Budget aims at education for profit

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Budget aims at education for profit

By Zanny Begg

The May 11 federal budget pushes forward the privatisation of secondary and tertiary education in Australia. Private schools will be handed an extra $561 million over the next four years, in addition to the $553 million already promised to Catholic schools.

Federal government funding for private schools has been increased by 9.4%, to more than $2.9 billion over the next year. Funding for government schools increased by only 4.6%, to $1.9 billion. Restrictions on the level of fees private schools can charge before they lose government funding will also be lifted.

Aaron Benedek, an education officer at Sydney University, commented: "This is a handout of taxpayers' money to the private sector. It is outrageous that more money is being spent on Catholic schools. What guarantees will the government give that these schools will provide young people with non-judgmental sex education and information about abortion?

"Catholic schools do meet some needs for many students, but only because the government schools are so under-funded. Public money should be spent on non-religious public education."

Federal education minister David Kemp claimed that the new measures would give parents "a choice of which school they want to send their children to". But most parents don't have a choice because they can't afford private school fees.

Seventy per cent of high school students attend government schools. The budget changes will mean that the majority of parents will be subsidising even more the choices of the wealthy few who use private schools. The government is pushing secondary education towards a situation in which the children of those who can afford it get a well-resourced education in the private sector while government schools are reduced to a safety net for the poor.

In light of the fact that most students will be studying at increasingly under-resourced government schools as a result of this budget, its allocation of $2 million to give all school students a plastic-coated centenary medallion in the year 2001 is offensive, to say the least.

Major attacks against tertiary education were contained in the 1996 federal budget. In last week's budget, the government fiddled at the edges, cutting a further $39 million by scrapping the Higher Education Contribution Scheme scholarship program and allocating no extra funds to grant staff claims for increased wages.

An extra $25 million was allocated to fund lecturing jobs in science, but the design and delivery of these courses will be vetted by private industry. An extra $59.8 million will be spent on a program designed to forge stronger links between industry and some universities.

Kemp claims that "schools, universities and training providers are a priority investment for the government". In reality, the government has invested only in those aspects of education which can generate profit and has continued to entrench user-pays education.