This week we saw My School results updated and the primary school national curriculum sent off for review. In higher-education news it was more of the same: an inquiry into university funding rumbled on and Education Minister Christopher Pyne continued negotiations in the hopes of passing his higher education reform bill.
Testing times for the national curriculum
My School, the Australian Government’s school results portal, released its 2014 update this week. It prompted the usual chorus of articles: NAPLAN results are not an accurate school measure, My School should be shut-down and top public schools outperform their private counterparts were popular themes this year. Schools with above average gains were also celebrated.
State and territory education ministers also resolved to task the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) with amending the primary curriculum to take into account many of the concerns raised in the Wiltshire-Donnelly review. Chief among these issues was the sheer scale of the content primary students were expected to get through. This will be substantially wound back, and some subjects will be wound into a single ‘social sciences’ subject. ACARA’s revisions are due in August for consideration by education ministers, and if approved their implementation may start from next year.
No end in sight for fee deregulation negotiations
The Australian Senate has attracted a variety of viewpoints in its latest inquiry into the future of higher education funding, some of which may inform the design of a new funding system if the government can get key crossbenchers on board. Currently in play is an idea to tax excessive university fees in order to deter unduly high fee increases. This concession comes on top of planned changes to substantially reduce the cut in public university funding, drop real interest rate charges and offer a regional university assistance package.
More radical proposals have also been submitted to the Senate inquiry, with one from RMIT economics researcher Sean Lever advocating for universities to assume the risk of HELP debt repayment rather than the Australian Government. The change would allow universities to sell portfolios of HELP debt to investors in order to access student fees up-front. The idea would better align the interests of universities with students by incentivising institutions to maximise the chances of their graduates paying back their student debts.
Meanwhile, Grattan’s Higher Education director Andrew Norton has advocated abandoning fee deregulation altogether, claiming the benefits of extending HELP loans to private colleges and TAFEs are too important to be lost if the full package of legislation continues to flounder.
School funding spat
Lastly, this week the Victorian Government’s bill to link the funding of non-government schools to the funding it devotes to government schools passed the upper house and became law. The legislation was immediately attacked by Gonski review panelist Dr Ken Boston and Save Our Schools convenor Trevor Cobbold, both of whom claimed it went against the fundamental principles of the Gonski review in allocating funding without reference to student need.