Achieving quality and equity in education

Delivered by

Professor Barry McGaw AO

Thursday 3 August 2006

Co-presented by:

The Bob Hawke Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre, UniSA
The Committee for Economic Development of Australia
Delfin Lend Lease

Copy of presentation delivered by Professor Barry McGaw *

When Australians engage in debate about educational quality or equity, they often seem to accept that a country cannot achieve both at the same time. The lecture will present compelling international evidence that there are countries which do, though Australia is not among them.


Curriculum reforms intended to improve equity often fail to do so because they increase breadth or differentiation in offerings in a way that increases differences in quality. Further, these differences in quality often reflect differences in students’ social backgrounds because the ‘new’ offerings are typically taken up by relatively disadvantaged students who are not served well them. Evidence from New South Wales will be used to illustrate this point.

The need to improve the quality of education is well accepted across OECD and other countries as they seek to strengthen their human capital to underpin their modern, knowledge economies. Improved equity is also important for this purpose, since the demand for high-level skills is widespread and the opportunities for the low-skilled are diminishing.

Improved equity in education is also important for social cohesion. There are countries in which the education system seems primarily to reproduce existing social arrangements, conferring privilege where it already exists and denying it where it does not. Even in countries where the diagnosis might be less extreme, the capacity of schooling to build social cohesion is often diminished by the way in which schools separate individuals and groups. The lecture will explore ways in which an education system could provide choice, as Australia’s does, while also increasing social capital and helping to increase social cohesion. The perspective will be one of lifelong learning and not just learning during the years of schooling.

Professor Barry McGaw AO

Barry McGaw

Professor Barry McGaw is a Director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute at the University of Melbourne and also works as a consultant through McGaw Group Pty Ltd.  In the latter capacity, he is working with Delfin-Lend Lease Pty Ltd on the development of the education services model that is used in its community development projects.  He also serves as one of the three Editors-in-Chief of the Third Edition of the International Encyclopedia of Education scheduled to be published in 2008.

Prior to returning to Australia at the end of 2005, Professor McGaw had headed the work on education at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) from September 1998, serving as the OECD’s foundation Director for Education from September 2002.

Dr McGaw was Executive Director of the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) from 1985 to 1998 and Professor of Education at Murdoch University in Perth, Western Australia from 1976 to 1984. Originally a graduate in chemistry, statistics and psychology from the University of Queensland in Australia, he subsequently completed his PhD in educational psychology and measurement at the University of Illinois in the USA. 

Dr McGaw is a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia, the Australian Psychological Society and the Australian College of Educators.  He has been President of the Australian Association for Research in Education, the Australian Psychological Society, the Australian College of Educators and the International Association for Educational Assessment.

He received an Australian Centenary Medal in January 2001 and, in 2004, was appointed an Officer in the Order of Australia for “for service to educational research and policy in Australia and internationally”. He was the 2005-2006 recipient of University of Illinois Alumni Award for Exceptional Achievement.

Responder: Dr Tom Karmel, National Centre for Vocational Education Research

Dr Tom Karmel is Managing Director of The National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) which is responsible for collecting, managing, analysing, evaluating and communicating research and statistics about vocational education and training (VET).  Prior to this position Dr Karmel held senior positions in the Federal government in the areas of education, employment, labour market research and the Bureau of Statistics. His research interests have centred on the labour market and the economics of education.

Supporting organisations

Hawke Centre logoSouth Australia's largest education institution, the University of South Australia has developed the Hawke Centre as a cornerstone of its key strategic commitment: serving the community.  The Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre is developing as an internationally recognised public learning/visitor and research facility serving local and global audiences.  Themes: Strengthening our democracy - Valuing our cultural diversity - Building our future

CEDA logoCEDA promotes Australia’s economic development in a sustainable and socially balanced way.  CEDA - the Committee for Economic Development of Australia - brings together leaders in business, government, academia and the broader community to promote national economic development in a sustainable and socially balanced way. 

Delfin Lend Lease logoDelfin Lend Lease:  Delfin has been creating special places to live across Australia for over 50 years. Special places that offer a place where people can enjoy the most out of life.  It is this commitment to quality that has seen Delfin communities all over Australia recognised for their excellence. Delfin is part of one of the world's leading real estate companies, Lend Lease. Lend Lease provides a full spectrum of real estate related services to clients across all major markets and sectors.


While the views presented by speakers within the Hawke Centre public program are their own and are not necessarily those of either the University of South Australia or The Hawke Centre, they are presented in the interest of open debate and discussion in the community and reflect our themes of: strengthening our democracy – valuing our cultural diversity – and building our future.

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