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Thursday, 14 February 2002
Page: 295

Ms BURKE (5:40 PM) —This is the first opportunity that I have had to speak in this place since being re-elected last year and I would like to congratulate you, Mr Speaker, on once again being chosen to preside over the deliberations of this House. I would also like to take the opportunity to once again thank the people of Chisholm for showing continued faith in me to represent their needs, aspirations and views in this place. It is a privilege and responsibility that all members of this House share to represent our local communities, and I want to assure the people of Chisholm that I will continue to do my best in providing the representation they deserve and to thank them for returning me with an increased majority.

Clearly, the quality of education that we as a society are able to provide for Australia is massively important, and I do not believe that it is in our national interest to have an education system that fails, through placing financial burdens in front of students. However, that is what appears to be occurring with increased regularity. I am concerned that the increases we are seeing in auxiliary fees as revenue raising mechanisms are further disadvantaging students who are already slugged with huge HECS debts and lower repayment thresholds.

Many students at Monash University in my electorate of Chisholm are now being required to pay for services that could quite reasonably be expected to be available by the simple fact of being a student of that institution. The current actions by the management of Monash University of increasing the auxiliary fees for such items as academic transcript are unreasonable. Increases of the order of 50 per cent in fees need to be justified.

I want to make it particularly clear that I do not want to criticise the university. There is clearly a difference between the administration of the university and the institution itself. Indeed, I am proud to be a former student of Monash University and am proud of the institution itself. But these significant auxiliary fee increases that the university had and planned to put in place disturb me greatly. I think we can all agree that the required payment of $10 for the writing of a short letter, which is based on a pro-forma anyway, is possibly a little exorbitant. But that is just the proposal of Monash University: $10 for a letter. Monash University has long been recognised as a leader, but unfortunately Monash is now leading the country in cost shifting to students and in revenue collection.

Many institutions charge fees for academic transcripts and many charge for late enrolment. But in looking at a number of universities comparable in size to Monash—Melbourne, Deakin, La Trobe, the University of New South Wales, Sydney University, Adelaide and the University of Queensland—the following becomes apparent: only Monash charges or proposes to charge a $95 graduation attendance fee; only Monash proposes to charge a $130 reinstatement of enrolment fee; only Monash charges or proposes to charge a $70 late subject-change fee, a $10 fee for a letter stating that a student is enrolled at Monash, a $250 fee for variation of enrolment out of semester, a $250 fee for overseas exam changes; and, as far as I am aware, only Monash charges or proposes to charge a $250 fee for distance exams that take place at other than defined venues.

Monash has long been a leader in academic terms. It is a disturbing trend that Monash now appears to be leading in cost shifting to students and revenue collection. There are two components to these fee increases that disturb me: the impact on students and the impact on staff. It is a concerning development that the university administration is justifying these increases on the basis of recently concluded enterprise bargaining negotiations. It is interesting to note that, based on advice I have received, in those negotiations there was no linkage made between negotiated wage increases and auxiliary fees. This scapegoating of the staff is divisive and appears to have been thought up as camouflage for criticism of the increases. For the university administration to attempt to unreasonably and unfairly divert responsibility onto staff for these fee increases is outrageous.

It is not as though Monash is an institution that is unable to meet its costs; indeed, it is currently running a surplus. I believe that the problem these fee increases exemplify is that the core function of universities has been lost. It is apparent that universities are no longer centres of learning under this government. They are moneymaking ventures whose primary task is turning over a profit. Fee collection must not become the primary task of our academic institutions. Indeed, universities will soon rival banks in fee collections.

As a nation we have a right to expect that our universities will be appropriately funded and administered in a way that the financial squeeze is not continually being applied to staff and students. This change in focus for our universities is evident when understanding that, at the same time as reducing staff and reducing many faculty budgets, the university, as I said, is in surplus. (Time expired)