Australia's deans of education have called on the federal Government to establish special universities to focus on training schoolteachers.
In recent years, two thirds of faculties of education have been merged into larger groupings and the deans fear their elimination will lead to further cuts in funding for their departments.
The Council of Australian Deans of Education argues that education-specific universities would reflect the importance of education to national prosperity and social cohesion, "and provide the discipline with a level of autonomy hitherto unseen".
In a submission to an inquiry by the House of Representatives education committee, the council notes that universities specialising in teacher training are not new but part of a growing global trend.
The council says separate education universities would guarantee the budgets and autonomy that teacher educators have lost with the disappearance of most education faculties.
The House committee investigation into teacher training began early last year and has attracted more than 160 written submissions. After a presentation by the deans, the committee sought further details about the education university proposal.
"I think they found it a tantalising prospect," said Terry Lovat, the council's immediate past president and pro vice-chancellor at the University of Newcastle. "If teaching is important enough to the future of the nation, is it such a silly notion to establish one or two high-end Columbia Teachers College-type universities?"
Professor Lovat noted that the Beijing Normal University was the first teacher-training university to be founded in China in 1923 and was now among its top tertiary institutions. "Although it is research oriented, the focus is on teacher education because the Chinese believe that is where the future lies," he said.
"China is setting the pace, but the trend to set up these specialist institutions is occurring throughout Asia as well as in the Scandinavian countries, and there is a lot of talk in the US and Britain."
Professor Lovat said he had visited a teacher education university in Atlanta that was centred on science. "It was exceptionally well funded and produces amazingly competent science educators."