Peter Karmel, who died this week, was one of the most distinguished Australian educational leaders of the second half of the twentieth century.
He was perhaps best known for his report on schools in 1973 for the Whitlam government. Disputes still alive today have their origins in decisions taken following that report, from recurrent federal grants to state schools to graded funding to private schools. The Karmel report recommended funding based on the needs of the school, which survived until the Howard government replaced it with a funding formula (at least until it broke down from so many exceptions) based on the income of parents. However, the idea that for private schools – though not for public schools – grants should be adjusted based on some measure of income or wealth has survived.
His main career, however, was in universities. He was Vice-Chancellor of two, Flinders and the ANU, and served in the late 1970s and early 1980s as chair of the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission, an intermediary agency between the universities and colleges of advanced education and the government. Such bodies fell out of favour during the previous Labor government, though Karmel and others continued to call for their restoration.
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