Kevin Rudd

Educators have great hopes under Rudd

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 December, 2007, 12:00am

The 'Ruddslide' that swept the Australian Labor Party and its leader, Kevin Rudd, into office last Saturday has been widely welcomed by schools, universities, technical colleges and education unions.

By the time John Howard and his team faced their fifth election in more than 11 years, it was clear Australians wanted an end to a tired conservative administration.

The government's harsh anti-union labour laws, divisive spending that allocated far more to private than public schools and an increasing emphasis on university students meeting their tuition costs had alienated a majority of the electorate.

So much so that Mr Howard not only lost government but also his own seat in Parliament.

With a majority of almost 30 in the 150-seat House of Representatives, Mr Rudd promised an 'education revolution' that would see an extra A$6 billion (HK$41 billion) spent on education over the next three years.

As well as being fluent in Mandarin, Mr Rudd also has a mainland-born son-in law, so it was not surprising he has vowed to re-establish a national Asian languages programme scrapped by Mr Howard.

He is also unlikely to make sudden changes to the visa rules governing Asian students enrolling in Australia's schools, colleges and universities, or to the regulations that allow students to stay on as permanent residents if they qualify in fields where skill shortages exist.

That will be a relief to university vice-chancellors who have come increasingly to rely on fees from international students to replace the loss of government grants.

After the Howard government was elected in 1996, public spending on universities fell from 57 per cent of total revenues to less than 40 per cent.

But while Mr Rudd has promised more money, he has warned that from 2009, universities will not be allowed to charge local students full-fees even though there are nearly 14,000 full-fee payers contributing A$300 million a year to university coffers. Instead, he said Labor would spend A$200 million doubling the number of undergraduate and postgraduate scholarships, as well as creating 1,500 new university places for early childhood teachers.

A further A$110 million will be offered to university students to become teachers of mathematics and science to reduce the cost of their education.

'We don't want to be responsible for this country where you have a system that discourages kids from pursuing university careers because it's got beyond their financial reach,' Mr Rudd said. 'This is the beginning of an approach by us which has the affordability of higher education for kids in working families at its core.'

But Professor Paul Johnson, vice-chancellor of La Trobe University in Melbourne, said Labor's 'low-cost commitment' to additional student scholarships was only a partial response to the serious issues of student debt and low participation rates in regional Australia.

Professor Johnson said these rates were lower than those in Korea and Argentina.

'Students in regional Australia are entitled to a quality tertiary education, and to have their capacity to attend regional campuses properly funded by government,' he said.

In the schools area, Mr Rudd said Labor would spend A$1 billion to provide every student in the final three years of secondary school with their own computer.

Families would be able to claim half the cost of computers, software, internet access and textbooks - up to A$750 a year for each child at primary school and A$1,500 at high school.

Although Australia's eight states and territories have responsibility for schools, Mr Rudd announced that a National Curriculum Board would be established to devise a curriculum for all students from kindergarten to year 12, with the focus on mathematics, science, English and history.