The ALP came down with a bout of OECDitis yesterday, a condition that afflicts many politicians and commentators when they offer arguments assuming that whatever on average happens in other OECD countries Australia should do as well. The virus yesterday was the 2007 edition of the OECD’s statistical compendium, Education at a Glance (at 451 pages, it is very long glance).
The problem, according to the ALP, is that:
* Australia is the third worst of all OECD countries – ahead of only Korea and the United States — on public education spending as a proportion of total education spending;
* Public investment in preschool has languished at just 0.1 per cent of GDP, the equal lowest of all OECD countries with Korea; and
* Public investment in tertiary education has fallen by four per cent at the same time the average OECD investment increased by 49 per cent with Australia being the only country to record a drop in public investment.
Third worst of all OECD countries on public spending as a proportion of all education spending? Perhaps I have missed something, but how exactly does public spending produce better outcomes than the same amount from a private source? Given the far-from-impressive performance of public education relative to private education here as elsewhere, perhaps this point should have read third best.
In a modern version of the cultural cringe, those suffering from OECDitis never seem to consider the possibility that other countries might have it wrong and that they have something to learn from us rather than the other way around. After all, increased private contribution to higher education has from the government’s perspective – and from the perspective of taxapayers – been a big success. There have been no obvious negative effects on higher education – demand still exceeds supply, low SES enrolments have improved, student satisfaction is at the highest levels since surveys began, and as Education at a Glance noted (and The Age reported) unemployment rates for graduates aged 25-29 are the lowest in the world and Australia enrols proportionately more international students than any other country.
What this shows, I think, is that the public expenditure HECS replaced had no educational effects. It was simply a wealth transfer from taxpayers to students. The fact that other OECD countries continue with this practice reflects poorly on them rather than us.
Update: Crikey has a more severe case of OECDitis than the ALP. You have to be a subscriber to see it all, but hardly any of the figures they cite are output indicators. As Rajat points out in comments below, this approach is big on symbolic commitments. Whether the inputs achieve anything, or do so efficiently, hardly matters.