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The future demands more education spending: Spence

The Vice-Chancellor took shadow education minister Christopher Pyne to task over historically low tertiary education spending, reports James O’Doherty.

Welcome to big school. Image: Christopher Neugebauer Welcome to big school. Image: Christopher Neugebauer

The University of Sydney. [Photo: Christopher Neugebauer, licensed under CC BY 2.0]
The Vice Chancellor, Dr Michael Spence, used his QandA appearance last night for a scathing criticism of Australia’s education spending.

In repeated stoushes with Shadow Education spokesman Christopher Pyne, Dr Spence called on the Opposition to promise increases in education spending if they won government at the next election.

He attacked Mr Pyne and Federal Attorney General Ms Roxon for their parties’ budget stance: “Australia does not spend the amount on education that its future demands or that its wealth allows it to,” he said.

“Our future is in education. Are you going to invest?”

Education was the flagship issue of the program last night; Dr Spence spoke extensively on the wider importance of education funding, but was spared the brunt of the backlash at recent university cost-cutting that many expected.

Only one question was asked specifically to Dr Spence on his implantation of cost-cutting exercises, from SRC Vice President Tom Raue. After pressure from host Tony Jones, Dr Spence declared that the final number of jobs to be cut was “60”, not “over a hundred,” about which he expressed regret.

Honi understands that some students, including Tom Raue and SRC Welfare Officer Brigitte Garozzo, had their seating allocations rejected after initial acceptance. Sources close to Mr Raue have said the alleged technical glitch was a deliberate move to stop possible protest at the studio by the SRC Vice President and others.

Once the QandA producers realised Mr Raue and his party was “important,” they were again allowed to attend – on the proviso they behaved themselves, Honi has been told.

Dr Spence said his hands were tied in cutting staff, reiterating that it was not about job cuts but a balancing act. He used the ABC platform to place the onus on governmental spending to address “significant infrastructure problems”, “aging building stock,” and “more students than ever before.”

The Vice Chancellor took the funding model to task over what he saw as historically low spending on tertiary education. “We get less funding, as a percentage, than we got before World War II,” he said. “[We get] less than private schools. We need more money.”

Teachers’ education also featured heavily in the program, with Dr Spence defending Sydney University’s teaching model in training teachers. He said it was the university’s job to teach them critical thinking, and that on the job training must be available for teachers.

Michael Spence took the public opportunity to defend his position in cutting costs at the University. With the debate being steered away from specifics, he was not given the grilling many students expected – or desired.

Whether his clarity of speech and conviction in demanding increased funding was enough to convince students, however, will remain to be seen.