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Tuesday, 24 February 1987
Page: 604

Mr SHACK(4.36) —During Question Time I asked a question of the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke). It was a genuine question seeking information about the Government's intentions. I asked the Prime Minister whether he was aware that there are currently thousands of young Australians who are being denied the opportunity of gaining a higher education, not because they are academically unqualified, but simply because the Government and public funds are unable to provide sufficient places for them. In the light of that demonstrable fact, I asked the Prime Minister why his Government was actively encouraging the full fee paying enrolment of overseas students but was categorically denying the same opportunity to our own people, to the thousands of Australian students who are missing out on a publicly funded place. The record will show and you, Mr Deputy Speaker, will recall that the Prime Minister totally failed to answer this question. Instead, he resorted to a very aggressive covering up of his inability or, indeed, his unwillingness to answer the question. The fact that I asked the question really gives a window into our reason for raising this matter of public importance today. This Government is displaying an absolute lack of vision and a total absence of policy for the much needed expansion of Australia's higher education system.

This week and next week will mark the beginning of the careers for many thousands of students who are enrolling for the first time at a university, college of advanced education or institute of technology. I ask the House to spare a thought, in fact more than a simple thought, for the 30,000 fellow students who qualified in year 12 studies last year but who are being locked out and denied a place at a university, college or institute of technology. A qualification that would have got students into an institution three or four years ago-the tertiary examination, tertiary admission entrance or higher school certificate score, whatever it is called in the different States around Australia-is no guarantee to get them in today. Honourable members on both sides of the House will understand that, because I would be greatly surprised if they have not been contacted by the parents of many of these students, expressing any wish about their inability to get their sons or daughters into a higher education institution. It is not because these kids are dumb or stupid, it is not because they have failed their year 12; it is simply because under the Government's present restrictive policies insufficient places are available to take those who wish to study at higher education institutions.

I am very pleased that the Minister for Science (Mr Barry Jones) is to participate in this debate because over the years I have come to expect from him-and I know I will not be disappointed this afternoon-a consideration of the points being raised and a proper response, unlike the response that was given by the Prime Minister in Question Time. Too many people on the other side of the House resort to some sort of historical analysis of what has been done in respect of higher education. I say this especially to the Minister, who is also concerned about the future: We have raised this debate to focus on the great opportunity before all of us to replace the stagnation of today with policies and vision that will provide for future growth, innovation, excellence and achievement in the higher education system of this country. In his policy speech for the March 1983 election, the Prime Minister said:

Australia cannot afford to lose so many able students from our high schools, colleges and universities.

Yet four academic years later, in February 1987, we have 30,000 qualified applicants denied an opportunity to enhance their skills in higher education because of the blinkered, restrictive approach which this Government has adopted and is continuing to demonstrate. Unless new directions are courageously pursued and unless the present Government's policies are overturned, by 1992 we will have upwards of 100,000 qualified potential students being turned away by our universities, colleges and institutes. Let me repeat that figure: Unless there is change, unless policies are adopted for the expansion of higher education in Australia, by 1992, 100,000 qualified applicants will be turned away each year because of too few places being available in our universities and colleges. As I said at the beginning of my speech, it is not because they are dumb. The same marks would have got them in three or four years ago. It is simply that the policies are not being adopted to expand the system and provide places for them. It is an absolutely perverse situation.

The other day the Minister for Education, Senator Ryan, issued an excellent Press release about the effort that must be undertaken by all of us to increase the participation rate in high schools. The Minister said that the Government had adopted a target of 65 per cent of students undertaking year 12 by the early 1990s. She stated that the target was not unreasonable, and the Opposition unqualifiedly agrees with her. We are encouraging more and more of our high school students to stay on to year 12, yet we are not providing the growth and the expansion of the higher education system so that those year 12 students can take the next step and gain a higher education qualification. We have now reached the stage where only 40 per cent of year 12 graduates are going on to higher education. This is the reality of this Government's misplaced priorities in education. It is the truth about education under Labor. There is declining educational opportunity, especially for the young; there is a rundown in equipment and facilities and academic employment opportunities; there is increasing bureaucratic control of higher education by the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission; and there is growing stagnation, frustration and despair in our halls of learning.

Australia's higher education system is in a state of unprecedented crisis. It is unable to meet growing student demand; it cannot train students on state of the art technology and, in the advanced education sector, 50 per cent of the equipment is now obsolete. Honourable members do not have to take my word for it; they need only ask the directors and principals of our CAEs around Australia. The bright and ambitious academics are continuing to flee Australian institutions for the greener pastures of private enterprise or overseas research and teaching positions. The Minister is fast becoming known in the higher education community as Dr No because she flatly rejects any positive suggestions to revive, let alone expand, the system. She says no when asked to permit an increase of student numbers to accommodate increasing levels of unmet demand. She says no when petitioned to help repair crumbling buildings at, for example, the University of Sydney. She says no when CAEs plead for help in upgrading their equipment so that students can learn relevant skills on modern equipment. She says no when the New South Wales Government asks for permission to establish a university in Sydney's western suburbs and when the Northern Territory Government says it deserves its own university. She says no when universities and CAEs request greater flexibility in academic salaries and conditions of employment. She says no when the Western Australian Institute of Technology changes its status to a university, with the full support of the Western Australian Labor Government. When the Labor governments in Victoria, New South Wales and Western Australia again demand greater say in planning higher education in their States the Minister says no. No is Senator Ryan's byword in education. If one were to ask her how Australia will achieve higher participation in higher education under the Hawke Government's policies she would have to say: `I don't know', because she does not know and she is failing in her responsibilities.

I would like to put forward to the Minister at the table four positive suggestions and ask for his categoric and definite response. The Opposition is talking about maintaining public funding for higher education in Australia, maintaining free places funded by the Australian taxpayer. The task for all of us who are concerned about higher education in Australia will certainly be to maintain that public line in Cabinets now and in the future which seek to reduce government expenditure in order to be able to fund other areas or to deliver to the Australian people the tax cuts that they so desperately want and need. So we are talking about maintaining the public vote for higher education.

Over and above maintaining the public vote, many things can be done to expand the system which this Government ideologically and blinkeredly is refusing even to consider. First, the challenge of expanding educational opportunity can be seriously addressed only if the Government throws away its opposition to the enrolment of additional students on a private basis. What right does any government have to say to any potential student: `You didn't make the quota. Don't worry about it that we put up the quota level higher than last year. You didn't make it, and therefore you can't go. You're not allowed to back your own career, back your own ambition. You're not allowed to take out loans. You're not allowed to solicit the help of your employer and pay your own way through a university degree, if that's what you want. The answer is no.'? This is an absolutely stupid situation. We encourage overseas students to come here on a full fee basis; we have representatives of our institutions in South East Asia and points beyond encouraging students to come on a full fee basis; yet over and above the quota of taxpayer funded places we deny the same opportunity to our potential students. It is an absolute criminal disgrace.

The second requirement is not only to maintain the base of recurrent and capital funding but also to build a new and exciting regime of private financial involvement in higher education. We intend to set free each university, CAE and institute of technology from unnecessary regulation, restrictions and prohibitions which discourage or prevent private fund raising activities. The Minister has tentatively given her support to this, but we need a full blown effort to maintain the public vote to our public institutions and to encourage our public institutions to go out and seek private funds because the Government knows, we know, and we have a joint understanding that if we are to expand higher education in Australia in the foreseeable future we will not be able to do it from taxpayers' moneys. Even the Minister has said there are no more buckets of money. She said there are no more buckets of cash. We have to have a full blown effort to encourage our institutions to seek additional sources of money-not to diminish the public vote but to expand the system.

Thirdly, we need to inject elements of competition into higher education, both within the public sector and between government and higher education institutions and any private institutions which emerge. The Minister at the table is well read. He understands much by way of international comparison. It is absurd that Australia does not have any private higher education institutions. We need, again, a full blown effort to encourage private enterprise investment not only in our public institutions but also, importantly, in the establishment of new private institutions. We unreservedly support the Bond University on the Gold Coast and any other ventures that may be undertaken around Australia.

Finally, we need to wind back the stifling bureaucratic control that the Federal Government is exercising over higher education. The Liberal and National parties will say `yes', and not `no', to the higher education system. We intend to get it back on the rails. We intend to inject new life and new funding into it. We intend to let the system rip and expand the number of places available.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.