Saul Eslake's Tasmania Report critique sparks debate on future of colleges in Tasmania

TCCI CEO Michael Bailey and economist Saul Eslake catch up at the Country Club in Prospect. Picture: Scott Gelston
TCCI CEO Michael Bailey and economist Saul Eslake catch up at the Country Club in Prospect. Picture: Scott Gelston

Saul Eslake has issued his strongest criticism of Tasmania’s college system yet, creating heated debate over the role of colleges versus high schools.

In his Tasmania Report, released on Monday, Mr Eslake said the state government’s election policy of rolling out grade 12 in all state high schools would, most likely, render the college system unsustainable.

“This should be seen as a desirable consequence of the Government’s proposal,” Mr Eslake wrote, arguing that “no other state has seen fit to emulate Tasmania’s system” of education because it did not drive higher retention or attainment rates.

Mr Eslake said colleges could be converted to high schools, to offer a cheaper educational opportunity without the ‘structural break’ in schooling created by students moving to a college.

Education Minister Jeremy Rockliff has repeatedly insisted extending high schools to grade 12 will work compatibly with the college system.

“We have seen strong collaborative partnerships develop between colleges and high schools that have extended to years 11 and 12, and we expect this to continue,” he said.

In his report, Mr Eslake said the average cost per graduate for Tasmanian colleges was between $10-14,000 more than the University of Tasmania charges overseas students for two years of a degree.

Further, 42 per cent of students enrolled in schools offering grade 12 had attained their Tasmanian Certificate of Education in 2016, up from 29 per cent enrolled in the same schools prior to grade 12 being offered.

Both opposition education spokeswoman Michelle O’Byrne and the education union disagreed with Mr Eslake’s findings.

AEU Tasmania president Helen Richardson said closing colleges would be a “simplistic” reaction to a complex problem.

“We also must remember Tasmania’s public school grade 10-12 retention rate is above the national average when part time students are included, according to the Productivity Commission Report,” she said.

Ms O’Byrne asked if the state government was willing to see colleges close as a result of their grade 12 policy.

“We are supporters of the college system, we know for those students transitioning to university it provides an excellent base for them, with some 98 per cent of Tasmanian students getting their first round university offers,” she said.