Basing education and training on needs
The 2011 Gonksi review was instrumental in placing an emphasis on needs-based funding in the school sector. This gave prominence to improving the transparency of student resource allocations and reducing complexity of having multiple overlaying concessions or loadings based on student need or location. In the school system, the needs-based funding model has been designed to provide greater certainty for schools about their ongoing level of resourcing while offering flexibility to meet diverse student and community needs.
The same aims are also increasingly being seen of relevance and importance in vocational education and training (VET). State and Territory Training Authorities provide a range of funding supports and wrap-around services, again through loadings and concessions for equity groups covering students from low SES backgrounds, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and students with a disability.
In higher education, the Higher Education Partnerships and Participation (HEPPP) is an Australian Government program established in late 2010 to support students from low SES backgrounds and was last year extended to include regional, remote, and Indigenous students. Funding is allocated to universities by a formula based on the number of ‘equity’ students enrolled in each university. Universities are also able to apply for grants from a national research pool for research and pilots that will improve the overall access of ‘equity’ groups to higher education.
One of the challenges in all three sectors is to ensure that the funding, which is provided at an institutional level (whether schools, training providers or universities), is able to be appropriately directed to meet the needs as identified at the individual student level.
A needs-based funding model, therefore, requires detailed and accurate data regarding student cohorts, needs, and campuses, with full consistency and transparency in applying the funding model. This has proved problematic in the school sector where there have been issues with the review and update of data, along with ensuring consistent application of the funding model. This is even more challenging in the VET and higher education sectors, where the profile of students, courses, providers, and facilities is generally more diverse than in schools.
With all three sectors are focussing on student needs more than ever before, it is important that the lessons and best practices from each sector are synthesised to ensure that needs-based funding is applied to make the difference to student equity intended.