Budget 2024: The education spend on families and schools

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday
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Now that the Federal Treasurer Jim Chalmers has officially handed down the Australian Government’s 2024-25 National Budget, the details of the government’s future spending plans have prompted a range of responses from different components of the education sector.

The key focuses revealed in last night’s Federal Budget announcement include the need to ease cost-of-living pressures, as well as highlighting plans to broaden opportunity, advance equality, and investment in a program to address the structural and strategic challenges that the Australian economy faces.

Tertiary

In the tertiary education sector, reforms will see index caps on HECS/HELP debt, and also offer women and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Australians greater support. Weekly payments for student teachers undertaking teacher placements also promises some welcome relief. Other industries set to benefit from funding if paid work placements for uni students, include the allied health sector, including nursing students.

The National Tertiary Education Union has described the federal budget as a first step on the road to major reform universities desperately need.

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The federal government has earmarked $1.1 billion in funding over the next five years to implement recommendations from the Universities Accord. 

NTEU National President Dr Alison Barnes says more investment would be needed to combat a sector in crisis.

“This budget must be the first step on the road to the major reforms needed to combat the explosion in insecure work, rampant wage theft and a broken governance model,” she said.

“It’s clear the government takes the Universities Accord’s final report seriously, but we’ll need to see a much more ambitious response to properly address the deep problems in higher education.

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“Staff must have a seat at the table in overseeing what must be the most significant university reforms in a generation.

“We have proudly fought alongside student unions for measures to ease student debt so it’s welcome to see those calls beginning to be answered in the budget.

“We need the government to be upfront about what its plan to slow the growth of international student numbers means for university funding.

“Already-stretched university staff simply can’t afford more funding cuts after a disastrous decade under the coalition.

“The Australian Tertiary Education Commission has the potential to improve our sector but only if staff are truly represented when it is established in mid-next year.

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“The NTEU will ramp up its fight for better universities, which serve Australia’s best interests for generations to come.”

Teachers

Dr Suzie Raymond from the University of South Australia (UniSA) says it is also expected that the Australian Government will fund a much-needed wage increase for teachers and educators in early childhood services.

“An increase in funding will support the sustainability of the early childhood workforce who tend to drift to primary school because of poor wages and conditions,” says Dr Raymond.

“Therefore, the focus on early childhood in the 2024-2025 budget is welcome and acknowledges the importance of this period of a child’s life and the need for high-quality interventions to improve learning and well-being outcomes. The important work undertaken by early years teachers and educators is significant in reducing vulnerability and positively influencing a child’s life trajectory.”

Dr Anne McLeod is Associate Head of School for the School of Education at Charles Sturt University and President of the National Association for Education Administration (NAFEA) and believes the Budget’s commitment to Indigenous education, and for those in regional, rural and remote (RRR) areas should go further.

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“Ensuring effective communication and consultation with First Nations students and teachers is undoubtedly crucial. However, there are pressing issues demanding immediate attention,” she says.

“One such concern is the urgent necessity for qualified early childhood teachers to educate all students within Indigenous communities. Rather than waiting for bureaucratic processes, action must be taken promptly to address this need.

“In rural communities, the demand for qualified teachers is keenly felt, and the need is not for delayed proposals but for immediate solutions. These communities are intimately aware of their requirements and cannot afford to wait for lengthy decision-making procedures. They require economic support and encouragement to facilitate the provision of equitable access to early childhood education and care centres,” says Dr McLeod.

“The paramount importance of equity within early childhood education and care cannot be overstated. Indigenous communities must have access to well-trained teachers who understand their cultural context and can provide quality education to all children.

“By prioritising these needs and acting swiftly to address them, we can ensure that every child receives the educational support they deserve, fostering a more inclusive and equitable society.

Ms Rachael Hedger is a Senior Lecturer in Early Childhood Education and Care, and Course Coordinator for the Early Childhood Initial Teacher Education degrees at Flinders University.

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“The Government’s commitment to a wage increase for the early childhood education and care workforce is welcome news. Early childhood teachers deserve pay parity with those teaching in schools, as they support children through their optimal time of learning and development in the first five years of life,” she says.

“The Government’s Commonwealth Prac Payments will support pre-service teachers to undertake their mandatory professional experience placements with increased financial support. This initiative is likely to increase opportunities for pre-service teachers trying to balance study and work commitments and will see them enter the workforce sooner.”

Professor Penny Van Bergen is an expert in educational psychology and in the science of learning. As Head of the School of Education at the University of Wollongong. She oversees six initial teacher education students and 3000 students.

“Commonwealth Prac Payments are a welcome investment for our future teachers, many of whom face ‘placement poverty’ when giving up their own paid work to undertake mandatory placements as part of their degrees,” she says.

“I would like to see these payments indexed to minimum wage, however, which is considerably higher at $882 per week vs $319 per week for placement. This is an excellent start, but there is more to be done to retain education students in our degree.

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“Needs-based funding for under-represented students is a particularly welcome initiative in education. Initial teacher education cohorts are often less diverse than the communities they serve. However, universities, employers, parents, and students themselves all agree on the need for a diverse teaching workforce, who can genuinely meet the needs of their communities.

“Put simply, when students see people like themselves represented among their teachers, they know that school is a place they belong and can thrive. This representation within universities can only be achieved with investment and support.”

STEM/STEAM education

Professor Karen Murcia is an international recognised STEM education specialist from Curtin University, with expertise in young children’s digital literacy and creativity.

“Australia’s commitment to STEM education is more crucial than ever to meet the challenges and opportunities presented as our government invests in supporting industry and innovation in the renewable energy space. The success of the ‘Future Made in Australia’ initiative depends on a workforce with the capabilities needed to navigate and contributing to these transformative science and technology fields,” she says.

“Growing the workforce needed for this future job market, requires investment into quality STEM education from early childhood through to senior years of schooling. Digital technology is a significant driver of global change, generating new jobs and transforming existing ones. A stronger emphasis on STEM education must equip students with the necessary skills to thrive in a digital economy.

“Further investment is needed for the timely evaluation of the National STEM School Education Strategy. This evaluation will help map a forward path to ensure that policy and priority initiatives keep pace with the rapid digital transformations affecting clean energy industries. It is essential to build the digital capabilities of Australians, enabling them to navigate digital disruptions, including those brought about by AI and cybersecurity, in all aspects of life and work.

“A collaborative approach involving government, businesses, communities, and the education sectors is necessary to overcome challenges and build high-quality STEM education opportunities. These efforts must ensure inclusivity, providing equal opportunities for all Australians. By fostering collaboration, Australia can build a robust STEM education framework that supports future workforce needs and drives national innovation and growth.”

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Primary and secondary school funding

Dr Matthew Sinclair is a lecturer and researcher of education policy at Curtin University, His research focuses on school funding, equity in schooling, and globalisation.

“Looking at the forward estimates for public and non-government schools from tonight’s budget. It seems there’s quite a way to go in the negotiations between Minister Clare and the Education Ministers of Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, New South Wales, and Tasmania regarding fully funding the Student Resource Standard (SRS) for public schools,” he says.

“Unfortunately, I’ve seen this trajectory on school funding policy for public schools before and note how it has ended in less than positive ways.”

Disadvantaged students

Tertiary reforms

National education charity The Smith Family welcomes the focus in the 2024 Federal Budget on equity in tertiary education and on funding reforms which will help create more opportunities for students. 

When it comes to tertiary reforms, Doug Taylor, CEO of The Smith Family says: “With an estimated nine out of ten new jobs in the next decade requiring a post-school qualification, the measures announced will ensure that more students move from secondary school into post-school training and study.” 

“Through our work on the ground with students experiencing disadvantage, we see the difficulty  they face in making that all-important transition into tertiary education.  

“The reforms announced will remove barriers for students in three ways: firstly, by helping more young people transition to University or TAFE; secondly while they are studying with the new Prac Payment for student placements; and thirdly by easing the burden of their student debt, post study. 

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“The funding for 20,000 new fee-free TAFE places and the $350 million for fee-free uni-ready courses to prepare students for university and to support their completion, is particularly welcomed. These measures will create more opportunities for pathways into tertiary studies. 

“While the details of needs-based funding are still to be clarified, the intent to provide tailored academic support for students from disadvantaged backgrounds is also welcomed. This will ensure universities are better able to support students to succeed at university while they’re there.” 

National School Reform Agreement 

“While it is positive to see the Federal government taking on a lot of the recommendations from the Australian Universities Accord in this budget, it is important that these reforms be strengthened with similar equity commitments from all governments for the National School Reform Agreement – affecting thousands of primary and secondary school children – once the funding agreements have been finalised,” Mr Taylor said.

“We need to give all students a fair chance of completing school, getting to tertiary level and to succeed in their studies. This means providing the right support they need, at the right time – from early childhood to primary and secondary school and beyond. 

“We can’t have better futures for Australian children without investment in our young people’s education at every level – and while this budget is taking some significant and important steps, there is more work to be done.” 

Cost of living support to Australian families 

“The Smith Family welcomes the raft of measures announced to relieve cost-of-living pressures, including rent assistance and energy bill rebates. These are particularly important for the families we support and will help to alleviate some of the significant financial stress they experience. 

“We know that families we work with are making impossible decisions every day about how to spend limited funds. Easing the burden for these families will make it easier for them to support the education of their children,” says Mr Taylor. 

Skills training

According to the Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia (ITECA), the 2024 Federal Budget has some great investment to address workforce skills shortages but represents a missed opportunity to put students at the heart of the skills training system. 

“The Australian Government’s investment in skills training is broadly welcomed; however, more could have been done to put students at the heart of the skills training system,” says Troy Williams, ITECA Chief Executive.

Key budget measures include continued funding for the five-year National Skills Agreement between the Australian, state and territory governments.  This is the primary vehicle that taxpayers use to support students get the skills they need in critical areas.

“The problem with this budget is that skills funding isn’t student centred.  It fails to empower students with the opportunity to study with the provider that’s best able to help them achieve their life and career goals, whether that’s an independent training provider or a public TAFE college,” Mr Williams said.

However, continued investment in Jobs and Skills Australia (JSA) and the ten new Jobs and Skills Councils (JSCs) has been welcomed by ITECA.

“Working together, JSA and the JSCs can take a considered approach to workforce planning to identify where future skills needs will be.  From there, it will be possible for the Australian Government to make considered decisions about future course demand and skills funding,” Mr Williams says.

ITECA will continue its advocacy to put students at the heart of the skills training system, where the Australian Government backs a student’s decision to study with either an independent Registered Training Organisation (RTO) or a public TAFE college.

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]brandx.live