Currently, there is significant debate over the recent announcement by Victoria’s Shadow Education Minister, Martin Dixon, that a Coalition Government would enforce truancy laws and fine the parents of students who are absent from school over extended periods of time, or who are regularly absent. The application of these fines would occur where an unidentified person decided that the reasons provided for absence were unacceptable. The basis for such a decision is as yet unclear, and it is not this issue that I am addressing here. As things become clearer, I am sure there will still be much to be clarified.
Every generation seeks to rise above the circumstances of its birth. This week, the Australian Labor Government has given thousands of disadvantaged young people the opportunity to do so by prising open the doors of the country’s universities.
Dare to ask the question: why does the university exist?
The British Government has failed to understand public curiosity about this question to its detriment. One blogger described British Labour's latest vision 'Higher Ambitions–the Future of Universities in a Knowledge Economy' thus, 'It's the university as shopping mall.' If greater student choice hasn’t heightened public satisfaction with education, is it because we want to choose like consumers, but be educated as citizens?
There is a sparking debate in Australia’s higher education sector on the meaning of the university. It’s at once daring and necessary. The two kingpins are Steven Schwartz, the Vice-Chancellor of Macquarie University and Luke Slattery, Editor of the Higher Education Supplement in The Australian. Allow me to introduce Eleanor Roosevelt and Sally Walker.
In the coming weeks, the Federal Government is expected to release national guidelines to assist in the development of university-low socioeconomic status (low SES) schools partnerships and increased enrolments of low SES students.
The Government’s laudable goal that by 2020, 20% of undergraduate enrolments will be students from low SES backgrounds is to be supported by a proposed Partnerships and Participation Program. The sector is eagerly awaiting the guidelines for the Program under which it will receive equity funding from 2010. As indicated in the budget report 'Transforming Australia's Higher Education System', there is $108 million available through the partnerships fund and $325 million for low SES enrolment loading over four years.
The core questions dogging the sector in relation to the new equity funding include:
The creation of a seamless tertiary education sector is the mission of the nascent Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency (TEQSA). The emerging sector in Australia is likely to take one of two forms: a binary or triunary structure. The former would return us to the pre-Dawkins era and the latter would propel us towards a US style model of postsecondary education with research intensive universities at the head of an apex, followed by universities offering large undergraduate programs with a smattering of research degrees underpinned by community or technical colleges teaching the mass of students at the base.
At the end of 2008 as the Bradley Review was in full swing, a heated debate played out in The Australian newspaper on the topic of community colleges. Group of Eighters thought they should be introduced to Australia and the rest of the sector decided not to go gentle into that octad night.
There is something amiss with both Left and Right-wing approaches to school education.
England’s Left, represented by Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children School and Families has claimed victory in its 10 year battle to close the gap between students attending state and private schools on the basis that the number of schools where students are underperforming in exams has decreased.
Michael Gove, the Shadow Secretary, argues that the results have been inflated by Labour’s inclusion of dumbed down subjects such as basic literacy and numeracy in the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE). Gove's policy recommends weighting subjects by intellectual rigour, excluding vocational qualifications or 'diplomas' from school league tables and teaching an academic curriculum until the age of 16, after which students could select vocational training as desired.
In order to answer the grand questions of the 21st century, students may need to be taught in a way that develops their neuroplasticity as much as their intellectual and human capital.