- Parliamentary Business
- Senators & Members
- News & Events
- About Parliament
- Visit Parliament
HIGHER EDUCATION FUNDING AMENDMENT BILL (No. 1) 1996
- Parl No.
- Question No.
- System Id
Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Table Of Contents
Previous Fragment Next Fragment
- Start of Business
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
(Senator SHERRY, Senator KEMP)
Budget 1996-97: Interest Rates
(Senator TIERNEY, Senator KEMP)
(Senator SCHACHT, Senator HILL)
(Senator PATTERSON, Senator ALSTON)
(Senator BOB COLLINS, Senator PARER)
(Senator KERNOT, Senator NEWMAN)
(Senator FORSHAW, Senator ALSTON)
(Senator MARGETTS, Senator NEWMAN)
(Senator MACKAY, Senator VANSTONE)
Women: Representation in Parliament
(Senator FERGUSON, Senator NEWMAN)
(Senator O'BRIEN, Senator VANSTONE)
Research and Development: Ship Bounty
(Senator MURRAY, Senator PARER)
Gun Control Campaign
(Senator BOLKUS, Senator VANSTONE)
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
NOTICES OF MOTION
- Consideration of Legislation
- Child Care
- Consideration of Legislation
- National Crime Authority Committee
- David Campese
- Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee
- Disabled Persons
- ORDER OF BUSINESS
- DROUGHT RECOVERY ASSISTANCE
- ASSENT TO LAWS
- ASEAN INTER-PARLIAMENTARY ORGANISATION
- PARLIAMENTARY DELEGATION TO INDIA AND PAKISTAN
VOCATIONAL EDUCATION AND TRAINING FUNDING AMENDMENT BILL 1996
- Second Reading
- In Committee
- Third Reading
HIGHER EDUCATION FUNDING AMENDMENT BILL (No. 1) 1996
- Second Reading
- In Committee
- HIGHER EDUCATION LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 1996
- QUESTIONS ON NOTICE
Monday, 2 December 1996
Senator FORSHAW(8.16 p.m.) —Around the country at the moment, there are thousands upon thousands of students who have just finished, or are finishing, their higher school certificate and who are looking anxiously to next year when many of them would hope to be able to attend a university or a higher education institution. Equally, there are in excess of 600,000 students in universities or higher education institutions in the country who have probably just completed their university exams. They, too, are now anxiously looking to next year to see what is in store for them as a result of this government's legislative changes that it hopes to implement in higher education. In both those cases, the news is grim.
There is already enough stress on students these days, whether they be finishing their school or completing their higher education studies, without them coming to the end of the year and wondering whether they will be able to afford these increased HECS charges next year; whether, despite their results in the HSC, there will be a place for them at university next year; whether the principles of equity based upon merit—rather than on wealth or socioeconomic standing—that have long characterised the approach to higher education in this country will be abandoned; and whether there will actually be sufficient teachers, other academic staff and university staff in the future.
Over the months since the government was elected, we have seen deep concern expressed right across the education sector. It commenced with the ill-advised, flippant remarks of the Minister for Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs (Senator Vanstone). It is one of the most important portfolios in terms of social policy in this country and in the delivery of one of the two most important sectors that the government is involved in: health and education. This minister for eduction responded to criticism from vice-chancellors, students, academics, unions and people involved in the education sector by saying, `It's just a nick. We're not really doing much damage to education. We're just ripping out a few hundred million.' As people have watched the performance of the minister, the news gets progressively worse and her performance gets progressively worse.
Let us look at some of the concerns that have been expressed by people in positions such as vice-chancellor and other senior positions in education. One concern is that this government has not actually included funding for 1999 within its proposals—that is, it has abandoned the previous practice of incorporating forward estimates for the last year of the rolling triennium—thereby creating uncertainty about what is likely to be the case down the track. That concern has been specifically raised by the Vice-Chancellors Committee and other organisations which are deeply concerned that funding will be eroded further on top of what is proposed in this legislation. What is proposed in this legislation are substantial reductions in government funding in the years 1997 and 1998.
We also have had the response from the minister whose attitude when she spoke to the vice-chancellors earlier in the year was, `Why don't they go out and think of a figure? Why don't they put a price upon what they think their universities should suffer in funding cuts?' She was conducting her portfolio like an auction—pick a figure, whether it be 10 per cent or five per cent. That was her approach when she first flagged these changes. We then had the official announcements some 10 days before the budget. What were those announcements? Cuts across the board within the vicinity of 10 per cent or more; substantial reductions in university places.
On top of that, we had the announcement of a review. It seems to be the attitude of this government that you announce substantial cuts and then you say, `On top of that, we will have a review and see what is really required.' In other words, they put the cart before the horse. That is what they did with the bill relating to government expenditure on school education which we were debating last week. As was pointed out on numerous occasions during that debate, this government has introduced changes which will reduce funding for government schools and abolish the new schools policy. They then said, `We will have a review to see how it all really works.'
The minister has shown the same degree of arrogance with respect to higher education. It is clear, as previous speakers have pointed out—particularly Senator Mackay who told us about the position in her home state of Tasmania—that regional and rural areas of Australia will be hardest hit. A lot of universities in major cities will be hit hard, but universities in rural and regional areas will suffer the most.
It was the previous Labor government that substantially expanded the availability to university higher education for rural and regional students. In my home state of New South Wales, we established universities in places like Coffs Harbour, Lismore, Bathurst /Orange. This provided an opportunity for students in those country towns and nearby rural areas to attend a university nearby. This meant less expense with them not having to move to Sydney, Newcastle, Canberra or wherever to get a place at university. We also recognised the importance and the economic benefits to be gained from expanding the availability to higher education for those in rural and regional Australia. We are now seeing that policy gradually reversed. The cuts that are going to come will be felt particularly hard in rural and regional Australia.
The record of the previous government in higher education and school education is one of undoubted success. This is recognised by participants throughout the spectrum. The number of university students almost doubled from 350,000 to 630,000 in the period of the previous Labor government. Funding was increased in the order of 70 per cent. As I have said, we had policies which resulted in the expansion of universities into regional areas across the country.
That achievement is going to be put at risk because of the changes in this legislation. Let us look at the specific changes. I will firstly look at the direct cuts in higher education funding. The minister says that the cuts will be of the order of $600 million. She calls this a nick. She says, `Nobody should really complain about this because it is just a small amount.' If that is just a nick, I would hate to see the full operation. In any event, this nick will have a permanent negative impact.
That is not a real figure. As Senator Carr pointed out when making the opening speech for the opposition in this second reading debate, the net effect of these changes will be of the order of $1.8 billion. That is what we are looking at over the four-year period. Those details were provided to the Senate estimates committee. They have not been refuted. Despite all of the wishy-washy attempts to juggle the figures and play with the statistics, that is what we are talking about.
What does that mean? It means for a start that there will be approximately 17,000 fewer Commonwealth funded places over the remaining two years of the current triennium. Members of the government and other senators should think for a moment what that means. Some 17,000 students, who could quite confidently have looked forward to a place at university, will no longer have that opportunity. It means that of the order of 1,500 teaching jobs in universities will go. Predictions are that the figure will be higher than that.
These are not just nicks to the system. These cuts cannot be ridden out. These are substantial cuts. We should think about the effect these changes would have on the students who have just left school, finished their HSC and quite confidently, based on their marks, looked forward to a place at university over the next year or two. That opportunity will go. If you implement these changes this year those people who have just left school will get caught. Where is the planning and where is the consideration that students actually spend three, four or five years at university. These decisions will affect their lives, career opportunities, employment opportunities and so on. Why not have the review first? If you are intent upon having the review, do that first, rather than impose these massive changes, these massive cuts, and then try to put a bandaid over the results.
We also have the changes relating to the introduction of full fees for undergraduate courses. Once again this is opening up the opportunity to get into university for those who happen to be wealthy enough but not necessarily smart enough to get in. No doubt, again, this will impact upon regional areas.
What is it that drives this government, that makes it want to return to the era where an elitist view of university education prevailed? Prior to the early 1970s, when fees were abolished, if you were not smart enough to get into university or you did not work hard enough at school to get the results to get into university through a scholarship system, which obviously provided for the vast bulk of students, you could pay your way in, you could buy yourself a degree. As Senator Mackay quite correctly pointed out, certain professions were the preserve of the wealthy because of that attitude. In the 1970s we got rid of that elitist view and I understood—I hoped, at least—that we had a bipartisan approach, whereby education was now about equity, about recognising merit and about giving opportunity to all kids, regardless of whether they had come from a wealthy background. But that does not seem to be the attitude of this government, not only in this area of policy but in a range of other policy areas. They simply want to turn back the clock.
What do we get in response? We get people like Senator Tierney saying, `Well, we are going to provide 4,000 scholarships. In case anyone is worried about introducing full paying fees for undergraduate courses, we are going to introduce scholarships—1,000 a year for four years.' Seventeen thousand places go over two years, and you bring in 1,000 scholarships a year. What a joke. The other response is, `If any university does the wrong thing—if it does not first fill its quota of HECS paying students but actually enrols students on full fees—we will fine them $9,000. Senator Tierney made great play of this. This is your approach to equity, Senator Kemp. This is your government's approach to equity: `We will impose a penalty.'
It seems that this government cannot look at any area of policy, whether it be industrial relations or health or education, without taking a negative approach. The negative approach is, `Let's take something away.' It will be the dental health scheme if you are a pensioner. It will be some entitlements to social security if you are a newly arrived migrant. It will be some government funding if you happen to be a student in a government school. In this case it will be places at universities. That is all negative stuff; it is all about imposing penalties. Your whole rationale about guaranteeing equity is: `We are going to fine a university.' What a joke. Universities do not exist to pay fines, they exist to educate students, to make this country a more clever country.
Finally we have the increases to the higher education contribution scheme. That is a clear breach of promise. The coalition went to the election guaranteeing no changes in these areas. What do we get? We get this double whammy on students. Firstly, the fees will increase from a single rate of $2,442 a year to three variable rates commencing at $3,300 and increasing to $5,500 per year, depending upon the course studied.
It is hard enough for students as it is, working their way through the various options for courses at university. Anyone who has been to university knows that it is a pretty trying time when you first enrol. These new HECS arrangements are complicated to the extreme and will impact very heavily on students' financial wellbeing—both as students and in their future careers. It is an inequitable system because it targets students based upon some assumptions that they will have higher incomes in the future. They may have higher incomes if they are doctors or lawyers, but one would assume they will also be paying higher contributions through the tax system. Then we have the reduction in the threshold from $28,000 to approximately $20,000. Clearly that will have an impact upon students from low income families as well as part-time and mature age students.
This government did get elected on 2 March, but it did not get elected to introduce these sorts of policies, which will lead to a serious reduction in the opportunity for students right across the country to have access to a higher education in the future.