Our Australian governments are in the process of delegating both power and responsibility for provision of public education to big business as well as religious interests. This means the abandonment of one of the key indicia of public education : public provision.

In this our governments are following, the extreme market ideology of the UK and USA which has already foundered in a financial quagmire. And in the process they are selling out the inheritance of future generations into a similar quagmire of financial irresponsibility and sectarian division.

One of the key policy advisers behind this move in Australia is – surprise, surprise, a professorial fellow from Melbourne University - Brian Caldwell. He claims that in England where there are 3100 high schools with 3000 of them having a partnership with business or industry. He also promotes corporate funding by claiming  that ‘it is not some crazy right-wing agenda but a development that has gained its major impetus under a Labor government’, one is only left wondering what has happened to the Labor party in both England and Australia.

The Financial Review of Wednesday 27 January, not only outlines the encroachment of big business into the public education systems of Australia, but the objections raised to recent developments. In an article entitled ‘Schools targeted in Productivity Drive’, we are told that ‘big –name companies from sectors including banking, information technology, mining, energy and defence are injecting cash into schools.’

The federal government has provided $450,000 for a business-schools round table and is understood to have engaged consulting firm PhillipsKPA to study existing company/school partnerships and investigate ways to encourage more of them.

The National Australia Bank has injected $15 million into school-community partnerships. The ex-premier of Victoria, Steve Bracks, chairs the bank’s Schools First education advisory board. The program involves local, state and national prizes for schools that form partnerships with outside organizations such as businesses, government agencies, universities, charities and community groups.

The bank’s deputy CEO Michael Ullmer describes the Schools First program as genuine community engagement, not ‘chequebook charity’.

He said it. NAB’s‘Chequebook charity’ is taxation exempt. DOGS point out that by providing the $15 million the National Australia Bank gains taxation exemptions. In other words, instead of paying taxes for the common good, they use taxation exempt funds to promote programs of their choice and gain advertisement for themselves -  in our public schools. Is this how we, as citizens, really want our taxes and tax expenditures used?

The NAB is not the only big business getting on the taxation exemption bandwagon. McDonalds Australia started a Maths Online tutoring program in March last year. They have declined to comment on the amount spent on the program, but they have been criticized by nutritionists and parents groups.

The obesity problem amongst Australian teenagers can do without online advertising of McDonalds alongside maths programs.

Corporate Australia is upfront about what is going on. Business Council of Australia education policy director Patrick Coleman says the primary motivation for corporate investment in education is workforce needs of the future.

Alarm bells are ringing with some supporters of a genuine public education system in which democratic governments accept responsibility for the provision of a free, secular and universal education.

The idea that business is somehow buying its way into schools in order to tap into a future customer base alarms Greens MLC in South Australia, Mark Parnell. He asked the South Australian legislative assembly to ‘note with concern the influence of corporate sponsorship on public education’ after one of the state’e high schools struck a $450,000 three-year deal with a defence company. While Adam Rorri, an education economist and policy analyst with international experience say that while appropriate scrutinized partnerships between business and schools can no doubt add value, the ultimate responsibility for funding public education must rest with governments.

DOGS agree with him that ‘You don’t want to set up a situation where government is absolved of even some responsibility to ensuring that sufficient resources are there for all children to have a good education.’

One of the major hallmarks of a genuine public education system is that it is ‘public in provision’. 



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