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Tuesday, 6 December 1960


Mr CAIRNS (Yarra) .- This is a most important bill. In the next three years the Commonwealth Government will provide £103,000,000 for Australian universities compared with £55,000,000 in the past three years. This amount is to meet recurrent or running expenses, as they are called, and capital expenditure. Commonwealth funds will be provided in the ratio of £1 for £1.85 of State funds to meet recurrent or running expenses, and £1 for £1 for capital expenditure. The proposed increased grant of about 87 per cent, seems to be enormous or even, at a superficial examination, extravagant, but the first point to make in examining the bill is that the proposed grant is not extravagant in any way. This will be seen when one remembers that in the next three years it is estimated - I believe this to be an underestimate - that the student population will increase from 42,000, as it was in 1958, to 73,000 in 1963, an increase of nearly 75 per cent. We have also to take into account the fact that the provision of capital, buildings and so forth for universities in the next three years has to be at a relatively greater amount per student than in the last three years. There is apparently also an attempt to increase the staff-student ratio and to increase the facilities in universities. So the increase in funds is in no way extravagant and is hardly out of proportion at all, even with the increase in the number of students anticipated to be in the universities over that period. The Opposition supports this measure, but is going to be very critical of it. There is a number of points upon which criticism must be directed. I intend to look at the relationship between the bill and the report of the Universities Commission, upon which it is based. Other speakers for the Opposition will deal with the provision of funds for universities as a whole and will refer particularly to other forms of tertiary education which are relatively neglected by the Commonwealth.

At page 10 of the circulated version of the speech of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) we were informed that the bill before the House carries on and develops the fundamental work which the 1958 act initiated. The Prime Minister said -

It is based on the firm belief that the development of our intellectual power and knowledge is vital to our future. We are a small nation of 10,000,000 people and we cannot escape meeting the rest of the world in competition. In common with honorable members, I am not willing to sit back and see Australia lag behind by omission. We must match the world in scholarship, in technology and trade.

I think this needs emphasis. The Opposition agrees with that fully, but states that not sufficient has been done over the last three years to make a reality of that statement. There is something lacking there if we examine what has occurred, and the Opposition underlines that fact. In the course of his speech, the Prime Minister said, in effect, that the world was happy with this report and with this bill. At page 6 of his speech, the right honorable gentleman said -

But by and large the Government feels that the commission's analysis of the situation and its proposals are receiving a large degree of acceptance in Commonwealth and State government circles, among the universities and by the community in general.

I want to say at the outset that that is not completely so. The commission's report and this bill which is based upon it have been pushed forward very quickly; the universities have hardly had time to consider them. Some of the universities received the report only about ten days ago and some of them did not receive it or the bill until late last week. The point is that there has been very little time for the universities or the State governments to consider this legislation. On the other hand, there is already evidence of considerable dissatisfaction. The official journal of the Australian University Staffs Association has devoted its editorial and a long article by Professor Butlin of Sydney University to criticism not only of this bill but also of the report upon which it is based. So the statement made by the right honorable gentleman is not altogether true.

Insofar as the universities have had time to consider this bill there has already been considerable criticism of it and it is my purpose to endeavour to sum up that criticism. It is a fairly difficult task. The criticism is that although the virtue of this legislation is that there is a good deal to be thankful for in the increase that is involved, it continues the main feature of the provision of university finance over the last few years. We have continuously recognized and the Government has recognized the existence of an emergency. In 1949 or 1950, we began to talk about the crisis in the universities and we recognized the existence of an emergency, but there were special circumstances. The first criticism I want to make is that it is said that what has been done in recent years and what is being done now is not consistent with that recognition. There is no sense of urgency and no sense of special circumstances about this report or about the bill that is based on it, just as there has not been such a sense in the attitude of the Government in recent years. The criticism is that the report itself is piecemeal. I have heard it described as a scissors and paste job. The approach is conservative and pallid. There is no sense of urgency in it at all. It is submissive and bureaucratic and accepts the view of the Treasury. As Professor Butlin said in the article referred to-

It is difficult to take a kindly view . . . even if the widely held belief is true, that it had to work within the overall limits set by the Treasury.

Has the Universities Commission, in making this report upon which the bill is based, been required to work within the overall limits set by the Treasury? Professor Butlin considers that a widely held belief - I assure the House that it is widely held - is that the commission has not used any sense of imagination or initiative, but has accepted submissively the bureaucratic structure of which it has become in a very short time a part.


Mr Malcolm Fraser (WANNON, VICTORIA) - You are talking complete nonsense.


Mr CAIRNS - The honorable member will probably have an opportunity to demonstrate that later in the evening. I am quoting a professor in the Sydney University, and I happen to know that in universities this is a widely held view. It is also widely held outside the universities. If the honorable member has any evidence to support his interjection he will have plenty of time to produce it a little later.

This bill, and the report in particular, has some political aspects. It makes no point of the main weaknesses which it recognizes have appeared since 1950. It merely states some of them casually and makes a particular point of some of the weaknesses which existed between 1945 and 1949. I want to examine the report in some detail in order to try to establish the proposition which I have submitted. At page 1, the report recognizes that at a very early stage the Royal Charter of the University of Sydney was granted and it declared that degrees of the University of Sydney would be recognized as academic distinctions and rewards of merit and would be entitled to rank with those of any university in the United Kingdom. In the case of Tasmania, in 1889, the preamble to the act for the University of Tasmania stated that it was intended to supply to all classes, without distinction, encouragement for pursuing a regular and liberal course of education. At the very first page, in quoting Sir John Medley, former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Melbourne, there is an admission that these standards have not been achieved. The commission quotes him as saying -

The two main handicaps to development in the past were poverty and isolation. These were alike responsible for two striking features - the homogeneity of type of the universities and the limited amount of staff and student migration taking place between them. There has not been enough money for bold experiment or enough competition to encourage variation in pattern.

That was Sir John Medley's conclusion, not in 1858, but in 1958, and it is a conclusion which supports the proposition that the standards set out in the early stages have not been achieved in Australia.

The second proposition that emerges from the report is that the universities in Australia are largely and increasingly dependent upon government funds. The combined percentages of State and Commonwealth money has risen in the case of the University of Sydney from about 29 per cent, in 1907 to 50 per cent, in 1957. In the case of the University of Melbourne it has risen from 48 per cent, in 1907 to 57 per cent, in 1957. In the case of the University of Adelaide the percentage has risen from 29 per cent, in 1907 to 71 per cent, in 1957; whilst in the case of the University of Tasmania the percentage has risen from 80 per cent, in 1907 to 82 per cent, in 1957, and consequently the production of funds from fees and other sources has declined. The universities are increasingly dependent upon governments, and the first thing we must do is to face the fact that the universities are increasingly and mainly dependent upon State and Commonwealth funds. The first question which arises here is the independence of the universities. Inside the universities and outside them there has for a number of years been an unwillingness thoroughly to support applications for increased funds from the governments because they were afraid that this would lead to interference by governments. This question has often been left in the realm of the uncertain. It has been said that there has been interference of various kinds and recently, in support of this, some publicity has been given to a statement from a letter by Professor R. M. Hartwell, who is now at Nuffield College, in Oxford - a matter which was referred to by the Prime Minister himself in the House earlier to-day. I want at this stage to read some extracts from Professor Hartwell's letter as it appeared in " Vestes ", the organ of the Australian University Staffs Association, published on 1st December, 1960. The letter states -

On the particular issue of political discrimination in appointments, however, the University of New South Wales is probably unique in Australia in having had a systematic policy of excluding candidates with unfavourable security reports (reports having been obtained for all prospective appointees) but I believe that other universities were also at fault, although there more from the influence of prejudice than from the operation of a systematic policy. . . .

As regards the University of New South Wales I know only of the period up to November 1956. Up to that date a security check was made on all prospective employees of the university. This was done at first without the knowledge of the professors, and, indeed, subterfuge was used to keep the professors from knowing.


Mr Menzies - Excuse me for interrupting, but do you identify " security " in that case with Commonwealth security?


Mr CAIRNS - If the right honorable gentleman will have patience I will tell him. I am quoting from Professor Hartwell's letter which goes on to state -

Early in 1956 I was on a selection committee to recommend a lecturer in History for my department. After a recommendation had been made, I was informed by the Bursar then by the Chancellor and subsequently by the Vice-Chancellor, that the recommendation was not acceptable because the man recommended was a security risk according to a Commonwealth security report. I attempted to convince Mr. Wurth (Chancellor) and Mr. Baxter (Vice-Chancellor) that such a ruling was not acceptable; but they would not change their minds, and, for example, they refused to look at, or to submit to the University Council, an impressive testimony to the character and scholarship of the candidate, secured from a number of senior academics in other universities. They refused also to inform the candidate of the charges made against him. I informed the ViceChancellor, therefore, that unless the appointment were made I would resign my Chair. The matter was discussed subsequently - against the wishes of Messrs. Baxter and Wurth - at the Professorial

Board and at the Council. The Vice-Chancellor assured Council that the recommended candidate was of such character and reputation that no Australian university could or would possibly employ him. He was appointed shortly afterwards to a lectureship at another university in New South Wales and has since published one of the most important books on Australian history of this generation.

Now, the evidence of Professor Hartwell cannot be ignored.


Mr Bury - It is unreliable.


Mr CAIRNS - Everything with which the honorable member does not agree is unreliable, apparently. The answer to the question raised by the Prime Minister in an interjection a moment ago is that the evidence is that this was Commonwealth security. But does it matter whether it was Commonwealth or State?


Mr Menzies - I should like to know what the evidence is.


Mr CAIRNS - It is the evidence of the man who wrote this letter. On the particular issue of discrimination he says that there was a systematic policy in the University of New South Wales to use security reports. One of the things which I think needs emphasis in respect of this matter is that the public should know that from 50 per cent, to 80 per cent, of the cost of university education - and more, if capital expenditure is taken into account - is paid for by the public, and not by the students or their families. The students, the university staffs and every body associated with universities, particularly graduates who come out with degrees, should know that from 50 per cent, to 80 per cent, of the cost of that education is provided by the public and not by themeslves.

The next point that is brought out by this report is that the Government and the committees that have investigated those matters have dealt with them in piecemeal fashion. The problem has been treated conservatively and with no sense of emergency. The commission itself deals first of all with the period from 1939 to 1946. and says on page 7 of the report dealing with that period -

Between 1939 and 1946, university enrolments doubled, but in this period of national crisis nothing could be done towards a corresponding improvement in university facilities. With the cessation of hostilities, the universities were faced with the added problems posed by the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme. It might be true, as was mentioned in the Report of the Committee on Australian Universities, that there was some lack of forward-planning by universities but, because of the " hand to mouth " basis on which Government grants were provided, they received little encouragement to think beyond their immediate needs. In some States, moreover, building restrictions made it impossible to achieve the most effective use of Commonwealth grants available under the C.R.T.S.

So much for the first period, according to the Universities Commission. Then we had a great deal of ground to make up. Similarly, from 1946 to 1949, the report says there was no sense of urgency about the continuance of the Commonwealth reconstruction training scheme. Too many said that this was just an emergency which would soon be over, and that in the universities we would be able to return to the good old days of calm and quiet - the days of privilege. There was no widespread sense that what was being done under the C.R.T.S. would have to be continued afterwards. There was a hope and a belief that this was an emergency which would soon pass. And so the committees that were examining this position found that in 1949, as the report tells us here, the number of C.R.T.S. students would soon begin to diminish, and the Commonwealth subsidies to universities would show a corresponding decrease.

So, in 1950, when the Mills committee was appointed, it made what looked like a new departure. First of all there were to be grants on two levels. The grant which was offered at the first level was to cover - so the Mills committee decided - the provision of existing commitments. The second-level grant was to be for the purpose of developing the services and research in universities, and to raise the academic standards of universities. In other words, the first-level grants were for existing commitments, and progress and development were to come from the second-level grants.

The first point I make in relation to this new system introduced by the Mills committee is that the first-level grants were never big enough to enable any university to meet its commitments, and that the second-level grants, even if they had been obtained, were not big enough either. But the evidence is that in a number of signifi cant cases the second-level grants were never achieved. Table 4 in the report of the commission shows how seriously deficient the universities were, in a number of significant cases, in obtaining the secondlevel grants. In the year 1951, the University of Sydney failed by £86,792 to reach the second-level grants, in 1952 by £59,431, in 1953 by £125,800, in 1954 by £80,580, in 1955 by £26,341, in 1956 by £73,731 and in 1957 by £28,732- a total of £481,407. The University of Melbourne failed to reach the second-level grants by £45,246 in 1951, £7,913 in 1952, £71,991 in 1953 and £25,360 m 1954 - a total of £150,510.

It is worth emphasizing that these secondlevel grants were supposed to provide the money with which the universities would raise their standards. The University of Sydney, in particular, failed over those years by £481,000 to reach what was to be allowed under those second-level grants. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Murray committee, which began its investigations in 1957, very quickly reached certain conclusions. In its report, it said - in general, the Australian universities are sadly lacking in adequate accommodation for practically all their important activities - classrooms and laboratories, libraries, individual staff teaching and research rooms . . .

The appointment of this committee or of a similar committee had been advocated throughout universities and elsewhere for five long years, but the committee was not appointed until 19th December, 1956. The Murray committee's report was made on 19th September, 1957, about nine months after it had been established. I am not suggesting that the committee could have made its investigations and furnished its report in a much quicker time than it did. However, having received the report on 19th September, 1957, the Government did not give effect to the recommendations of the committee until 7th May, 1959 - nineteen months later. What is the explanation for the Government's allowing nineteen months to elapse before implementing the recommendations of the committee, which itself had taken nine months to complete its investigations?

The committee found in the course of its inquiries that the piecemeal provision of funds had prevented universities from planning ahead and had created a situation in which the services that universities must provide could not be well provided because of the uncertainty of finance. The committee, acting on the information that it could obtain, considerably under-estimated the number of students who would attend universities in the three years that followed, it accepted a situation which substantially made no improvement in the ratio of staff to students. So, the Universities Commission, when eventually it was appointed, faced the problem as it found it in 1959-60.

I want to look for a moment at the appointment of this permanent commission. The Murray committee had reported on 19th September, 1957, that a permanent committee similar to that in Great Britain should be appointed, but the commission was not appointed until 6th August, 1959 - 22 months later. This is the second significant delay. After the Murray committee had reported, it took this Government nineteen months to introduce legislation which would provide finance to cover some of the ground that the committee had recommended should be covered. Then, the Murray committee recommended that a permanent commission should be appointed, but it took the Government 22 months to appoint the permanent commission. How long did it take the commission to produce the report that we have before us now? It took fourteen months.

The report of the Universities Commission contains nothing new. As I said a few minutes ago, it has been described as a scissors and paste job. It is a collection of material from other sources - a collection of material that already existed and could have been obtained quite quickly. The suggestion may be made that in addition to obtaining this material, the commission had to make its estimates. It appears that all that has happened with these estimates is this: University departments have made estimates of what they need for their operations. These have gone to university councils and senates, which have invariably cut them back. Then in turn they have been passed by the Universities Commission, before submitting the report, to the Treasury and invariably the Treasury has cut them back. It is pretty clear that in taking fourteen months, the commission has taken far too long to complete its report. It is also clear that there has been very little initiative from the commission. I do not think that what I have said of the commission and its report is unfair criticism.

After all this has happened, we suddenly find that there is a great rush. The report is tabled in this House on 10th November, and legislation must be passed through this Parliament within three to four weeks. That is a most disproportionate situation. The commission has taken fourteen months on its inquiry, and then three to four weeks after the report has been tabled, the whole matter must be completed. Only three to four weeks have been allowed for those concerned in the universities, in State governments and elsewhere to consider what will be done before the bill is passed and becomes unalterable. Those concerned have had hardly any opportunity whatever to study the report and what is proposed in the legislation. I understand that the University of Sydney, for example, did not receive a copy of the report until some ten days ago and did not receive a copy of the bill until last week.

Now that we have legislation before the Parliament based upon the report, what can we say about the report and about the legislation? The first thing to be said is this: Although the total has increased from £55,000,000 to £103,000,000 for the two three-year periods concerned, the provision will not meet the needs of universities any more than did the provision in legislation based upon the Mills committee and the Murray committee. The provision is deficient in two important ways. There is a deficiency with regard to students. Here I want to use as the main basis of my argument what has ben said in an article in "Vestes" the Australian universities staff association journal, by Professor S. J. Butlin of Sydney. The general tenor of Professor Butlin's comments can be gathered from what I intend to put before the House. He said -

Looking back over the results of its labours the Commission writes on p. 71: "The Commission is inclined to accept the view that any attempt at present to improve the preliminary selection of university students by raising the levels of entrance examinations is undesirable. Nor is the application of a quota system - which has been aptly described as ' a very blunt instrument ' - an acceptable principle. lt appears inescapable that universities should accept those young people who succeed in the prescribed entrance examination. There is evidence that performance in the first year examinations provides a good forecast of ultimate academic success and that this could be used for the purposes of selection."

The position taken by the Universities Commission seems to be unambiguous. The universities are to take all those who have matriculated at present standards. That is what the report assumes and that is what the legislation purports to provide for. Entry should not be restricted and any weeding out should be done after the first year examinations. It follows that the financial provisions in this bill should be such as would permit this purpose being attained. The commission, in its report, said -

In framing its recommendations for the 1961-63 triennium the Commission has . . . taken no account of such things' as the likelihood of a significant change in failure rales, the possibility or desirability of universities raising markedly the standards of their entrance examinations or of imposing arbitrary quotas. A space of three years is too short a time for major educational changes to take effect. Nor is it possible at this stage to assess the likelihood of the emergence of competitive institutions providing higher learning in the technological areas.

That is a statement which is plain enough. But, looking at this situation, Professor Butlin expresses this opinion -

It is plain enough too that the statement ls completely at variance with the way the Commission has allocated funds.

So the assumption underlying the Universities Commission's report - the assumption that there shall be no restriction of entry by quotas and no raising of standards in order to keep students out of universities, and that sufficient money is to be provided under the terms of this bill for that purpose - is, according to Professor Butlin, completely at variance with the way in which the commission has allocated funds. In order to demonstrate this point, Professor Butlin states -

On page 22 the Commission writes: "The Commission would be glad to see a marked fall in the total number of students at the University of Melbourne, and as with the University of Sydney, the financial proposals of the Commission are framed in anticipation of both universities stabilizing in the near future preferably at figures not exceeding 12,000."

With respect to Melbourne, the Universities Commission has perhaps the justification - it is a very unsatisfactory one and is inconsistent with its basic assumption: - that quotas already exist in the University of Melbourne and that the Monash University - the second Victorian university - will open in 1961. But in respect of Sydney, all that the commission can know is that there is a decision in principle to restrict entry by quotas from 1964, and that there is no possibility in this triennium of establishing a second university in Sydney. So it is quite clear that, there is no possibility of restricting to 12,000, unless by exclusion and by raising standards, the number of students in the University of Sydney in the 1961-63 triennium. Of course, the commission, it is necessary to point out, assumes, as is indicated at page 74 of the report, that the number of students at the University of Sydney in 1964 will be 15,000. Yet the estimate of expenditure provided for in this bill assumes a total of 12,000. So Professor Butlin goes on to say -

So that there should be no doubt of the Commission's real meaning, it writes at p. 44: "The Commission is anxious to stabilize the development of all Australian universities so that they do not become too large . . . This policy of the Commission is reflected in the level of assistance proposed for the Universities of Melbourne and Sydney. The University of Melbourne has taken steps to limit total enrolments, and the rate of increase in the recurrent grant proposed for this university is at the level of 5 per cent in 1962 and 1963. Similarly the Commission wishes to encourage the University of Sydney to stabilize its total student body and recommends for 1962 a 10 per cent increase over the 1961 grant, and for 1963 a 5 per cent increase over the grant for 1962."

For purposes of comparison, I point out that the University of Queensland,, the University of Western Australia and the University of New South Wales are to be given increases of 12 per cent, in both years.

Professor Butlin points out what is demonstrated by these facts. He states -

Could there be cruder waving of the blunt instrument of finance to enforce a wish to " encourage " restriction of entry, which the Commission elsewhere declares is " unacceptable ", and which, by its own estimate of 15,000 students for Sydney in 1964, it acknowledges will not in any case have any affect on numbers for years to come?

The first point made in criticism by the universities which has emerged in this very short time that we have had to consider the report since this bill was introduced is that the argument by the Australian Universities Commission that there will be no restriction of entry of students into universities by the introduction of quotas or the raising of standards is inconsistent with the allocation of funds as between the universities which this bill itself will make. We are entitled to hear from the Government some answer to this criticism that I have made, based on Professor Butlin's submissions. It is just not true that all the universities have gladly accepted the commission's report or the allocation of funds that this bill will make.

The second main criticism by the universities that has already emerged concerns the staffing position. Having put as briefly and as concisely as I can the submission by the universities that in the next triennium the University of Melbourne and particularly the University of Sydney will not be able to accept all the students who want to enter those universities, and that they are not being provided with sufficient funds to enable them to accept those students, I now want to pass on to the staff situation. Again, I base my submissions on criticisms that have emerged from the universities, notwithstanding that the Prime Minister said that there were none. I want to use as the basis of this criticism the editorial in " Vestes ", the publication of the Australian Association of University Staff Associations.


Mr Hasluck - That is the only source from which the honorable member has quoted throughout his speech.


Mr CAIRNS - That is right.


Mr Hasluck - Has not the honorable member any other source of university opinion?


Mr CAIRNS - The other sources will no doubt be forthcoming in the very near future. I have been trying to point out to the Minister, as he would be aware if he had been listening, that university people have had very little time so far in which to examine this matter. I believe that some of the universities have not even yet received a copy of the report of the Australian Universities Commission.


Mr Hasluck - But the honorable member bases his case that there is widespread dissatisfaction on quotations from one source of opinion.


Mr CAIRNS - I base my case on the fact that what the Prime Minister said is not true. He said that the universities all are in agreement with this bill. I am not talking about widespread dissatisfaction. I am submitting for examination by the Government, and for an answer if the Government can provide it, a reasoned criticism that has been put forward by one person.

Regarding the staff position, the assumption underlying the allocation of funds provided for in this bill, according to this examination of the matter and the editorial in " Vestes " - most of this can be verified by reference to the Universities Commission's report and the bill itself - is that, taking the most conservative estimate, staff requirements for the coming three-year period will be 7,005, or an additional 3,613. The staff has to be provided essentially by the universities themselves, and an examination of the situation allows us to come to the conclusion made in this editorial - that the objective of 3,613 additional members of university staffs will not nearly be reached in the period mentioned. The editorial in " Vestes " refers to the report of the Universities Commission in these terms -

Its performance here is simply appalling. Characteristically it puts its answer in the reverse of logical form. Last instead of first, it puts its essential view: It is difficult to see the solution to this staffing problem if the present pattern of tertiary education persists.

But the present pattern of tertiary education will not, under any circumstances, be able to give us the increased staff which will be required in the coming triennium. These extra teachers required must be available from this year on. The report makes no mention of the measures which might be taken to improve recruitment, including recruitment from overseas. It would seem that if the universities are not able to obtain al! the staff they require they will have to do without it.

What can be done to overcome this staffing problem? I do not think there is any disagreement in any university about the fact that the additional staff required in the coming triennium will not be obtained unless special measures are taken. We can seek to attract as many as possible by offering ordinary salaries. Another method would be special selection of personnel from other occupations. We are now faced with a crisis, just as we were immediately after World War II. and, just as we had to do then, we shall have to take special measures to obtain staff on this occasion. We shall have to obtain staff from industry, the Public Service, commerce and scientific organizations on a basis of either exchange or permanency. It is vital that we have more teachers. Other occupations can be carried on to some extent just as they were immediately after World War II., if the problem is to be solved at ali. But neither in the commission's report nor in the Government's proposals do we find any recognition of the emergency that confronts us in connexion with staff during the next three years.

Let me summarize my points by saying that the increase to university income is gratifying. The Opposition supports it, but we say that the dismal, unattractive situation that has confronted us for the last ten or twelve years will be continued during the next triennium.







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