What the 2020-21 budget means for the Education sector

It’s been a challenging year for Australia’s education sector, with COVID-19 forcing students, educators and educational institutions to completely change the way they learn and teach.  With social distancing requirements, educational institutions were forced to rapidly shift educational programs on-line, something that was a challenge in itself and also posed a steep learning curve for educators.

While the university sector has lost billions of dollars in international student fees due to travel restrictions which has meant many international students are unable to travel to Australia.  In addition some universities have had to enact redundancy programs, as they were deemed ineligible for the JobKeeper program. With universities conducting over one-third of the country’s Research and Development activity, this loss of staff is a critical concern for the sector.

On 6 October, the Morrison government delivered its 2020-21 budget, stating it’s focus within this sector is to support Australia’s education system through “the continued provision of quality early childhood education, and funding certainty for schools and universities, while delivering more VET and higher education places, short courses and investing in research.”

Today, we’re providing an overview of how the Budget accounted for the country’s education sector, how this might affect employers and employees, and the sector’s response to the funding.

Early childhood and childcare

It was announced that $10.3 billion of the 2020-21 Budget will be committed to the country’s childcare system. This includes specific assistance to support Victorian Early Childhood Education and Care services to manage the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the continued easing of Child Care Subsidy activity requirements for families whose activity has been impacted by COVID-19.

According to not-for-profit organisation Early Childhood Australia (ECA), in a budget that focuses predominantly on business support, personal tax cuts and the impact of COVID-19, “early childhood education and care was largely overlooked as a potential contributor to economic recovery.”

In its Budget analysis, the ECA said this was disappointing given the strong consensus amongst economists and policy experts that investing in public child care was an effective response to COVID-19, as it could be easily deployed to secure jobs and support families with young children who have been impacted by job losses or reduced earnings.

Schools

Many primary and secondary schools, especially those with large rural and international boarding communities have experienced a loss of key income as a result of the pandemic. In the case of some private schools across the country, they have even offered fee cuts and rate deferrals to assist families that are struggling with COVID-19 related financial difficulties.

As a way to assist students, families, and school communities impacted by COVID-19, the Australian Government Budget has committed to investing just $25.0 million to respond to education priorities arising from the pandemic. There was also a focus on improving (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) skills in early learners and school students by channelling $27.3 million STEM programs, including the Australian Academy of Science’s STEM programs and the CSIRO’s STEM Professionals in Schools. $9.5 million will also be used to strengthen the capacity of teachers across Australia to teach mathematics and numeracy through online professional development courses for teachers, supported by face-to-face professional learning and an archive of teaching and learning resources through an online Mathematics Hub.

Higher education and research

The higher education sector has been significantly impacted by COVID-19, with physical distancing requirements making in-person activities difficult, and border closures disrupting a key source of funding which many universities have become increasingly dependent upon.

Universities Australia made a number of recommendations to the government in its pre-Budget submission, including stabilisation funding for the research workforce, hardship support for international students and further funding for clinical health experience given new physical distancing requirements.

One of the key concerns for Australian universities, is the potentially crippling hit they have taken to finances that would typically be dedicated to research.  In 2018 Australian universities spent $12.2 billion on research, one quarter of which came from international student fees. In attempts to combat this dramatic loss, the 2020-21 Budget will invest in research and key research infrastructure through a number of new measures, including, an additional $1 billion through the Research Support Program, $40 million to create a Strategic University Reform Fund (SURF) to bring together universities and local industries to partner on innovative reform projects, and $157 million over three years to implement the 2020 Research Infrastructure Investment Plan.

The Budget will provide $903.5 million over four years from 2020-21 for more university places and support for students, claiming this will create more job-ready graduates to help drive the nation’s economic recovery from the pandemic. This will include funding for an additional 12,000 university places for Australian students, as well as an additional 50,000 short course places.

Universities Australia Chair Professor Deborah Terry said she welcomed the significant investment to the education’s research efforts, saying “you can’t have economic recovery without investing in research development. This will ensure world-class research and discovery can continue on Australia’s university campuses,” she said in a statement.

If you are looking for staff in the education sector, contact Bridge Consulting today and find out how our experienced Consultants can help.