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Wednesday, 26 November 1986
Page: 2776

Senator TEAGUE —My question, which is directed to the Minister for Education, refers to the University College of the Northern Territory. Is it true that there have been more than 250 formal applications, 80 per cent of them from the Northern Territory, for places at the University College of the Northern Territory-a college academically affiliated with the University of Queensland? Why has the Federal Government offered to fund only 20 university students a year for three years, and even then only at the Darwin Institute of Technology? Is it true that the number of Territory school students who go on to university study is only one-third of the national average? Why does the Minister persist in opposing the payment of benefits to students on their individual merits when they are enrolled at a university college in Darwin, particularly by way of denying students access to Austudy and Abstudy grants, when at the same time she professes to encourage more young Australians and more Aboriginal Australians to undertake tertiary study? Finally, quite apart from the wider advantages for Northern Territory students undertaking higher education in the Northern Territory, is it not cheaper to give Territory students Austudy grants to study at the Darwin University College than to have those students attend interstate universities and thus be eligible for three return air fares to the Territory each year in addition to the Austudy grant?

Senator RYAN —The quite unsatisfactory situation that we have in the Northern Territory with regard to the University College of the Northern Territory is the result of the self- indulgence and gross extravagance of the Northern Territory Government. The Commonwealth-I presume that this is a position that honourable senators on the other side of the chamber and former education Ministers support-will not have higher education policy determined unilaterally by State or Territory regimes. It particularly will not acquiesce in a decision such as the one that the Northern Territory Government seems intent on taking, which will involve a gross misuse and wastage of public money.

Let me remind Senator Teague of the history of this college. On the advice of the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission, the Commonwealth would have been prepared to fund, in a normal sense, university places offered by the University of Queensland in Darwin, if those places were put alongside the Darwin Institute of Technology. The Darwin Institute of Technology is a relatively new, relatively small higher education institution. It is going quite well and the Commonwealth wishes to support its development. It currently has in the vicinity of 1,000 students. It was the Commonwealth's view, and the view of many people in the Territory, that university places should be developed alongside the Darwin Institute of Technology so that there could be a common use of library facilities, administrative support services and so on. That was the obvious way to go for the development of university places in the Territory.

But the Northern Territory Government decided, for its own reasons of self-aggrandisement, that it would not have the university and college places developing together in this efficient and sensible fashion but, rather, that it would spend in the vicinity of $6m of taxpayers' money-as we all know, that is money from all Australian taxpayers, not just those in the Northern Territory-to reconstruct the old Darwin Hospital and turn it into a university. This is extraordinarily inefficient not only in the use of capital funding, which is extravagant and unjustified, but also in educational terms because there will be perhaps only 200 students there. Those students will not have the benefit of combined library and other facilities that they would have had if the Darwin Institute of Technology site had been used.

What would have been involved from the Commonwealth's point of view, if the Government had been prepared to fund it, which we were not-I would like those honourable senators opposite who are very interested in waste watching and various other things to note this-in terms of recurrent expenditure would have been recurrent costs of $24,000 per enrolment, which is $30,700 per equivalent full time student. That is what the Darwin Hospital site would have involved; whereas, in contrast, we will pay about $8,500 per full time student for the higher education component of the Darwin Institute of Technology and $6,000 per student place for additional intakes throughout Australia in 1987. I am glad that my colleague Senator Walsh is paying attention. The Northern Territory decision will cost $24,000 or $30,000 per student, as against $6,000 per student for the rest of Australia or $8,500 for the Darwin Institute of Technology.

We have offered to fund university places, as I said, on the Darwin Institute of Technology campus. When it became clear that the Northern Territory would proceed with a separate university college, CTEC proposed 20 additional places for the Darwin Institute of Technology, plus a further 10 Aboriginal places. The reason why the numbers are such is that in 1985 the Darwin Institute of Technology had been unable to secure the student load for which it was funded, that is, it had spare places. That says something about the extent to which there is local demand. However, a considerable improvement occurred this year enabling the Commission to conclude that moderate expansion is possible for 1987. The Commission remains concerned, however, that the Northern Territory's obsession with developing a separate university will damage the development of the Darwin Institute of Technology. It is the Commission's advice-which I am sympathetic to-that we should secure the proper development of the Darwin Institute of Technology. I would be very interested to hear what honourable senators, including senators from the Northern Territory, think about the extravagance in the Darwin Hospital site.

Senator TEAGUE —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Why abandon the principle of giving Abstudy and Austudy benefits to students on their individual merits?

Senator RYAN —Education allowances are paid on the basis of students being enrolled in Commonwealth-approved courses. Because of the intransigence of the Northern Territory with regard to the siting and costing of this development, the courses will not be Commonwealth-approved in that sense and, therefore, will not be eligible.