Two public education institutions in Sydney's west — the University of Western Sydney's (UWS) Blacktown campus and Macquarie Boys High in Parramatta — are set for the chopping block. The UWS board of trustees is trying to close the Nirimba campus at Blacktown in 2009. Additionally, on August 23, NSW education minister John Della Bosca announced the state Labor government's intention to close Macquarie Boys' Technology High School in Parramatta by 2009.
Blacktown is an area of massive population growth: the state government is pushing ahead with a North West Growth Centre, which is expected to deliver in excess of 150,000 additional residents to the Blacktown City Area alone by 2025.
High schools in Parramatta are full to over-flowing. Arthur Philip High School — the closest school to Macquarie — has around 1400 students enrolled. They have refused to take substantial number of students from Macquarie Boys High when it is closed down.
Under-funding of public education institutions and massive funding to private institutions has been a mainstay of the Howard government. Maree O'Halloran, president of the NSW Teachers Federation, wrote in Put public schools and TAFE first that "when John Howard came to power in 1996 public schools were receiving 45 per cent of direct federal funding. However, that share has now dropped to 35 per cent. In 1996 for every one dollar of direct federal recurrent funding per public school student, approximately $4 were spent on a private school student. In 2006 that figure was approximately $6."
Australia is one of the worst public education spenders in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) nations. A report published by the Australian Education Union in September 2006, The OECD education at a glance showed the average OECD expenditure as a percentage of GDP is 5%. Australia spends only 4.3%. In the period from 1995 to 2003/2004 Australia's public investment in tertiary education declined by 4%. The OECD average was an increase of 49%. Australia is the only OECD country with a decline in public investment in tertiary education.
All the data shows Australia spending below the OECD average on education overall. In terms of schools' funding overall, Australia spends slightly above the OECD average, but it relies to a much greater extent than most other OECD countries on private contributions to fund schooling. Australia's reliance on household expenditure to fund schooling is among the highest in the OECD and has increased as a proportion of educational expenditure since 1995. Education at a glance shows that class sizes in Australia are above the OECD mean levels and larger than in most other OECD countries.
A September 19 Teachers Federation press release noted "Schools Resource Taskforce has calculated that public schools require an additional $2.9 billion in recurrent funding to achieve the National Goals of Schooling. Indeed, the $2.9 billion dollars grossly underestimates the true level of funding required as the Taskforce has not yet calculated costs associated with capital."
Cutting Blacktown campus and Macquarie Boys High is within this context of prioritising private schools and under-funding public schools. The campaign to stop the closures has won significant support. Blacktown City Mayor Leo Kelly is one of those leading the fight against the closure. "UWS board of trustees has demonstrated their contempt of the youth of Blacktown City and western Sydney, by denying them the right to access higher education," Kelly noted.
Newly elected Parramatta Mayor Paul Barber said he supports Macquarie Boys being retained as a co-educational trade and high school and will support the campaign to save the high-school.
A task force has been established to save UWS campus at Blacktown from closure and campaigning against Macquarie Boys High has been underway for over two years. Linking both campaigns is a natural meld. While information is yet to be confirmed, the Macquarie Boys High site may be leased to UWS to enable them to move the 5000 Blacktown students forced out of the Nirimbi campus in 2009.
Marlene Carrasco, a parent leading the campaign to save Macquarie Boys High said: "We want more public schools and institutions for Sydney's West to be opened. We have a great opportunity to link up with Blacktown, UWS to demand an expansion of institutions closures."
Karen Wolley, another parent involved in the campaign said "I am keeping my son at Macquarie Boys. I have had three schools close on me, the first one was Peterboard Heights in Lane Cove. Frankly, I don't care where schools are — in the outback or the inner city. They should just stop closing schools."
For more info call Marlene 0406 076 108 and check the Blacktown website <http://www.savetheuws.blacktown.nsw.gov.au>.
[Rachel Evans is the Socialist Alliance candidate in the seat of Parramatta.]