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Inside Teaching : August 2010
News Inside Teaching | August 2010 NEWS 52 Debate over education policy in this month’s federal election took a back seat to politics while the major parties made claim and counter claim about the $16.4 billion Building the Education Revolution (BER) program, and debt. Opposition Leader Tony Abbott targeted Commonwealth government debt, saying the government was borrowing $100 million a day. Prime Minister Julia Gillard questioned Abbott’s ‘lean budget’ approach, implying that he would cut BER funding and had a schools hit list. ‘What he needs to do is tell the students, parents and teachers in each electorate he visits which school projects are on his hit list,’ she said. The Coalition questioned Gillard’s management, as Commonwealth Minister for Education, of the BER program with reference to claims of infated costings and a failure to achieve value for money. Given that Abbott’s emphasis on Commonwealth debt limited any expensive policy initiative, the Coalition opted for a policy to require unspent BER funds to go directly to government schools to manage their own projects, and to allow schools to use any savings to fund other needs. The PM may have had the question of debt in mind when she rustled up a $220 million promise to expand the Education Tax Refund (ETR) scheme so that school uniforms can be included in tax refund claims. If the Coalition wanted to attack the policy, they’d have to wait. The $220 million ETR would only apply to items bought in the 2011-12 fnancial year, with the tax refund to be paid in the 2012-13 fnancial year. Labor and the Coalition otherwise occupied the same middle ground on education policy: they both supported the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy and the national curriculum, both of which can trace their origins to the Coalition government of John Howard. And school funding? Gillard appeared to neutralise this as an issue when she announced the Commonwealth government’s review into school funding in April, saying ‘no school will lose a dollar of funding...per student.’ The Coalition offered a guarantee of the current level of funding in real terms for every school. According to the Australian Education Union, analysis of the Coalition’s funding guarantee by Dr Jim McMorrow, an honorary associate professor of education at the University of Sydney, indicates that non-government schools would get a $2.3 billion increase in Commonwealth general recurrent funding between 2012 and 2016, almost four times higher than the increase for government schools. In higher education, meanwhile, both major parties supported election policies to cut migration and international student numbers, despite the fact, as Universities Australia chief executive Glenn Withers warned, that student numbers are already falling substantially. Australia is expecting a 30 per cent drop in study visa applications this year as a result of Commonwealth government policy and visa changes, according to Commonwealth Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) estimates. The $18 billion-a-year market was already struggling by January, after a slump in student numbers from India, before news of a further softening in June as students from China shifted to the United States and Britain, the two biggest markets for international students. Independent reports commissioned by the Australian Council for Private Education and Training, using DIAC’s estimates, have forecast a loss to the international education sector of $4.8 billion this year. Election 2010 Australia votes on 21 August, with little separating the major parties when it comes to education policy. steve holDen reports.