SA education department spends $1.2 million to advertise new technical colleges 

Jarrod Brown
Jarrod Brown

The SA state government is under fire for spending $1.2 million in funding allocated for public schools to advertise five future technical colleges.

In a recent Budget and Finance Parliamentary Committee hearing on Monday, SA Education Department chief executive Martin Westwell revealed that the funding came from the Gonski allocation – an initiative designed to improve the state’s educational outcomes.

“Those technical colleges will serve a wider range of students than perhaps what exists within the local area to each school,” he said when questioned at the hearing. 

“Because we are promoting that opportunity and letting the students and parents know what’s available, yes, we are using this from that Gonski allocation.”

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The advertising is for five technical colleges being built across the state to be completed by 2026. However, enrollment is currently only offered to Findon Technical College for 2024. 

“It’s unusual for us to use Gonski funding to advertise, but I would say that this particular opportunity, which is a really significant opportunity for young people in South Australia, it was worth it,” Professor Westwell said.

Several programs will be offered to students in years 10-12, including Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering. 

Professor Westwell also told the committee that while the suggestion for the campaign to include TV advertisements came from the education department, Education Minister Blair Boyer and Premier Peter Malinauskas were “kept up-to-date” on the matter.

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South Australian opposition spokesman, and former education minister, John Gardner said the diversion of funds was a “bad decision of government”.

“This money is supposed to be going to teaching and learning in our public schools, and instead it’s going on ad campaigns and TV ads for a Labor election promise,” he said in a statement.

“It’s not appropriate, it should cease and the government should, I think, restore that funding to the public schools budget so it can go to the teaching and learning where it’s supposed to go.” 

Mr Gardner said even if the advertising campaign filled all 120 places at the Findon Technical College, it would equate to $10,000 per student. 

“That’s an expensive campaign per student by anyone’s reckoning,” he said.

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According to the state government, Findon has only received 43 enrolments since opening this May. Despite this, the technical college is reportedly “on track and will be ready” for students to attend next year.

Minister for Education, Training and Skills Blair Boyer defended the spending, saying that enrolments jumped by 10 in a week between July and August.  

“Advertising for new initiatives — such as the new technical colleges — is an important part of telling families, guardians and carers about these new options available to students,” he told ABC News earlier this week. 

The government said the former government spent $310,000 of Gonski funding on its Building What Matters advertising campaign and $45,000 on its ThankEd advertising campaign.

“This is just another attempt by the Opposition to attack skills investments that South Australians voted for,” he said. 

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SA education union President Andrew Gohl said the funding should instead be directed towards schools, student learning and support. 

“That is what the Gonski money is all about. That is what the School Resource Standard is all about,” he said. 

“We need every single dollar in classrooms and hiving that off administratively or hiving it off to advertising campaigns is far from what I would have expected for that money to be spent upon.” 

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Jarrod Brown combines his background in journalism, copywriting and digital marketing with a lifelong passion for storytelling. Jarrod established his journalism career working on the education news and information site The Bursar. He lives on the Sunshine Coast - usually found glued to the deck of a surfboard.