Australians united in warning of crisis in education

October 26, 2001

Two weeks before Australian federal elections, vice-chancellors, deans of education, academics, students and the various scholarly academies have demanded that whichever party wins make education its priority.

Their calls were backed by media magnate Rupert Murdoch and the Business Council of Australia. Both strongly urged more investment in education.

Without urgent support for higher education, Australia was in danger of becoming globally irrelevant, Mr Murdoch said. He said an international market for human capital had emerged in the past 50 years - "a brain drain from countries that don't have top-notch institutions of higher education".

Delivering the inaugural Keith Murdoch Memorial Oration in Melbourne, named after his father, the chief executive of News Corp (parent company of The THES ) said the Australian government spent more on defence than on education last year.

In one of the most far-reaching proposals, the deans of education called on the federal government to raise annual expenditure on all education sectors by more than A$10 billion (£3.5 billion).

Releasing a 160-page report detailing the education crisis, the president of the Australian Council of Deans of Education, Mary Kalantzis, said the deans believed it was time they took a public stand. "We do not believe any longer that governments are listening or that they take seriously what educators are saying about the need for a retooling of Australia to become competitive."

Australia spends 4.3 per cent of gross domestic product on education - 5 per cent is the average for countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. For universities, federal outlays have fallen as a proportion of GDP over the past 25 years, and Australia now puts in about half what it invested in 1974-75 as a percentage of GDP.

The deans' report says: "This parsimony comes at the worst possible time. Higher education is in desperate need of commonwealth support." The document adds that the vocational education and training system is also in a funding crisis and that 86,000 Australians failed to gain access to a post-secondary education institution last year.

It says: "Australia's attitude to education as a cost to be minimised contrasts markedly with the belief of leading nations that a highly skilled and educated workforce is essential to economic success. The council believes that education will become more important not only to economic success but to the preservation of social cohesion and democracy.

"Our present education system is simply not prepared to meet these demands of the new economy and requires substantial qualitative changes on top of greater public investment."

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