Opposition leader Bill Shorten has promised thousands of free university degrees in an effort to turn Australia into the ‘science, start-up and technology capital’ of the Asia Pacific region.
In his budget reply speech on Thursday night, Mr Shorten pledged that 100,000 maths, science, engineering and technology students would effectively study for free under a Labor government, with their HECS debts forgiven.
“Let us harness the power of science, technology, engineering and mathematics to prepare for the future,” he said.
Labor would also make digital technology, computer science and coding a national priority to be taught in every school, and would boost the number of science and technology teachers and university students.
As part of the plan, primary and secondary school children would be taught computer coding and funding would be set aside to train 25,000 new science and technology teachers, he said.
Higher education has been a fraught topic for the government after it tried, and failed, to overhaul the sector in last year’s budget.
Education Minister Christopher Pyne attempted to deregulate tertiary fees, which would have seen the prices charged to students for some subjects increase.
The government attacked Labor for not explaining how it would fund its free degrees and other expensive measures outlined in the budget reply, with Treasurer Joe Hockey describing them as ‘magic pudding’ economics lacking in substance.
Communications Malcolm Turnbull said the opposition leader was living in ‘blissful la la land’.
“Some people have compared this building to Hogwarts but it’s not a magical place,” Mr Turnbull told reporters – a reference to the Harry Potter series of books.