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Government goes for scare weapon over university reform



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P A R L I A M E N T O F A U S T R A L I A

H O U S E O F R E P R E S E N T A T I V E S

' 1 4 5 KOORNANG ROAD CARNEGIE. VIC. 3163 TEL. (03) 571 331 1 FAX (03) 571 6020

DR DAVID KEMP, M.P. FEDERAL MEMBER FOR GOLDSTEIN sh a d o w m in is t e r f o r ed u ca tio n

5 July 1991

MEDIA RELEASE

GOVERNMENT GOES FOR SCARE WEAPON OVER UNIVERSITY REFORM

r The Government is trying to scare academ ics by claiming that a system of enterprise bargaining introduced into the higher education sector will result in a lowering of salaries.

This is disingenuous in the extreme coming from Mr Dawkins because he is aware of the Coalition's stated and published policy on Industrial Relations which is quite clear that any voluntary agreem ents entered into "must provide for at least the relevant minimum award rate of pay."

It is quite preposterous to claim that we are trying to lower academ ic salaries.

Our approach has been consistent in that we recognise the dilution of quality that has occurred in higher education and the implications this has for Australia's future. It would hardly be consistent for us to set about re-building quality in education by forcing down academ ic salaries.

Mr Dawkins would have noticed in my speech to the P ress Club that I mentioned the academ ic brain drain and the fact that salaries in the United States, C anada and Britain were bleeding our best and brightest researchers from us.

The Coalition d o es not propose accelerating that exodus by further worsening conditions. Our aim is to stem the flow and encourage a return of those who have departed.

1 would also like to dispel the suggestion that som ehow the Coalition is proposing that the Commonwealth withdraw from its funding commitments to universities and other tertiary institutions. This is an absurd suggestion and another government-inspired diversion.

This governm ent has shown itself to be totally without integrity in the area of industrial relations, the latest evidence being the prime minister's involvement in yet another secret agreem ent — this time with the waterfront workers, regardless of the decision of the Industrial Relations Commission.

EXCELLENCE OR MEDIOCRITY? A VITAL CHOICE FOR AUSTRALIA

Address to the National Press Club Canberra

By Dr David Kemp MP Shadow Minister for Education

Wednesday, 3 July 1991

EDUCATION: THE NEED TO GET ΓΓ RIGHT There is no one area of policy that is more important for Australia to get right than education. Achieving an internationally competitive edge in education is as important as international competitiveness in transport, communications or the waterfront. Giving attention to the vital importance of developing further and building on our resource

industries, we must give particular attention to the most important resource of all: the Australian people.

I have no hesitation in saying that a sound approach to education is the essential accompaniment to the program of economic reform, the program we have to have and which we have not yet had.

Economic reform will open opportunities which are presently closed, opportunities provided by lower costs and by a rational taxation system. It will provide incentives which at present are non-existent or weak, by lowering the tax burden and encouraging saving.

Without education of superior standard we will not be in a position to take advantage of these opportunities and to respond to these incentives.

I do not think it is open to question that the ability of people to respond to economic opportunities is a function of the quality of their knowledge and skills, and that quality is in turn dependent on the quality of the schools, universities and colleges of technical and further education.

It's not just structural reform which will return this nation to international competitiveness; it is the capacities which Australians will bring to the new institutions we will be setting in place.

The condition of education in Australia at the present time must give concern to every responsible person. It is an area which, to use the words the increasingly titular Minister, Mr Dawkins, applied to the recent ALP National Conference, exhibits a "failure of leadership", indeed, "a complete abdication of responsibility."

I am tempted to say that the Government's education policy has been, in the words of Macbeth, "full of sound and fury signifying nothing." There has certainly been sound and there has been, and increasingly is, fury — but though too little of

genuine substance has been achieved it all signifies something. It signifies that despite immense upheaval we are further from achieving an education system of the quality that this country requires than we were a decade ago.

In education, Australia has gone backward, relative to other countries.

There is overwhelming evidence that education in Australia, at all levels, has suffered a dilution in quality that has serious consequences for Australia's international competitiveness. For example, the Australian Council for Educational Research has found that our performance in science among school students - while stable relative to our own performance since 1970 — has slipped in the past 20 years in terms of

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international ranking — an ominous sign for a country that wants to be regarded as clever.

In the first national literacy survey, it was found that one in seven adults had problems reading or writing. One in seven. But look at Japan, as we must do if we are talking about international standards, about international competitiveness. There, with two alphabets containing 2,000 characters - not one alphabet with a mere 26 characters - illiteracy is virtually unknown.

Everyone agrees we must reach out more, we must compete. But our collective skills for even talking to much of the world are in decline. The National Policy on Languages document in 1987 noted that 20 years earlier — in 1967 — 40 per cent of all students in their final two years of secondary school studied a language other than English. But 20 years later this had fallen to a mere 12 per cent.

The fact is that at the moment Australia is lagging badly in education and training behind those countries which are now our international competitors. We are lagging both in the commitment to education measured by participation rates, and we are lagging in the quality of the education that is being offered.

Even though participation rates in education have been on the rise for a decade, they are still well behind other comparable countries in the proportion of young people in formal education and training. For example:

West Germany in 1987-88 had more than 65% of 18-19 year old males in education and training;

the USA had 58%

Japan 50%

Sweden 43%

and Australia a mere 30%.

The percentage of GDP spent on education in Australia has fallen from 6.0% in 1982-83 to 5.3% in 1987-88. This figure compares with

7.6% for Sweden

6.8% for the USA

and more than 6.5% for Canada

This is despite the fact that Australia has an exceptionally young population compared with other OECD countries — and therefore the demands on education are all the greater.

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QUALITY AND EXCELLENCE

A moment ago I said that quality was vital. Quality is the very aspect of education that has been ignored and damaged by upheaval in recent years.

Education has to be about excellence. It has to be about bringing the best out of people. It has to be about encouraging attitudes supporting achievement. About the kind of quality that enjoys and thrives on a competitive environment.

If it is not about quality, then all the effort, all the expenditure will have been for nothing, because we will not only have blighted the lives of students, but damaged our ability to compete and survive in a world which does not owe us a living.

If education is to be the great liberating and constructive force it can be, the value of excellence must be central to the whole enterprise.

NATIONAL ASSESSMENT STANDARDS

One reform is absolutely essential if we are to make educational progress in this country. And that is we must make a sustained national effort to assess, on a continuing basis, the quality of learning that is occurring across core areas like English, mathematics, science, and history.

Establishing National Achievement Standards in consultation with the States and non­ government school systems will be a key objective of the Hewson Government.

And the standards we need to set and to aim for must be international standards — standards that will place young Australians once more in the position where they can be confident that if they are achieving the highest levels here, they are achieving at levels equal to the best in the world.

To achieve world class standards and then to maintain them we need to know what is happening in our schools. We need to know what our children are learning and how well they are learning. Without measurement, quality cannot be assessed; without a conception of quality we can have no excellence.

Only by knowing how good we are, by the best available standards, can we strive to be better.

INCENTIVES FOR SCHOOLS, TEACHERS

It must be recognised that internationally competitive performance can no more be brought about by centralised regulation and bureaucratic supervision in education than

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it could be in industry.

Quality teaching is the key, and quality teaching requires the rewards for good teaching which could be offered in a more open market place; open opportunities for in-service professional development; pre-service training that acknowledges the vital role of classroom experience; attractive school environments which can arise only from effective leadership; and community support which can come only from a committed parent body.

Every one of these requirements is weakened and undermined by the policies pursued by the Government.

Higher education — which has a heavy responsibility in teacher training — operates under tight Government-inspired ceilings on the number of places which can be offered to Australian students.

The ceiling on places combined with the prohibition on universities offering in-service training at undergraduate level for a fee is a major obstacle to many secondary teachers undertaking the professional development they require.

Flat career paths provide teachers with little incentive; gifted teachers are promoted out of teaching; industrial awards make supervised pre-service training experience in the schools too expensive for tertiary institutions to afford; principals do not have the authority to get rid of the poor performers.

In the workplace, teachers' career options are few, restricted as they are to a virtually monopoly employer. Regulations prohibit teachers moving freely between government and non-government school systems.

Their organisations have relied on industrial muscle which has undermined the status of teachers in the community. They have been more successful in creating teacher positions even if the effect is to spread resources too thinly among employed teachers.

There is a need to treat teachers as true professionals. True professionalism requires not simply that teachers be experts in their subject matters and the methodology of learning, but also that they have the autonomy to exercise discretion in applying it to the infinitely varying individuals and circumstances that make up their jobs. Teachers are being

throttled by the closed and over-regulated system in which they must work.

It is no wonder that the status of teaching has declined and a career in teaching is too often the last choice after preferred options have failed.

While schools are the primary responsibility of the states, the Commonwealth through its responsibilities for universities and through its role in industrial relations and its capacity to lead opinion, must make sure that it works for quality not against it.

DILUTION IN QUALITY

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In education as in other areas, the Government likes to trumpet the big numbers, bragging how many more people it has managed to encourage to stay at school or to go on to tertiary education, leaving aside the fact that there are many factors producing such

an increase. The emphasis has been on quantitative input, not qualitative throughput and outcome.

At the university level the unified national system — which has been constructed on the policy of the forced amalgamations — is imposing immense pressures towards uniformity at the very time when the diversity of needs of students — and of industry --- makes diversity essential. Scarce resources are being spread even more thinly at a time when focusing of resources on areas of teaching and research excellence is required.

The Government has lost sight of the game. It has dropped the ball.

The National Institute for Labour Studies Report on the academic labour market warns that by the year 2000 there could be a shortage of up to 18,900 academic staff and that "recruitment standards are being allowed to slip and staff are being appointed without higher degrees...Teaching and assessment standards are slipping, most notably in terms of larger class sizes, fewer student contact hours and rationalised course offerings."

With less staff and more students, the report warns that class sizes will expand. This puts the quality of teaching at risk.

This is not a future problem — it is happening now. The report portrays an alarming picture of worsening staff shortages and deteriorating facilities at our universities.

This staff shortfall — with its potentially devastating consequences for the quality of our universities — reflects in many ways the enormous loss of confidence which has occurred iri much of the higher education system.

Australia is now bleeding from a brain drain of calamitous proportions as many of our best researchers embark on a one-way trek to the United States, Canada, or Britain, where salaries are now well above ours for comparable quality.

Researchers here operate in an intensive international marketplace --- and if we do not recognise this we will continue to lose our best and brightest.

They are clearly exasperated with the denigration, organisational upheaval resulting from the forced amalgamations, the bureaucracy and paperwork imposed from Canberra, the diversion of resources from basic long-term, research into short-term projects, the constant threat of political interference, and the total neglect of concern for quality which characterises present policies.

This year, some 30,000 qualified young people were refused admittance to universities while the Government continues to prohibit the universities from admitting them on any terms.

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So much for equity.

Do not make the mistake of thinking-that there is some wise central plan according to which higher education in this system is developing. Under the process of negotiated educational profiles for each institution we have a tertiary system which is lurching

according to bureaucratic whim — and nothing is more demoralising than the recognition throughout academia that this is the case.

This is not just propaganda from an Opposition casting envious eyes at the Government benches. Just this week, academics at the Australian National University released details of their questionnaire which showed that 97 per cent of academics polled believed that

the current course was going to make it difficult if not impossible for the Higher Education sector to be able to recruit and retain high quality staff in the 1990s.

The same survey found 90 per cent of academics polled assessed government policy as being destructive both of student/staff relations and teaching conditions.

Almost 81 per cent responded that there had been a reduction in teaching standards and that Australia's future was slipping through our fingers.

After eight years of the Hawke Labor Government;

After three years of the Dawkins upheaval;

What do we have?

We have:

* unprecedented levels of Government interference in higher education

, * disastrous staff morale

* record levels of unmet demand

* a chronic and worsening staff shortage.

THE EDUCATION EDSEL

In the annals of automotive history --- if I may be permitted an analogy — there is one name that is always guaranteed to raise a laugh whenever it is mentioned; that name is Edsel. The Edsel was a Ford made after vast sums of money had been thrown into its

development, design and production. It was a total failure in the market place, a despised object; in the parlance of the motor trade, a lemon.

The Edsel might have been forgotten altogether, so comprehensive was its failure. But it was the scope, the magnitude of the disaster that has made the name live on as an object of ridicule, of derision instead of being allowed to sink quietly into oblivion as would be allowed lesser failures.

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The name Dawkins will live on in the same way. This meddling minister who poses as a great reformer, the self-styled new interventionist, the self-anointed visionary - the man who claims the authorship of the term, the clever country - has built his own Edsel.

It is not a vehicle in which to attempt to reach the clever country.

ATTITUDE CHANGE NEEDED

The issue of excellence in teaching and research is partly one which has to be addressed by a change in the dominant attitudes affecting education policy. Too frequently those responsible for policy over the past decade have taken the view that:

* to aim at encouraging students to do their best is to damage the self-esteem of their fellow students;

* the gifted children can look after themselves;

* the educationally disadvantaged are assisted by ensuring that the curriculum is reduced to a common denominator;

* competitiveness has no role in education;

* and that seeking to measure the quality of learning is damaging to the educational enterprise.

Such nonsense has its most extreme expression in my home state, Victoria, where the new Victorian Certificate of Education — despite changes forced by those who care for quality and for the students --- still contains such demoralising features as a compulsory Australian Studies at Year 11 in which the work is not assessed for quality, where neither marks nor grades are awarded, and where all that is required is to hand something in.

Needless to say, many students despise it, for what this whole approach overlooks is that students respond to challenges; they like to be challenged and rise to the occasion. Understandably, they deeply resent having their level of achievement concealed from them, and the recognise the injustice of a system where effort and achievement receive no reward.

At the highest levels of education, competition is the lifeblood of science. Together with the human race's powerful drive to know and to master, competition drives world science.

This is the case because at these levels being of international standard, being internationally competitive, is all that matters.

MICRO REFORM OF EDUCATION The heart of the solution is give people in higher eduction the freedom and flexibility to plan the future of their own institutions — a genuine micro-reform of higher education.

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It is abundantly clear to anyone who cares to look that the economic reform program being proposed by the Coalition is inextricably linked with a far-reaching reform in education that will enable us to have a highly-trained and highly-skilled workforce, educated not just to local standards but to world best standards, the standards for which we must strive if we are to become competitive and prosper. .

Geographically, we are close to the fastest-growing, most economically dynamic region on earth, and we have a chance to join it — but the price we have to pay is the rapid transformation of our work culture into a competitive culture. And there is much to do if we are to lay the foundations for a truly clever country.

The former chief executive of BHP, Mr Brian Loton, has no doubts about the linkage between education and national well-being. He said at this very forum earlier this year and I quote:

We cannot have a world-class economy and a world-class standard of living without a world-class workforce. And we cannot have a world-class workforce, without world-class education.

The window of opportunity now available for Australia to stake a claim to the bountiful treasures of the 21st century will not stay open forever. Already, we are seeing — through Government inaction — the loss of opportunity as the uranium non-decision demonstrates.

It is already late in the day.

If we don't take steps to catch up, if we don't move to measure up to world best standards in every form of national endeavour, we will have been left far behind by some of our near neighbours we once looked on as undeveloped — Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia.

Watching the economic developments in this region of which Australia is geographically a part is to see the enormous potential, but also to realise how far we have to go even to begin to compete.

It is not melodramatic to say that there is a doomsday scenario to this.

Every day lost makes the whole task that much harder.

EASING RIGIDITIES

As most of the world quite rightly retreats from centralised, bureaucratic control, this government, insofar as education goes, swum against the tide. Under Labor, tertiary

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education in Australia has become enmeshed in regulation, red tape and control from Canberra.

The grip of the centralised industrial relations system on higher education and schools has been promoted and strengthened by it — leadership at all levels is undermined. Teacher training is faltering under the prohibitions and regulations under which it operates.

The vital and central task of providing the community with information as to the quality of teaching has been forced off the agenda.

Our institutions do not have the flexibility they need to respond to what is essentially a rapidly changing social and political environment.

There is something obscene in the Government's prohibiting the public universities from offering additional places to the 30,000 Australian students clamouring at the doors, while allowing them to provide further places to overseas students.

The Industry Commission's Draft Report on Education Exports pointed to the contradictions inherent in this policy and urged the lifting of this restriction — as does the Australian Vice-Chancellors' Committee.

Indeed, the maintenance of this restriction is damaging the ability of education faculties to provide adequate professional development opportunities for teachers.

Only one thing keeps the straitjacket tightly tied — ideology.

If our universities are to prosper, they need the freedom which the Federal Labor Government appears intent on denying them.

This industrial relations arena is crucial to the agenda of restoring autonomy and flexibility to universities.

It is in this regard that the Coalition proposes to open the way to a major improvement in employment conditions for academic staff, and to the restoration of more collegial, non-confrontational staff relations.

The centralised industrial relations system has transformed relations on campus into the standard industrial employer/employee mould, has failed to prevent a significant decline in staff conditions, and has produced confrontational campus policies which threaten the

standing of higher education in the wider community. It has eroded collegiality in staff relations and he centralised approach is introducing greater rigidities into academic staff employment conditions.

The policy we are proposing will strengthen the autonomy of institutions which has been seriously eroded. The existing government policy almost guarantees the decline of higher

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education over the coming decade. Given the structures and processes the Government has set in place it is inevitable that the emphasis will be on spreading the pain rather than on encouraging institutions to concentrate resources on areas of excellence and meet the diversity of student needs.

The Coalition is committed to restoring to higher education institutions the greater freedom they need in the staffing area based on voluntary agreements and the principles of enterprise bargaining. Let me make a number of points about how this will work.

1. Institutions will have flexibility to manage the determination of employment conditions in the way they choose. Experience already shows, for example, that considerable devolution to faculty level can be appropriate where faculties are treated as cost centres.

2. The greater financial flexibility available to institutions flowing from the Coalition's reforms will enable institutions to provide a range of new incentives for staff. Salary and other conditions may be funded both from recurrent funds or through other monies raised by the institutions themselves.

3. Institutions will have the option of adopting existing award conditions or entering into voluntary agreements. Some staff on campus may be covered by an award, others by a voluntary agreement.

4. Institutions will be encouraged to make voluntary agreements with staff. To encourage their use guidelines will be published on their drafting and contents along with model forms of agreements.

5. Alternatively, staff may appoint an agent, including an existing staff association, to negotiate an agreement.

6. Agreements will be legally enforceable contracts, and will have the status of awards.

7. Each institution will determine for itself the mix of tenured or continuing or shorter term appointments.

8. Existing contracts of employment will, of course, apply unless voluntarily renegotiated by the parties.

Institutional autonomy and deregulation in employment conditions and funding sources will enable fundamental improvements to the ongoing problems of declining uncompetitive salaries, poor working conditions and academic staff shortages, it will bring Australian educational institutions into a more competitive position in the international

community, creating centres of excellence that can offer internationally competitive standards and conditions.

CONCLUSION

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The greater freedom that institutions will have restored to them in staff relations will also be reflected in the greater freedom they will have in relation to their course offerings and the terms on which they can offer these to students.

Institutions will have the freedom to offer courses to those 30,000 qualified people who currently cannot find places.

The Commonwealth funding support will, of course, remain the principal source of funding for higher education. We propose, however, that a much more extensive system of awards and scholarships should be established to signify our commitment to encouraging achievement, and that these awards and scholarships should be a major

source of funds for institutions.

With greater freedom t6 admit students, institutions will be engaged in a thoroughly healthy competition for the dollars students will bring with them, and incentives to give particular attention to high quality teaching and courses appropriate to student needs will be greatly strengthened.

The message I hope is clear. It is that national goals in education should be goals of quality and opportunity. Quality is dependent on quality of staffing and staff morale. That depends on a major restoration of independence to institutions with a system of strict

financial accountability.