In an unprecedented move, the newly-elected federal conservative government of Australian prime minister John Howard is planning to build and fund its own technical schools nationwide.
It will be the first time the federal administration has run schools which until now have been a sole state or territory responsibility The move has drawn condemnation for bypassing state authorities, all run by Howard's Labour opponents, and unions. And, in another controversial move, teachers at the new vocational schools will be paid by results.
Announcing the plans during the election campaign, Mr Howard said the government would allocate A$290 million (pound;117m) to build and fund the schools over the next three years. He said the schools would be based in regions suffering serious skill shortages and high rates of youth unemployment.
"The schools will be run by a board, chaired by a person from industry, while the principal will hire the teachers on a performance-pay basis," Mr Howard said.
The Australian Education Union described the scheme as wasteful duplication that the nation's children could ill afford.
The 24 colleges will provide tuition to more than 7,000 students in the final two years of school who will receive both academic and vocational education.
Mr Howard said they would gain skills essential for jobs, receive professional careers advice on opportunities in various trades and obtain a nationally-recognised qualification.
A senior AEU official, Pat Forward, said the new schools would cost the taxpayer almost 10 times as much per student as state-run technical and FE colleges. "This is a ham-fisted attempt to bypass the public technical and FE system," Ms Forward said."It arises from the government's inability to establish positive and productive relationships with the Labor state governments."
Leesa Wheelahan, an academic commentator on vocational education, said the government was "riding roughshod over the states and the unions".