Labor has put universities on notice that they will not get any extra money for research and they will be under greater scrutiny to show students and parents that they can get people into jobs and give value for the fees they charge.
Labor education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek said a Labor government’s education policy would be focused on the training sector, which is run down, under financed and unable to serve the needs of people in country Australia.Labor education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek: “Our commitment to universities is really a very large and substantial commitment and we know they do use some of the money generated by enrolling more students in cross-subsidising research.” Roy Vandervegt
She was especially worried by the state of the public TAFE sector and would apply tougher standards to private sector training companies because so many “shonks” had got into the business and the Coalition government had been slow to shut down “rapacious and poor-quality” operators.
In an exclusive interview with The Australian Financial Review, Ms Plibersek said the consequences of poor-quality education were “catastrophic” and Labor was not afraid to intervene to prevent market failure in early childhood education and TAFE if it was getting in the way of providing kids with an education.
Ms Plibersek said the party was committed to raising research and development spending to 3 per cent of GDP. But she signalled the universities would get a cool reaction if they expected to get more money for research.
Ms Plibersek said Labor had promised to lift the funding freeze, which would cost $10 billion over the next decade, and that was the limit of its generosity.
“I’m not anticipating any other large spending commitments in the university sector in this campaign or in our time in government. We’ve made really substantial commitments already.
“We need to make sure we are getting good value from the research money that we’re spending, the tax concessions that we already give. There is plenty of evidence that the university-industry link is not as strong as it should be, consequently research isn’t commercialised as effectively as it might be.
“I think there’s plenty of opportunity for policy reform in this area.”
She said the party would continue to support Australian Research Council and the National Health and Medical Research Council and there would be other initiatives from the innovation shadow minister, Senator Kim Carr.
“Our commitment to universities is really a very large and substantial commitment and we know they do use some of the money generated by enrolling more students in cross-subsidising research.”
The university sector had to consider the needs of the nation and of local communities, not just churning through extra students to improve their bottom line.
As a consequence Labor would introduce performance measures for universities.
The Coalition is planning to use a performance test as the basis for getting extra funding once the freeze is lifted in 2020. Ms Plibersek said Labor was not interested in using a performance test to ration places but it would use one to make sure that students got a quality education.
She wanted students, parents and career advisers to get high-quality, transparent information about employment outcomes for graduates, starting salaries and satisfaction rates with courses.
“I think universities spend a lot of time competing with each other with their advertising material and so on. There is a role for making sure the inputs a student needs to make a decision are easily available and digestible.”
One of biggest concerns was the anomaly in fee help between university and TAFE. It could cost tens of thousands of dollars to get a degree from TAFE which didn’t get fee help and was not very different from a university course which did get fee help.
Fee help will be part of Labor’s review of post-secondary school eduction, which would be on scale similar to the Gonski review of schools or the famous Kangan review of 1974, which set up the whole TAFE system.
Her aim was to get the training sector on an “absolutely equal footing” with universities. and make sure both sectors were fit for purpose.
If anyone thought universities had suffered with a funding freeze it was nothing compared to the cuts and and bad decision making that had been going on in the training sector.
Training participation has been on a slide nationally since about 2012 and TAFEs in NSW, Tasmania and South Australia have all had crises leading to the resignation of chief executives.
Ms Plibersek claimed the Coalition and state governments had run the TAFE sector down by about $3 billion and said Labor would spend “around a billion dollars” in restoring buildings, offering free places and setting a quota for one in 10 jobs on government infrastructure projects being done by apprentices.
The new review would make sure universities, TAFE and schools worked more closely together.
The Labor deputy leader said she was comfortable with policy that allowed for government intervention in TAFE and early education, such as setting a quota for apprentices in government jobs.
On Sunday Bill Shorten said Labor would supplement wages for early childhood teachers by nearly $10 billion, would pay $4 billion in subsidies to parents, and cap fee increases charged by providers.
Ms Plibersek said the market in education was different to almost any other because of what people expected from it and the ability of some families to pay. There was a risk that some families would get caught in a cycle without education and they could never escape poverty.
She agreed there was a risk of exposing the government to rent seekers from other sectors.
This was one reason Labor was in favour of a tougher stand against shonky private sector operators, which the government had been slow to take action against.
“I don’t care who sets up the sandwich shop as long as they are not poisoning people. If you don’t like their sandwiches you can go to the sandwich shop next door.
“But if you live in a country town and there’s one or two schools in your town, it’s not the same. The cost of entering the market for new operators are prohibitive and the consequences of a poor schooling are catastrophic.
“This absolutely means there is a role for government in ensuring high standards and a role for making sure there is not market failure. There needs to be an opportunity for every child to get a great education.”