Gillard declares A$14.5b plan to boost funding for Australian schools

Prime minister announces biggest reforms in decades as she plans to make education a central issue in her party's bid for re-election

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 April, 2013, 4:33am

Australia yesterday announced a A$14.5 billion (HK$118 billion) plan to boost funding for schools in one of the country's biggest education reforms in decades.

Under the proposal, the extra cash will be made available over six years from next year, with the government setting a goal for Australian schools to be among the world's top five in reading, numeracy and science by 2025.

"A world class school system is a key part of a strong economy for the future," said Prime Minister Julia Gillard, a former education minister. "It will help every Australian child get the best education possible and secure a high-wage, high-skilled job."

Gillard plans to make education a central pitch in her bid to be re-elected to government in September, with her ruling Labor Party currently badly lagging in opinion polls after a bitter party leadership struggle. Part of Gillard's reform agenda is to make "Asia literacy" a key plank of future education strategy.

She has previously announced a plan to prioritise Asian languages to better equip future generations to deal with key regional partners such as China, South Korea, Japan, Indonesia and India.

Gillard urged state and territory leaders, who will meet in Canberra on Friday, to agree to the plan by June.

"We cannot have the strong economy that we want tomorrow, unless we have the best of education in our schools today," she said. "Today's reforms seek to ensure that our schools are in the world's top five by 2025."

The extra funds announced yesterday would equate to A$9,271 for each primary school student and A$12,193 for secondary school students next year, with additional funding for indigenous students as well as those with special needs and limited English proficiency, Gillard said.

Canberra would also commit to annual spending growth of 4.7 per cent, if states increase their own education spending by three per cent a year, Gillard said.

The announcement follows the most comprehensive investigation of the way schools are funded in Australia in almost 40 years - headed by Australian Future Fund chairman David Gonski - which was commissioned by Canberra and released last year.

In the past decade, Australian children have gone from being tied for second in reading to seventh, and from tied for fifth to 13th in mathematics among the nations in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, according to the Gonski report.

It found Australia was investing far too little in education, putting it at risk of slipping behind the rest of the world.

The proposals would partly be paid for by deep funding cuts to universities, with the government on Saturday saying that more than A$2 billion would be stripped from the sector, a move slammed by some education experts.

The cuts will come from ending a 10 per cent discount that students and parents receive for paying university fees upfront, requiring students to repay scholarship funds, and limiting education tax deductions.

"The announcement will be condemned by those who understand that Australia's university sector is crucial to national productivity growth, industrial diversification and long-term economic transformation," said Glyn Davis, chairman of Universities Australia, the peak body representing the sector.

Agence France-Presse, Bloomberg