Interview: Staying Alive
Bad Boss: The Ultimate Piss Off
Industrial: Last Drinks
National Focus: Around the States
Politics: Radical Surgery
Education: The Price of Missing Out
Legal: If At First You Don't Succeed
History: Massive Attack
Culture: What's Right
Review: If He Should Fall
Poetry: If I Were a Rich Man
Satire: IMF Ensures Iraq Institutes Market Based Looting
The Locker Room
Bob Gould Sprays Gerard Henderson
War and Peace
A Strange Light
A Little History
Does It Have To Be?
The Price of Missing Out
The latest restructure of higher education funding follows Brendan Nelson's discussion paper Crossroads. It is poorly titled because higher education under first Amanda Vanstone and then David Kemp has been driven down a hill to a T-intersection. It is not hard to anticipate the future direction Nelson has in mind.
Education is becoming more expensive and the rise in costs is more than three times the rate of inflation. Compared to the April CPI figure of 1.3% the overall cost of education grew by 4.9%, pre-school and child-care costs grew by 5.5%, and secondary education was up by 6.9% as fees, textbooks and other school charges grow. Only Korean, Japanese and American students at private universities pay more for their courses than Australian students. Nelson's proposals will further increase those contributions.
Like the attack on Medicare, changes to university funding will undoubtedly grab the attention of the media and politicians. But that attention will mean that once again the education of those most in need - people who left school early, with low literacy skills and who don't aspire to going to university - will continue to be ignored.
The price paid for missing out
Future income, good health, employment and numerous other benefits are most closely correlated to completing high school. Yet school retention rates have been in steady decline in Australia through the 1990s. Ten years ago the rate was 71.3%. Following considerable effort by Labor, and assisted by the severe recession of 1992 which made staying at school a more attractive proposition than trying to enter the labour market, school retention rates rose to 77% in 1992 and 1993. However, since the Coalition's election in 1996 the national average has remained below 72%.
Educationally Australia is a polarised country. While millions of adults enrol in all sorts of courses simultaneously a significant part of the population misses out. Exclusion comes at a high price for both individuals and the wider community. If education is the key for upward mobility what then for those who miss out? Today there are 4.4 million (38%) adults without the equivalent of 12 years of schooling, while the latest International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) shows that 44% of Australian adults have literacy and numeracy levels considered inadequate for a modern economy and society.
The IALS survey found that people with low literacy and numeracy levels were three times as likely to be unemployed as those with higher levels and the frequency and duration of unemployment for those with low levels was also likely to be higher, the consequence being lower lifetime earnings.
According to the ABS three quarters of Australia's registered unemployed have low levels of formal education and one-third of those are aged between 15 and 24. Once unemployed those with a Year 10 education took on average 64 weeks to find a job compared to 31 weeks for those with a degree.
The costs to individuals, families and the wider community of these figures are magnified as time goes on. The consequences of not completing Year 12 or of having low literacy and numeracy skills is, on average, lower lifetime earnings, less secure employment, longer periods of unemployment, lower health standards and the likelihood that these costs will be passed on to future generations.
Prisoners particularly pay a high price for a low level of education. More than three-quarters of adult prisoners in Western Australia in 2000 had received only a primary school education, and just 2% of prisoners had finished high school. Among all Australian prisoners 60% had not completed Year 10 and 60% were below functional levels in numeracy, reading and writing.
The negative impact associated with low levels of education is not confined to the unemployed and prisoners, it has a more widespread effect. Recent research into earnings and inequality by Michael Keating at the ANU found that the widening gap in earnings is principally due to changes in the structure of the labour market as demand for low skilled jobs declines in favour of more skilled jobs.
Studies in the UK confirm the Australian experience. A study by the Institute of Education Changing Britain, Changing Lives, reports that people without qualifications are more excluded from society and live in greater poverty than 50 years ago despite overall improvements in health, income and housing.
The British Birth Cohort study tracked the lives of 40,000 people born in one week in England, Scotland and Wales in 1946, 1955 and 1970. It concluded that 'there was a rise in relative poverty from one cohort to the next', and that social class remained 'the best predictor of who will gain high qualifications and the most prestigious jobs.'
In 1946, 45% of young people left school without any qualifications but by 1970 the number had fallen to 10%. However, life is much harder for those without qualifications. Many of the old jobs that young men went into such as coal mining and ship building no longer exist leaving many communities to struggle with a dearth of decent jobs. Also significant has been the dramatic change in gender participation with the proportion of women staying on past the school leaving age and gaining higher qualifications now greater than men.
In 1946 the income gap between those with degrees and those with no qualifications was 30%, while for the 1970 group it was twice as high.
A new policy approach
Labor's attempt to present a broader education policy agenda at the last election was important. However Labor's defeat has made it too easy for some to dismiss such efforts and to accept Kemp's cynical 'noodle nation' slur instead of using it as a basis for constructing new policies.
Widening access to education is a social justice issue. It is also harder to achieve because it means rethinking how and where education and learning occurs. Pressing for widening participation in general adult education is important for two reasons. Firstly, because education for all is a democratic right. Secondly, because the general well-being of the society needs an educated, informed population to respond to economic, social, and technological change.
Accomplished adult learners are more likely to: support their children's learning; be aware of and attend to their own health and well being; be optimistic and purposeful in facing the future; readily acquire new knowledge and skills when required; be interested and involved in local affairs; and be sceptical of dogmatic and simplistic solutions to difficult social issues.
To be a clever country we must do more than acquire new employment skills. We must also provide new opportunities for informed discussion on issues that often seem intractable in order to strengthen civil society.
The scale of Howard's attacks on public education over seven years is now enormous and will require substantial funding to bring it back to 1996 levels. Redressing the huge cuts in university funding, re-directing funds from private to public schools and reintroducing funding for public and community-based child care are critical. But more needs to be done.
It is in the interests of unions to demand from a Labor government a more imaginative range of education policies that will inspire electoral support because it serves working class and community needs. Such an agenda should include:
· an education entitlement for all those who have not reached the equivalent of Year 12 education,
· expanding educational opportunities beyond the existing educational institutions by fostering a broader ecology of learning sites
· community and union managed learning funds;
· extending workplace education and learning opportunities through workplace managed schemes funded by an employer levy capable of being supplemented by collective bargaining agreements
· encouraging those who are wary of returning to learn by de-coupling learning in general and literacy & numeracy from vocational education and skill development.
The Tertiary Education Alliance invites you to a public forum on Tertiary Education, Thursday May 8th 5.30pm @ Sydney Town Hall
- Jenny Macklin, Shadow Minister for Education
- Natasha Stott Despoja, Education spokesperson for The Australian Democrats
- Kerry Nettle, Education spokesperson for The Greens
The Tertiary Education Alliance calls on students, staff and parents to come together the week before the Federal Budget to respond to the Howard government's planned attacks on education.
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