Higher Education

System-wide change needed in Australia

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Australia needs a new education revolution, a new approach encompassing the whole of the education system because universities alone cannot solve the nation’s educational problems, according to federal Education Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

Speaking at the University of Melbourne, Gillard said Australia had to start again with a system-wide approach that would invest in the early years when social inequality was already entrenching itself. ‘We know, for instance, that by age three, the average child of a professional couple has a vocabulary of 1,100 words and an IQ of 117, while the average child of parents receiving welfare has a vocabulary of 525 words and an IQ of 79,’ she said. ‘So the more we invest early, the greater the educational improvements we can make.’ But Gillard said significant reform was needed in the nation’s universities and what she called the ‘one over-arching problem’ facing universities was the stagnating levels of public funding. While public investment in tertiary education increased by 49.4% across the OECD in the decade to 2005, in Australia it increased by zero percent.

Her comments have special relevance as a committee she established to review the higher education system is preparing its final report. That report is expected to call for widespread changes across the entire sector and Gillard appeared to be foreshadowing some of the government’s likely responses.

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Discussing how universities had been forced to find more money from non-government sources, she said this meant the last decade of strong economic growth had been a massive wasted opportunity for universities. And, as the institutions had confronted funding challenges so had their researchers.

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