‘Free’ public education costs up to $100,000 in some parts of Australia, report says

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Experts are calling for more government investment in public education, as a new report suggests that parents can spend up to $100,000 to get a child into the public school system.

The Futurity Investment Group education cost index found that costs associated with a government education in Melbourne could reach $102,807; this was 17% above the national average of $87,528, making it the most expensive city for public education.

Although public schools do not charge mandatory fees, the survey asked parents about other expenses that may be included in the school, including voluntary student contributions, electronic devices, uniforms, and tutoring.

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Kate Hill of Futurity Investment, which offers loans for education expenses, said the numbers prove that “there is no such thing as free education” in Australia. The total cost of education has nearly doubled over the past decade, she said.

Canberra ($77,002) and Brisbane ($80,419) had the lowest public school costs.


“School fees, extracurricular education, school camps, transportation, uniforms, electronics and sporting goods demand a much larger share of the family budget than in the past,” Hill said.

“It can be a real struggle for some parents who are simultaneously dealing with the skyrocketing cost of living with these costs.”

Hill said there has been a “real acceleration” in outside education over the past two years, compounded by the need for more help with Covid lockdowns and competition for access to specialist schools with entry requirements.

According to the survey, Sydney was Australia’s most expensive city for an education in the independent school sector. The total cost is estimated to be $357,931 from 2023, 19% above the national average of $300,233.

Canberra tops the list for Catholic education – with costs estimated at $197,667, largely due to tuition fees at $2,979 compared to $2,781 per year.

The cost of education in regional and remote Australia mostly lagged behind urban areas, with the exception of New South Wales.

Penny Allman-Payne, spokesperson for the Greens for schools, said that because public schools have been underfunded for decades, parents are being asked to “dig more and more” in their pockets.

“This means worse outcomes for public school students and increasing inequality between the richest and the poorest … public education really needs to be free,” he said.

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Dr Ange Fitzgerald, professor of education at RMIT, said the findings reveal a disparity in access between regional and urban areas.

“It speaks to the lack of support mechanisms currently in place … we need to level this inequality,” he said.

“It’s hard to get access to musicals, even extra sports, in regional areas… Children may be interested but may not have access to a teacher who can help.”

Doug Taylor, CEO of Smith Family, said that as the cost of living crisis deepens, it becomes harder for families to afford what they need to keep their children fully engaged in school.

“No parent wants to choose between a textbook for their child and a meal at the table,” she said. “Or to pay for a laptop or cover the monthly rent.

“While we appreciate the complexity of governments in making the right investments in a challenging economic environment, we also invite people to think about the long-term impact of missing out on critical educational opportunities.”

Victoria’s education minister, Natalie Hutchins, said families are being helped through teachers in schools, assistance and breakfast programs, covering the cost of course materials for VET classes and free school camps.

A spokesperson for the NSW Department of Education said there are “no fees” for access to required curriculum in public schools and $1.41 billion has been offered to help students overcome their educational disadvantage.

“We support NSW families with a range of cost-of-living measures that save a total of approximately $850 per child … this includes $150 coupons to help pay for school supplies such as school uniforms, shoes, bags, textbooks and stationery.” I said.

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