The changing cost of education in Australia
Raising a family isn’t cheap, but you also never want your children to go without. When it comes to education, there’s a big decision to be made around where you send them. With school costs rising across the board, it can be a stressful time for parents. To help clarify the situation, we examine the cost of education in Australia and offer expert advice to help you manage the stress of school fees.
Average cost of education in Australia
The cost of putting a child through school in Australia doesn’t come cheap. Various factors, such as where you live (metropolitan or rural) and what type of school you send them to, will affect the price of education. Since the pandemic began, parents are putting more consideration into how schools manage the ‘new norm’. According to the Real Education Report 2022, the following considerations have become most important when choosing a school:
- Safe operating conditions for managing on-site schooling during pandemics (54%)
- Access to digital resources and effective support for home-schooling when needed (46%)
- Academic reputation/NAPLAN results (36%)
- Artistic/creative/environmental/other reputation (25%)
- Private vs public school (24%)
Because there is such a broad range of schooling options, understanding the average cost of education in Australia isn’t easy. For example, while some parents may spend as little as $4,500 per year for their child to complete secondary school at a government school, others can pay as much as – if not more than – $30,000 annually at an independent school.
Overall, according to figures from 2018, secondary education costs parents an average of $7,800 to $30,000 per year. Not to mention if the child then decides to receive a higher education, they can expect to pay anywhere between $15,000 and $33,000 yearly for an undergraduate bachelor’s degree – and more for a master's or doctoral degree.
But the final dollar figure shouldn’t be the only consideration around where to send your child to school, according to family psychologist, Deirdre Brandner.
“For many families, the choice of school is dictated by where they live and the school zone that applies. For others who decide on a private school, the choice is more varied – more choice, greater stress,” she says.
“Some children have learning, social or emotional needs that are better suited to a particular educational setting. When this variable exists, parents can be very overwhelmed if they believe their child’s needs will not be met at the school they are zoned for. Parents want the best for their child and any guilt or pressure around not being able to provide this results in increased stress.”
Pros and cons of different types of schools
Unfortunately for many parents, schooling can end up being more expensive depending on where you live. For example, the average cost of public education in Sydney last year was a whopping $90,122 – but that eye-watering figure is only 10% more than the national average.
You may also want to consider the drawbacks of sending your child to a school that may be more affordable but not as good as others. For example, if you want your child to thrive educationally, will you then need to invest in a tutor to get them where they need to be? Weighing these types of costs against the fees of a more prestigious school may play a role in your final decision.
Depending on your circumstances, the pros of sending your child to a private school (such as better Grade 12 results year-on-year, a broader arts program, successful alumni, or higher-quality facilities) may outweigh the financial cons. Equally, some parents may prefer to send their child to a single-sex school because that is what they grew up with, whilst others may see the benefits in coeducational schooling. According to the Real Education Report 2022, parents said the following are the biggest pros and cons of private schools:
- Standard of facilities
- Education/teachers standards
- Level of discipline
- Academic results achieved
- Smaller classes/individual attention
- Expensive and hard to afford
- Social pressures to keep up with the joneses (e.g. clothes and holidays)
- Exclusivity and elitism
- Overemphasis on religious teaching
- Not preparing kids for the real world
There are a multitude of factors to consider, and the actual cost of schooling may have either a large or only minimal influence on your decision.
Making an informed choice
Like every major milestone in life, making the decision of where your child will go to school can be extremely stressful, especially in the context of how much it will cost. And when family life becomes stressed and frantic work schedules leave us time-poor, we sometimes feel hemmed in by decisions we have little choice over. The solution, according to Brandner, is taking the time to review all the information, assess the goals you have for your child’s education, and think about the bigger picture for your family.
“It is important that parents are making an informed choice. We need both Mum and Dad to be on board with the decision. We cannot have the children or either parent taking emotional responsibility for decisions that are made,” she says.
“A parent may have to work longer hours or for more years in a job they don’t like because they have made this commitment. We don’t want that guilt to sit with our child. We don’t want our children to feel that they have to be successful and thankful because of the sacrifices parents make. Children can become resentful about the school they are attending if they feel it is a strain for their family. Keep in mind it is your child who will be attending this school, so they need to feel positive and comfortable in their environment to be successful.”
Tips for parents to manage the stress of school fees
Parents are already burdened with a variety of stresses – from making enough money at work to juggling the finances at home, to ensuring the life they’ve built for their family is protected. Brandner has some advice for those who are struggling to manage the cost of education.
“We all want the very best for our children, and at times this passion can override sound decision-making. It is important as parents that you decide what is right for you and your family. What matters most? What do you really value?” she asks.
“You may want to consider a lesser-known or less-expensive private school as a better outcome for the family in terms of less financial stress and a more relaxed atmosphere at home. Families need to be clear as to whether the financial strain of being in a private school is tolerable. It’s important that families look at the details and understand what the costs are actually going to be.”
Decide what’s right for your child’s education – every family is distinct
You want your child to have the most positive educational journey possible. For some, the cost of education won’t play much of a role, whereas for others it will be the biggest factor. The most important thing is that your final decision doesn’t negatively impact your happiness levels at home.
25 May 2022