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We must work together to foster thirst for knowledge

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Christine Milne 4 Nov 2014

BEFORE I was elected to parliament, I spent 10 years teaching at high schools on the North-West Coast.

I grew up in Wesley Vale, just out of Devonport, in a farming family who valued education.

I was sent to Hobart for my secondary and university education.

I returned home, but most people from the North-West who got a university degree didn't. The graduate exodus led to the perception that encouraging education would result in losing your children to Hobart or to the mainland.

When I was teaching, I had to deal with cases of intelligent, ambitious children whose hopes of staying at school or going to university were doused by parents and families.

What was the use of higher learning to work on the farm, down the mines, in the factory, in the forests or if you got married, their families asked.

It wasn't just a few cases, it was a common, widespread cultural reaction to education.

This is why the establishment of university campuses in Launceston and Burnie has been so critical to Tasmania's future.

Not only does it dampen the fear that children will leave, but it brings the value of education right into people's lived experience.

What was the use of higher learning to work on the farm, down the mines, in the factory, in the forests or if you got married, their families asked.

Vice-Chancellor Peter Rathjen tells a story about a man who had worked in a North-West manufacturing business all his life who attended a course at UTAS on improving market competitiveness.

That experience not only helped the business secure new contracts but it led to him encouraging his own children to aim for university education - an option that he had not even entertained before that moment.

Improving educational outcomes needs to be at the centre of every economic plan, every budget, every decision for the future and it should be quarantined from funding cuts.

We have come so far in such a short time but I fear we are at risk of losing these advances if the Federal Government's proposed changes to education funding are passed by the parliament.

We must keep the pressure on the government to commit to the Gonski schools funding model.

Tasmanian children are disadvantaged by a range of factors when it comes to getting a good education.

This must be turned around.

We had state and federal co-operation on the Gonski funding model. We can't let the opportunity slip through our fingers.

The Government's proposed changes to university funding could cripple any further advancement in our higher education sector.

UTAS has warned that it may have to close one of the northern campuses if fee deregulation goes ahead. This would be an enormous backward step.

If Tasmanian senators vote for deregulation, they will be voting against the best interests of the state. With an educated, skilled workforce we can make the most of the state's natural advantages to improve our economic and social bottom lines.

But we need to work together to ensure the thirst for knowledge is encouraged.

Christine Milne is the Leader of the Australian Greens.

First published in The Mercury on November 03, 2014 

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