Higher education spending among world’s lowest – OECD

Australia spends a smaller share of its national income on public investment in tertiary education than countries such as Estonia, Turkey and Latvia, according to the OECD’s latest Education at a Glance report.

The report ranks Australia’s public investment in tertiary education among the bottom four of the world’s advanced economies – 30th out of 34 nations at 0.7% of gross domestic product or GDP, or about 40% below the OECD average of 1.1%.

“The only OECD countries with lower recorded levels of public investment than Australia are Japan, Luxembourg and the UK,” said National Tertiary Education Union President Jeannie Rea. “Even the USA has a higher level of public investment in tertiary education, which at 0.9% of GDP is almost 25% higher than Australia.”

Rea said that in contrast to the low levels of public investment, Australia’s level of private investment in tertiary education was 1.1% of GDP – more than twice the OECD average of 0.5%.

“The high private contribution Australian students make to the cost of their tertiary education is reflected in the high level of tuition fees our students are required to pay, which again the report shows to be among the highest in the OECD,” she said.

“The folly of the government’s higher education policies, which essentially require students to pay 7.5% more for a degree while at the same time slashing real public investment per student by more than 10%, is exposed by the report.”

Universities Australia’s Chief Executive Belinda Robinson said the report showed that Australian students and their families paid the sixth-highest fees in the world as a percentage of national income.

“Australia’s private investment in tertiary education now sits at 1.1% of GDP – more than twice the OECD average,” Robinson said. “The data comes as legislation to impose a further AU$2.8 billion [US$2.2 billion] in cuts to universities and their students – on top of another nearly AU$4 billion in cuts since 2011 – is being debated in parliament.”

Robinson said the proposed cuts would take Australia backwards at a time when its economic competitors were investing more in education. She said a further AU$2.8 billion in funding cuts and student fee rises proposed by the federal government would exacerbate that trend.

“In a time of rapid and dramatic change across our economy, we need strong universities to help create new jobs, re-skill Australians and generate new sources of income for Australia.

“Global competition in higher education and research and for international students is intense. We simply can’t afford to cut our investment at a time when other countries, including those in Asia, are turbo-charging their investment in higher education.”