2008 Budget bits on science and education

Ok, time to find some good news?

Here’s the budget.

Support for research

“To strengthen the link between research and innovation, the Government will boost Australia’s research capacity by providing:

  • $326 million over four years to fund four year Future Fellowships valued at up to $140,000 a year for 1,000 of Australia’s top mid‑career researchers
  • $209 million over four years to double the number of Australian Postgraduate Awards for PhD or Masters by Research students.”
My estimate is that this affects 1500 people. I’m not sure if that is a lot, it sure doesn’t sound a lot. Lets say that’s 150 in SA, evenly across 3 main campuses so that’s 50 per campus and then across 10 faculties so that gives 5 more people per faculty, say 3 researchers and 2 post grads per faculty.
Nope, that’s not a lot…and see below for the overall HE funding, which is going down.

Higher education

To help universities upgrade and maintain teaching, research and other

student facilities, the Government will provide $500 million by 30 June 2008.

The Government will also spend $626 million to reduce the cost of studying maths and science at university and to reduce HECS‑HELP repayments for science and maths graduates who undertake work in a related field.”

However the government is still going ahead with $1Bn is spending on unproven computers etc. for high schools. Also note above the funny line about $500 million, yep that’s right, spending before “June 30 2008” so that is actually not part of next years budget but stuff in this budget. That’d be called weasel words in my book.

And overall the the budget goes down this year for higher education with the promise it will go back up again in the following year. From $6.3Bn down to $6.0Bn in 2008-2009. And yet they say it is going up. I guess that reflects the lack of math education in society these days. Note that early childhood education is up, vocational education is up, school education is up, transitions and youth is up. Looks like the government isn’t too interested in people with a higher education.

Funding to ARC goes up from $15.25 million to $15.85 million, however this doesn’t appear to cover the cuts in other areas.

Investment in schools includes:

  • $1.2 billion over five years for the Digital Education Revolution to deliver computers and communications technologies to all Year 9‑12 students”

and the rest of the education budget items are:

  • $2.5 billion over ten years for Trade Training Centres in Schools
  • $577 million to improve literacy and numeracy outcomes for students
  • $62 million over three years for the National Asian Languages and Studies in Schools Program
  • $20 million to establish a National Curriculum Board.

These initiatives will assist in lifting the Year 12 or equivalent attainment rate to 90 per cent by 2020.

However, when it comes to the skills shortages of math and science teachers we have the following bad generalization buried in the main papers.

“Australian Bureau of Statistics data indicate that there are around 450,000 people aged between 15 and 64
who are trained as teachers, with only around 280,000 working as teachers….To the extent that there are reported shortages in these areas, this does not reflect an absolute shortfall in suitably
qualified people, but rather, a choice by many of them not to work in these fields.
Given the competing demands for labour, solving skills shortages within schools
clearly involves more than simply boosting the number of people qualified as

I’m sorry, but the government is being very misguided in such a generalisation. It is irrelevant how many teachers not working as teachers if none of those ‘not working teachers’ are science and math teachers.

I have talked to people in DECS about this and the simple fact is, people are not training to be math and science teachers. The CSIRO is currently running a program called Scientists in Education to get working scientists to help out teachers because of the dire situation they are in. I’m not sure this budget does anything to address this critical issue. In fact I’m pretty sure it doesn’t.

Hopefully some of that $577M mentioned above actually goes towards getting more teachers who are willing work, especially math and science teachers.

Anyway that’s enough for now, the educators can read it through in detail and report. The more I wade through it’s hundreds of pages the more bad news I find.

At least we’re not as bad as Geoscience Australia who took a big cut, $144M to $139M. However ANSTO went up by about $20M so that’s some good news, although $10M is cleaning up nuclear waste.

Overall I’d give it an E.

It did not address the real issues in schools and low uptake of math and science, it gives no incentive for industry to do any more R&D. It’s doesn’t address the declining intake into Universities and the declining results in math and science that came out of the Pirsa report a few months ago. And it has real cuts to many of the areas. At a time when we have the excess to invest in long term strategy.

It’s like a big shiny red apple sitting on the lecturers desk, except it’s rotten inside.

Rudd, Swan you suck.