Plenary Session six: Can we still be a clever country after decades of failing school performance?

Australian policymakers have strived to enhance Australia’s status as a ‘clever country’. Yet, international testing points to a two-decade decline in Australian student achievement – the steepest and most consistent decline in the world, other than in Finland. And national reports, including analysis by the Productivity Commission, confirm the disappointing track record in outcomes over recent decades, despite some of the world’s highest levels, and fastest growing, resources put into schooling. The result is that Australian students are not only performing less well against the rest of the world, but also less well than Australian students of the early 2000s. Unsurprisingly, Australia’s productivity growth is now at the lowest level in 60 years.

How did this happen, what are the consequences, and how can Australian schooling return to among the world’s best? Will younger Australians be poorer than previous generations if results from the education system aren’t improved? Is Australia’s ambition to be a ‘clever country’ now at risk? Can sound education reform be successfully motivated by economics, rather than career educationalists alone? How can reform that maximises the effectiveness of the nation’s teachers raise outcomes? What can Australian policymakers learn from the world’s smartest countries?


Director and Founder of the Centre for Independent Studies

Professor of Public Policy and Director, Centre for Applied Macroeconomic Analysis in the Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University


Sociologist, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Sydney.
Author of The New Authoritarianism

Director, Free Market Foundation, (Hungary)

Health Director, Health and BioSecurity, CSIRO

Director and Founder, Academy of Ideas, London, (UK)

Founder and CEO, Cognoscenti Group

Executive Director, The New Zealand Initiative (NZ)

Australian writer and columnist for the News Limited Press

Research Director, CIS

Programme Co-ordinator of the Masters of Urban and Regional Planning, The University of Western Australia

Chinese Canadian human rights advocate

Senior Research Fellow, Culture, Prosperity & Civil Society Program, CIS

CEO and Founding Director, China Matters

Former Liberal member of the Australian House of Representatives and Cabinet Minister

Pro Vice-Chancellor Arts and Academic Culture, and Professor of History, Australian Catholic University

Cancer researcher and clinical oncologist, with Genesis Care Newcastle

Founder and President, Middle East Forum, publisher Middle East Quarterly Journal, (US)

Professor of Economics, University of Melbourne

Senior Research Fellow and Director, Culture, Prosperity & Civil Society Program, CIS

Internationally acclaimed novelist and journalist, (US)

Head of Economic Research, Reserve Bank of Australia

Executive Director, CIS

Professor of Economics at Stanford University; Senior Fellow in Economics at the Hoover Institution and Chair of the Working Group on Economic Policy, (US)

UQ-CSIRO Chair in Personalised Nanodiagnostics, Professorial Research Fellow, School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences, University of Queensland

Diplomat, American Board of Pathology

Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure

Liberal Party Member for Berowra

Australia’s Ambassador to China from 2007 to 2011, Chairman & CEO of Geoff Raby and Associates Ltd based in Beijing

Director of China and Free Societies program, CIS

Senior Research Scholar, Marron Institute of Urban Management, New York University, (US)