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Wednesday, 30 October 1996
Page: 4761

Senator CARR —My question is to the Minister for Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs. Minister, did you state at the time of the budget that the government would allow universities to offer fee paying places to Australian undergraduates only when they could fill their quota of fee free places? Is it a fact that your government now is proposing no restrictions on the numbers of full fee paying students other than the ministerial guidelines, which are not disallowable instruments and therefore escape parliamentary scrutiny? What guarantee can you provide that universities will not respond to your government's increasing pressure on their budgets by simply selling off more and more places?

Senator VANSTONE —I think that is a relatively simple matter, Senator Carr. In the profiles process engaged in with the universities, if universities attempt to do the wrong thing, they will be paying penalties. It is as simple as that. We have an absolute determination to ensure two things. Given you have the goodwill and the good sense to allow Australian students to buy a place at an Australian university, just as international students can, the government funded students will be properly protected. There are two mechanisms that we intend to ensure are there to ensure that the government funded students are protected.

The first is that universities cannot enrol or sell a full fee place to an Australian student unless they have filled their quota of government funded places. That will ensure that universities do not do what they otherwise might choose to do, and that is take a lot of full fee paying students in the expensive courses—because the money from full fee paying students, of course, goes straight to the university; it does not come to the government—and squash government funded students out of those courses. The mechanism of saying `You have to fill your government funded places first' is one to ensure that universities do not do that.

There is a second requirement on universities, and that is that, even when they decide they do want to sell places and agree that it is perfectly acceptable—it does not matter whether they agree or not actually—they have to fund their government funded places first and we will only allow them to make up an Australian student body with 25 per cent full fee paying places. That will ensure that, in any one course, the government funded students form 75 per cent of the load. That will ensure that the fearmongering raised by some people on your side and others comes to nix, because in each course there will be 75 per cent government funded students.

Some people have said that this is nothing but a substitution exercise. Forgive me, Senator Carr, I have not yet had the opportunity to go back and check everything you have said. I do not attribute any bad faith but I suspect that you might be one of them. I will not assume bad faith on your part. I will simply tell you that some people have said that this is nothing but a substitution exercise—that I can talk to you in terms of the fact that you have got to fill your government funded load before you can sell full fee places, that I can talk to you in terms of the full fee places only being 25 per cent of the total Australian population and that that somehow would be misleading because what the government really wants to do is to cut the number of undergraduate places.

Senator Bolkus —You have done it already.

Senator VANSTONE —I acknowledge that interjection and give you the opportunity, since you are now on record—as Senator Carr is, and, I think, as Senator West is—to correct that error. Just take as long as you like.

Senator Tierney —He will get there in the end.

Senator VANSTONE —You will get there in the end and realise the mistake that you have made. You realise it now. You know you are telling a mistruth, and Senator Carr knew it when he told it, too, yet he has not taken the opportunity to correct the record.

I intend to keep going. Some people have suggested that what in fact we would be doing is substituting government funded places for full fee paying places. Of course, the lie in that is revealed when you understand that we have made provision. We want to have about 5,000 more undergraduate students next year than this year and a further 6,000 more than that the following year. (Time expired)

Senator CARR —Madam President, I ask a supplementary question. Given that non-answer, I ask whether the minister will be amending the Higher Education Legislation Amendment Bill to actually strengthen the guarantees of quotas for free exempt places. Will your guidelines be disallowable instruments so that there will be some scrutiny through a parliamentary process, or will there be a new criteria established for entry to university of wealth rather than ability?

Senator VANSTONE —Yet again Labor is trying to pretend and Senator Carr is trying to pretend somehow that what our budget for higher education is doing is allowing the wealthy to get in at the expense of everybody else. He just does not understand the system. The system is that a university has to fill its government funded university places first. There will be some government funded students who do not get the university of their choice and they will pay for the opportunity to get it.

For example, there will be some government funded students who wanted to be physiotherapists and did not get in. They will be happy to pay to get in. When they move out of a government funded place that means that more people who otherwise would not have got the opportunity will come into those government funded places. Yes, there will be people who otherwise would not have got in who will pay to come in. If they do not pay, it is not a problem because the government is prepared to fund more university places next year than last year in any event. (Time expired)