Australia's academics, vice-chancellors and students have welcomed the Labor Party's education programme, calling it a marked contrast to the conservative government's record on education spending.
Labor would boost spending on education by Aus$1.5 billion (Pounds 525 million) over the next three years, opposition leader Kim Beazley said this week.
At the launch of Labor's education and science policies before Australian elections on October 3, Mr Beazley said the debate had to cover more than tax reform, the focus of prime minister John Howard's campaign.
Although the schools sector would benefit most from Labor's promises - by almost Aus$1 billion - universities and technical colleges could expect an extra Aus$420 million between 1999 and 2002. This means universities could offer a further 5,000 fully-funded student places while the colleges could provide up to 10,000 additional full-time places.
Mr Beazley said universities would get a Aus$110 million boost to grants in the years to 2002, with an additional Aus$57 million allocated to the Australian Research Council. Aus$50 million would also be spent on setting up a National Innovation Fund to help the post-secondary sector.
Under Labor, performance indicators such as graduation rates, student satisfaction surveys, and successful grant applications would replace student load as the main method of allocating Commonwealth grants.
Labor would prohibit universities from charging Australian students full fees, as introduced by the Howard government this year. Additional funds would be targeted to improve access to institutions for groups with low participation rates, to restore postgraduate places, and reduce disparities in the standard of teaching and facilities between institutions.
President of the Australian vice-Chancellors' Committee, John Niland, said: "Labor has made a solid beginning to a better future for higher education, with a move towards correcting the imbalance which has developed on the public side of the funding ledger."
Carolyn Allport, president of the National Tertiary Education Union and the National Union of Students, said: "Labor's vision of education as an investment rather than a cost is refreshing and contrasts the narrow budget bottom-line approach of the conservatives."
Labor also promised to provide Aus$35 million over three years for "learning security accounts" aimed at unskilled or semi-skilled workers facing retrenchments and adults unlikely to return to formal education after school.