Education institutions are some of the most trusted in Australia, but our faith in schools has dropped significantly since the first year of the pandemic, according to a new study from The Australian National University (ANU). 

In the latest ANUpoll of nearly 4,500 adults across the country, 67.9 per cent of people said they have quite a lot or a great deal of confidence in universities and 63.2 per cent expressed confidence in schools.

This is more than hospitals and the health system (62.9 per cent), state/territory governments (56.1 per cent) and the public service (55.0 per cent).

Only police (70.7 per cent) inspire a greater level of confidence than our education institutions amongst those asked, with the federal government (48.4 per cent) and the aged care system (31.2 per cent) inspiring the confidence of less than half of respondents.

“At a time of significant change – from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic to the emergence of advanced artificial intelligence technology – it is an opportune time to revisit the views and attitudes towards education in Australia,” author and Associate Director of the ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods, Professor Nicholas Biddle, said.

“While education institutions in general are well-respected and well-supported, there is some variation across the population and across institutions.”

While all institutions saw a drop in confidence between the latest poll in April 2023 and the first year of the pandemic, the drop for universities was the smallest at just three per cent. Confidence in schools fell nearly 15 per cent over the same period.

In terms of performance, most Australians are happy with the job education institutions are doing. 70.6 per cent of respondents think universities are doing a good or excellent job and 68.6 per cent agree for TAFE colleges.

Nearly three-quarters of Australians are satisfied with the performance of private schools, while for public schools it’s slightly over half.

There is a strong sense that more investment is required in the state system, with 80.9 per cent of respondents agreeing that more money should be spent on public schools. 55.3 per cent think that less money should go to private schools.

“Education in Australia need not be a zero-sum game, with money for one sector coming at the expense of money for another,” Professor Biddle said.

“However, national, state and territory budgets are constrained, and the reality is that there are opportunity costs of spending. Our results clearly show that the general public thinks that a re-balancing is required.”

The paper has been published on the ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods website.

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