Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardour and diligence. Abigail Adams

The federal election has now come and gone. Many would be surprised at the result, and some, especially in the education sector, would be disappointed. The only thing one can say with any certainty is that we now know where we stand with regard to a number of educational matters, whether they are considered the most desirable or not.

Already there are commentaries from various sources [e.g. Lobbies congratulate but can’t manage to celebrate Morrison ministry, After the surprise election result, it’s time for pragmatic thinking on higher education policy and Dan Tehan’s big homework list]. We can only expect more, and often more pointed, advice [and other reactions] as time continues. This is also likely to be more prevalent after the new parliament sits for the first time on 2 July of this year.

Over the same period, a number of states brought down their own budgets, some with significant increases in educational funding. For example, NSW education budget to jump by $1.2 billion and Victoria had big amounts for education while also finally signing off to the Gonski funding process. Other states also had significant funding including a range of specific areas being targetted by several of these.

Meanwhile ‘free speech’, especially in universities, was becoming a fractious issue, especially following the completion of the French Review, released just before the recent elections. While it found there was no campus free speech crisis it is interesting there are now numerous steps being taken, or proposed, to look at voluntary codes to address what others may describe as existing difficulties.

One area which now seems to be a current major talking point is the demand-driven enrolment [or uncapped students places] system. More on this below.

  • With the recent election result, there was disappointment at the fact ‘The Federal Opposition had recommitted a future Labor government to restoring uncapped university student places’ would not eventuate. At the same time, the release of a Productivity Commission report [found here], looked at how it operated until discontinued in 2017. Interestingly, one Key Point of the report indicated ‘The “demand driven system” in place between 2010 and 2017 was intended to increase domestic student numbers and give under-represented groups greater access. The results were mixed’.
  • The push to return to this system had existed before the election. Among the latest expressions of support one came via The Grattan Institute though similar pushes had been coming for several years [e.g.].
  • Others took a variety of views on why the process was desirable. Universities Australia suggested ‘opened doors of opportunity’ that would help as there was ‘an historic shift towards jobs that require higher skills’. Others posed the question, Uncapping of university places achieved what it set out to do. So why is it dubbed a policy failure ?. Stephen Matchett provided interesting commentary on several occasions immediately after the release of the report [1 and 2].
  • One particular area did seem to have benefited, showing how uncapped university funding actually boosted Indigenous student numbers. Andrew Norton reported that More students are going to university than before, but those at risk of dropping out need more help and goes on to look at potential options that might assist in this area.
  • This is definitely not the end of the discussion, or the probable push to return to the demand driven system, from a number of quarters. It will be fascinating to watch the to and fro that is yet to come.
  • While the top end of the sector is addressing the demand driven system [plus other areas], the release of another report has seen enthusiasm from those supporting the Early Childhood sector. The report’s contents are summarised in this Information Sheet, and includes a link to the full analysis. It essentially suggests ‘that investing in ECEC demonstrates the potential for more children and families to live healthier, happier and more productive lives, boosts productivity and increases workforce participation’. There is an interesting initial write-up on The Sector covering many aspects. This looks like one of those reports which will generate not only support but calls for action to achieve the suggested ends.

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There seems to be an unending supply of documents being produced about all aspects of education. It proves difficult at times to select only a few for inclusion [‘Life wasn’t meant to be easy’]. Several recent items are listed below that are felt to warrant at least a brief mention. See what you think about each and whether you agree or not. Most items are Australian in origin. Follow each link that piques your particular interest.

An article where the title is almost as long as the article itself. . . Irrespective, Andrew Norton has been writing on higher education in particular for some time and usually manages to get to the nub of the specific debate. In addition, he is also directly involved in a number of the processes about which he writes. Current higher education policies are the unsatisfactory result of political misjudgements in 2017. There are better ways of balancing the interests of students, universities and taxpayers is well worth reading and considering the suggestions which are made [May 2019]. You can access it here.

The Commonwealth Orange Book 2019 sounds a little vague, but is a production by the Grattan Institute covering suggested Policy Priorities for the federal government. While you may be interested in other areas, there are specific areas for School Education [pages 101-112] and Higher Education [pages 113-123]. Information, graphs, informatics and a range of specific suggestions.

Fostering Effective Early Learning : Literature Review ‘The Fostering Effective Early Learning [FEEL] Study, launched by the NSW Government in late 2015, has delivered a Literature Review highlighting the importance of quality teaching practice in early childhood education and outlining the key elements of the best practice professional development used in the Study. It is a world-first to explore how specific early childhood teaching practices improve a child’s learning outcomes. It is led by the University of Wollongong’s specialist research centre Early Start and esteemed researcher Professor Iram Siraj from the University of London’. PDF download available from the site.

As the background to the video and PDF indicate - ‘Children born into poverty face many challenges. Exposure to poverty comes in different forms, and children may also transition into or out of poverty. In this study, we examine the relationships among various outcomes and different levels of poverty [household and/or neighbourhood poverty] at different points during a child’s first 5 years’. These are the contributing years leading to formal education, making what they have to report of special interest to all involved in the education sector. The title, Poverty and Early Childhood Outcomes says it all.

Rethinking and Revitalising Tertiary Education. You probably will not get anything more recent than this. ‘This paper argues that it will be imperative for both federal Ministers to work together, and with their state government counterparts, to take a holistic approach to these reviews [listed on the site] in the face of huge challenges facing the Australian tertiary education sector ’. If you have any interest in this area, it is a must read document.

Strengthening Skills : Expert Review of Australia’s Vocational Education and Training System was only completed for the federal Minister in March of this year. Led by Steven Joyce, a former New Zealand Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment it reached a range of conclusions and recommendations. For an area which often seems to be forgotten, it is a very important piece of work and one which those who have interest should look at carefully.

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