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Kenny Report, Sky News, 6 March 2024

Chris Kenny: Let’s get into some education issues now with Sarah Henderson, who’s the shadow education minister. Thanks for joining us again, Sarah. I was intrigued to get your take on what’s happening in universities now. Sydney University is the latest one to do this, but they’re getting rid of the requirement for maths, you know, Year 12 maths qualifications to get into some courses. Now this seems to me just another reduction of standards because they’re saying that not enough people are getting a good maths education in high school so therefore, they’re dropping the standards in university. Shouldn’t they be demanding that standards are maintained?

Senator Henderson: Chris, good afternoon and yes, we are seeing a change in prerequisites now being offered by the University of Sydney and arguably, this is dumbing down degrees and it is of a concern because over 20 years, we’ve seen students under our international standards go backwards by about 10 per cent in their mathematics achievements, so we need to work a lot harder to lift our standards in maths, not dumb them down and the fact that there is no longer an advanced mathematics prerequisite for science and engineering at Sydney Uni has been broadly criticized and with good reason.

Chris Kenny: Well, it’s a real worry isn’t it? In the old days you were expected if people coming out of schools aren’t at an adequate standard to get into university degrees, well, then they miss out and there are fewer people doing those degrees. But the universities are so desperate to keep up their numbers. They’re lowering their standards to get people in.

Senator Henderson: Well, there is very good foundation for that argument, Chris, because there is declining numbers in the universities and I think there will be for quite some time and frankly, I don’t think that’s good enough. But we also have a very big problem with our schools, because one in three students are failing NAPLAN and we’ve seen in the PISA international results, as I mentioned, students also going backwards over some 20 years. So, we’ve been calling very strongly for evidence-based teaching in every Australian classroom because we know that works. We know that will lift standards, things like explicit teaching, the teaching of phonics, the latest and most some significant evidence-based teaching must be in every classroom. And frankly, we have the National School Reform Agreement, but so far under Jason Clare the education minister, there has been no national agreement, and no school reforms agreed at all.

Chris Kenny: Yeah, it just makes so much sense. And, you know, we just should be getting on with this stuff. Let’s hope you do get to do that. I just want to ask you while we’re on the topic of universities, the Monash University Vice Chancellor, Margaret Gardner, I think has gone on to be the Victorian governor. A lavish farewell held for her at the National Gallery in Victoria, it chalked up $127,000. Now, I suppose that’s not all taxpayer’s money is it at a university, but there’s some taxpayer involvement, it’s just indulgence. Over the top and out of touch, isn’t it?

Senator Henderson: Well, the majority of university funding does come from the taxpayer and of course, students make a very big contribution. And Chris I have to say this is a very bad look – $127,000 spent on a lavish dinner at a time when so many students can barely put food on the table. And of course, they’ve been hit with extraordinarily high indexation of their HECS debts under this government – 11 per cent in total over two years, so the average HECS debt has gone up by *$2,700 a year which is just extraordinary under this government. I’ve been calling on Jason Clare to take action and I’m certainly calling on Jason Clare to provide some answers as to why the university would dare spend this sort of money farewelling their former Vice Chancellor, I mean, it’s so pretentious, it’s so inappropriate, and it comes at the worst possible time.

Chris Kenny: It’s just a disgrace, we’re in a cost-of-living crisis and that’s what they’re doing with our money. Thanks for joining us, Sarah. I appreciate it. Sarah Henderson there, live from Geelong.

*Correction: The $2,700 average increase in student debt is over two years.

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