Education is considered to be one of the most important factors in nation building, yet in the 2022 Federal Election campaign the sector has been largely ignored by both the Coalition and Labor.
The federal Budget delivered in March provided no ground-breaking programs for education, with nothing added for the higher education sector.
Labor has responded to the lack of Coalition education focus with a promise to boost the sector by $1.2 billion. The package includes 465,000 fee-free TAFE places and 20,000 additional university places for areas identified with skills shortages (clean energy, advanced manufacturing, health and education).
The Coalition’ most notable education policy appears to be establishing an "Australian Skills Guarantee", which makes one in 10 workers operating on large-scale government projects a trainee, apprentice, or cadet.
Universities have been largely shunned by the Coalition since elected in 2013. The current term of government has seen little investment, with 2021 bringing in $1 billion for university research programs and a modest boost in university places.
But cuts to operating grants and research funding between 2017 and 2019 undermined the 2021 boosts.
Labor coy on school funding
When it comes time to voting in the house, the old rivalry has proven too hard to resist for both parties and they have largely refused to support those on the opposite side of the chamber. This was evident in 2021 when Labor voted against updates to the Australian Education Amendment (Direct Measure of Income) Bill 2020, which aimed to provide a more accurate method to calculate how school funding is allocated.
If Labor is elected come May 21 then it will need to contend with an expected influx of school leavers in the next few years that will place additional strain on the university system. Twenty-thousand places may not be enough to meet the demand created by the Howard government’s baby bonus generation coming of age, which the Coalition seems happy to ignore for now.
Before the 2019 election, Labor announced an ambitious and expensive $14 billion plan over 10 years for public education but was later forced to dump the policy when it couldn’t be costed.
Labor has so far shied away from recommitting to the sector in such a generous way, with Shadow Education Minister Tanya Plibersek stating recently the party needed to negotiate with the states at the end of 2023 when the current school funding agreements run out.
So it appears that the “cost of living” election is focused on household budgets right now, with little emphasis on the costs that are quite clearly guaranteed to grow if we are to continue to build a strong, educated nation. And this lack of long-term focus is going to cost us in the long run.
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