of education is being matched by resources in other nations. The returns on investment are high because societies are becoming defined by their relationships to knowledge."
Launching her group's publication New Teaching: New Learning , Professor Kalantzis said the private benefits of education were dwarfed by the economic returns to society.
The book estimates the net benefit of tertiary education to the federal budget in 2001-02 at about A$9.6 billion (£3.9 billion), and this is projected to rise to more than A$12 billion by 2010-11.
"The returns on investment in education are not just economic," Professor Kalantzis said. "Education is critical to social cohesion and security of identity."
The deans argue that seven propositions will shape the future for learning, including that investment in education is in the national interest, the discipline of education is central to the knowledge economy, educational research improves learning outcomes and teaching is the key profession of the knowledge economy.
The deans also say that increased private investment in higher education needs to be complemented by public spending.