Daily Bulletin


The Conversation

  • Written by Peter Goss, School Education Program Director, Grattan Institute

Australia is slightly below average when it comes to international funding for our schools. – Tanya Plibersek, shadow minister for education, speaking to journalists, January 29, 2017.

Current school funding arrangements run out at the end of this year, and schools need to know what will replace them. So this year we can expect to hear arguments over how much funding different parts of government should provide, how funding should grow over time, and how it should be allocated.

Before entering those challenging discussions, it helps to agree on some baseline facts. Tanya Plibersek, shadow minister for education, told reporters recently that Australia is slightly below average when it comes to international funding for our schools.

Is that right?

Checking the source

When asked for sources to support her statement, a spokesman for Tanya Plibersek referred The Conversation to OECD data showing that Australia’s per student spending as a percentage of per capita GDP is 18% for primary compared to the OECD average of 22%, and 23% for secondary compared to the OECD average of 25%.

These figures come directly from Table B1.4 of the OECD’s Education at a Glance 2016 report. This report is used as the source of most figures in this FactCheck.

The metric that Plibersek uses clearly supports her claim, and comes from a reliable source. But there are other ways to measure school funding and compare Australia’s spend with other developed countries.

This FactCheck will focus on recurrent funding from federal and state/territory governments, the crux of Australian school funding debates since at least the 1970s. Capital investment – such as on new buildings or new schools – is excluded. Private funding is an important source of income for many schools, but by its nature is beyond the control of education ministers.

How should we compare funding levels?

Australia should be compared to other developed countries. This most often means the 35 countries that make up the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Countries have vastly different numbers of students, and students in some countries stay in school longer than in others. Wage rates also vary greatly across countries.

To account for these differences, there are different ways to compare education funding.

There is no ideal metric, but comparing education funding to GDP probably gives the most accurate picture: it is more stable over time because it does not rely on exchange rate conversions; and it reflects, at least in part, differences in wages.

Slightly below OECD average when expressed as a share of GDP

As a share of GDP, Australia’s allocation of government money to schools is slightly below the OECD average. Australia spent 3.2% of GDP on school education in 2013, slightly below the OECD average of 3.4%.

So, measured this way, the data support Plibersek’s assertion.

Looking at the population mix provides further support, because Australia has relatively more young people than the OECD average, and a booming school-age population.

For example, only 143 Koreans out of every thousand are under the age of 15, compared to 188 Australians. So while Korea spends marginally less on school education as a percentage of GDP than Australia (3.1% vs 3.2%) the reality is that Korea spends a much higher proportion of GDP per student than Australia.

The metric cited by Plibersek takes differences in population mix into account, but is harder to interpret than a simple comparison of funding to GDP.

And measuring funding in different ways may give a different picture.

For example, if private spending (meaning school fees) is included in the same metric, Australian spending on schooling is just above the OECD average (3.9% versus 3.7%). This reflects the relatively high proportion of fee-paying non-government schools in Australia compared to most OECD countries.

Direct per student funding gives a mixed picture

Per student funding metrics can be used to directly compare the amount of money being provided in support of the average student. But they are fraught, because some countries are richer than others and because exchange rates fluctuate over time. That’s partly why I think comparing education funding to GDP (as in the chart above) is a more accurate reflection.

The most recent OECD data give a mixed picture for per student spending, showing (when rounded) that:

  • Australia spent slightly less in 2013 than the average OECD country on primary school students: US$8,300 versus US$8,500

  • Australia spent about 10% more than the average OECD country on secondary school students: US$10,900 versus US$9,800

  • Over the expected duration of schooling, the cumulative spend per student was about 16% higher in Australia than the OECD average. This is because Australian students stay in school longer than in many other countries.

A higher proportion of total government spending

Comparing education funding to total government expenditure, makes Australia’s relative spend on education look artificially high, since Australian government expenditure as a percentage of GDP is among the lowest in the OECD even if superannuation is included (see page 14 of this report).

The data show 9.7% of government spending in Australia goes on schooling. This is higher than the OECD average of 8.0%.

Indeed, it ranks us equal sixth out of 33 OECD countries for which this data is available, and may well be the source of education minister Simon Birmingham’s claim that Australia’s spend on schools is “among the top of the pack in terms of investment”.

Verdict

Was Tanya Plibersek right to say “Australia is slightly below average when it comes to international funding for our schools”?

It all depends on how you measure it – but, yes, she is basically correct.

OECD data show that Australia’s per student spending as a percentage of per capita GDP is below the OECD average.

And as a share of GDP, Australia spent 3.2% of GDP on school education in 2013, slightly below the OECD average of 3.4%. Measuring funding this way gives the clearest picture, in my view.

Measuring funding in different ways gives a different picture, as explained above, and some approaches show Australia ahead of other developed countries. But measuring Australian government spending on schools as a share of GDP gives an easy, accurate and stable metric for international comparison, and supports Plibersek’s claim. – Peter Goss

Review

This article accurately depicts relevant OECD data. Using this data, it shows Tanya Plibersek’s comment to be accurate.

As an aside, however, it is important to keep in mind that Plibersek’s comments and related OECD data focus only on nation-to-nation comparisons. Yet in Australia’s federal system of governance there are significant differences between levels of school funding when comparing states and territories, and also schooling sectors. Plibersek’s focus on Australia as a whole is certainly useful for understanding where Australia “sits” in comparison to other OECD nations. But to engage fully with a debate about Australian school funding arrangements, close attention is needed to how federal funding interacts with sub-national systems and sectors. – Glenn C. Savage

Have you ever seen a “fact” worth checking? The Conversation’s FactCheck asks academic experts to test claims and see how true they are. We then ask a second academic to review an anonymous copy of the article. You can request a check at checkit@theconversation.edu.au. Please include the statement you would like us to check, the date it was made, and a link if possible.

Authors: Peter Goss, School Education Program Director, Grattan Institute

Read more http://theconversation.com/factcheck-is-australia-below-the-international-average-when-it-comes-to-school-funding-72189

Writers Wanted

Solitaire Card Game Rules Every Gamer Should Know

arrow_forward

Asian countries do aged care differently. Here's what we can learn from them

arrow_forward

The Conversation
INTERWEBS DIGITAL AGENCY

Politics

Prime Minister Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News

KIERAN GILBERT: Kieran Gilbert here with you and the Prime Minister joins me. Prime Minister, thanks so much for your time.  PRIME MINISTER: G'day Kieran.  GILBERT: An assumption a vaccine is ...

Daily Bulletin - avatar Daily Bulletin

Did BLM Really Change the US Police Work?

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has proven that the power of the state rests in the hands of the people it governs. Following the death of 46-year-old black American George Floyd in a case of ...

a Guest Writer - avatar a Guest Writer

Scott Morrison: the right man at the right time

Australia is not at war with another nation or ideology in August 2020 but the nation is in conflict. There are serious threats from China and there are many challenges flowing from the pandemic tha...

Greg Rogers - avatar Greg Rogers

Business News

Top 5 US Logistics Companies

Nothing is more annoying than having to deal with unreliable shipping companies for your fragile and important packages. Other than providing the best customer service, a logistics company also ne...

News Co - avatar News Co

Luke Lazarus Helps Turns Startups into Global Stalwarts

There are many positive aspects to globalization. It is no secret that those who have been impacted by globalization tend to enjoy a higher standard of living in general. One factor that has led to ...

Emma Davidson - avatar Emma Davidson

Digital-based strategies that grow and expand your business

Small and medium-sized businesses are increasingly relying on new technology solutions to strengthen their product development, marketing, and customer engagement activities. Technology adoption...

News Co - avatar News Co



News Co Media Group

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion