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Thursday, 23 June 2011
Page: 7099

Ms BURKE (Chisholm) (11:34): I rise to speak in support of the Higher Education Support Amendment (Demand Driven Funding System and Other Measures) Bill 2011. I commend the government on its far-reaching insight into extending and opening up our university sector. For too long, places have been withheld because of the cap system. All universities have welcomed this piece of legislation and are looking forward to its merits.

The previous speaker, the member for Hume, made statements about students being fearful of persecution from lecturers. Obv­iously, he has not been in touch very much with universities recently. I do not think there is a student who is fearful of any lect­urer at the moment. The current generation of students are more than willing to demand their marks, their scores and their ideas are respected and adhered to. One issue we need to ensure is that universities are free to embrace all ideas. Nowadays, if you go onto a university campus you will see that one of the frightening things is the conservative nature of the university populace across the board, and I do not mean that in a political sense. They are not radical environments anymore. They are not the hothouses that the opposition keeps referring to. Nowadays, it is mostly about 'Heads down, bums down, get in, get a degree and get out.' Students do not actually have time to engage anymore; they are too busy passing their three- or four-year degree in order to get out and get a job. So they are not racking up too much of a HECS debt. They are not involved in lots of things. They have part-time jobs to pay their mobile phone bills and car bills. So maybe you should visit a university occasionally, speak to some students and understand the reality of what is actually transpiring on these campuses. I am lucky enough in my electorate to have two very large univ­ersities: Monash University in Clayton, one of the largest campuses in Australia; and Deakin University's city campus site. The latter is a rural university, and bizarrely they have a campus in the city, which I think is a great thing because the actual headquarters of the university is in the regions, in Geel­ong, but they have a city campus in Burwood. It of course has more students than downtown Geelong, but it is a thriving place and there is a great integration between the two sectors. I also have one of the largest TAFEs in Australia, Box Hill TAFE, which is a thriving institution.

I have been very pleased that this federal government has taken the importance of education at all levels so seriously, partic­ularly within the higher education sector and within universities. But we have also not forgotten TAFEs. One of the great things we have done, unlike what the member for Hume was talking about, is that we have actually funded infrastructure in universities. I have been thrilled to see my universities and my TAFE receiving grants for funding of actual buildings—which had stalled under the Howard government. I did not get to go to any openings of new premises at my two very big universities or TAFE during my nine years in opposition, because there was no funding given for them.

Mr Robert: Oh, that's tragic: did you cry?

Ms BURKE: But now I have been to lots and lots of openings! The member for Fadden may cry tears but he can just suck it up!

Mr Robert interjecting

Ms BURKE: I have been to many, many openings. The $86 million being given to Monash University for the New Horizons Centre is going to provide an enormous—

Mr Robert interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms S Bird ): Order! The member for Fadden is being extremely disorderly, as he is out of his place.

Ms BURKE: benefit to the higher education sector. The $16 million given to—

Mr Robert interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Do you want to debate it with the member?

Mr Robert interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume her seat. I am issuing a warning to the member for Fadden.

Mr Robert: Oh, for stuff's sake.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for Fadden will leave the chamber for one hour. That was very disrespectful.

The member for Fadden then left the chamber.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for Chisholm has the call.

Ms BURKE: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I think that sadly it highlights the complete disregard for this really important bill before the House today that someone can be that outrageous when we are talking about something that is so vitally important to all of us. Everybody has been speaking about the need for change in this area, and we have just seen that disgraceful display.

I have been absolutely thrilled within my electorate to see us putting money into infrastructure, into buildings, because we want more people to go to these facilities—$86 million to Monash University for the New Horizons Centre; $16 million to GippsTAFE, to update it from the antiquated situation is was in. The pleasure of going to Holmesglen TAFE, just outside my electorate, to open up their fantastic new building for their childcare centre, offering both diploma and degrees within that setting. And offering money for buildings—because yes, if you get more students, you actually need new buildings. But we are ahead of the game: we have been funding the new buildings.

As for the continual catcalling about the 'school halls rort', I have not been to a primary school and opened their Building the Education Revolution building and not been warmly welcomed. I have not been part of a community that is not absolutely ecstatic about what they have got and what we are leaving behind as a legacy for their education. To go to Kerrimuir Primary Sch­ool, Glendal Primary School, Mount Scopus, Huntingtower, St Leonards—all the primary schools within my electorate. The one I am looking forward to most that has not finally happened is of course where my children go to school! We are very much looking forward to opening their fantastic new hall very soon. But all of these have been welcomed because, as I say at all the openings of these things, and at all the other events, good teaching outcomes do not come with good buildings; good teaching out­comes come from good teachers. But it makes it a lot nicer and lot better to be teach­ing in good environments, to be teaching in 21st century environments, absolutely recog­nising the pedagogy of the day. So, yes, the demand driven funding will require more space, but we have already put money into that environment so there will be more space available.

The government is committed to increasing the proportion of 25- to 34-year-old Australians with a qualification at bachelor level or above to 40 per cent by 2025. This is a credible benchmark that we should be striving for. Australia is actually slipping behind in the number of graduates we have. We are competing in a global world. In my seat I have a high proportion of people born overseas, the majority now coming in as skilled migrants from China and India. And that is terrific, in one space, but it is also a bit frightening when we are competing with so many terrific graduates from China and India and we are not training up our own. We should be training up our own. Many of these graduates, of course, are actually educated in my electorate, because they got their qualifications from Monash University—and that is a good thing too: overseas students have been a great benefit to my community and we want to ensure that we continue to have that opportunity for the benefits of our whole community of having that mix of ethnicities there.

But we need to be increasing the number of people going to university. Like many in this place I am a first-generation university graduate in my family. My parents did not get to go to university. As I have often said in this place, my mother got to go to university and I got to go to her graduation, but I was about 24 when she finally graduated from university. She put herself through part-time study. It was one of the proudest days of our family's life, my mum getting her degree. I think we need to be encouraging people and understanding that education is lifelong—it doesn't end. We need to recognise that people come in and out and train. And one of the great things about the TAFE sector is encouraging people to also take up those qualifications at an older age.

Education is also fundamental to ensuring that Australia is participating fully and benefiting from the global knowledge economy. The economy of the future will require more Australians to be degree-qualified. Demand for professional managers and community and professional services is high and growing. More professionally qualified people will be needed in the future—for instance, in health care, engin­eering and mining. Education is also vitally nationally important and, as I have described, particularly in my electorate. It is also the heart of the economy in my electorate. More people who live in my electorate are actually employed within the higher education sector than across the board. Not only do I have significant higher education institutions; I have very large government and non-government schools. A large proportion of my electorate is highly educated and they very much value the notion of higher education. As they often say in places, I have more PhDs per square metre in my seat than most people can deal with! But I think this is a terrific thing, and it really highlights the need for more people to be taking up qualifications.

There are also a number of nationally renowned organisations which exist within my seat that need qualified individuals—CSIRO; the Monash Sustainability Institute; the Australian Synchrotron, just outside my electorate—which I am hoping will continue as a fine tradition of education and research endeavour—the GOC, which is Telstra's very large research and development and platform for a lot of its telecommunications; as well as some other big research areas; because they all congregate around CSIRO and Monash University, it makes sense to have them within a precinct. But all those places require qualified individuals, and those individuals do not just stay with that job and that one qualification. They are always retraining. They are always being asked to do more. So this bill will also ensure that people can continue in that higher education space.

The bill further strengthens the govern­ment's commitment to education by creating a demand driven higher education sector. It implements the government's commitment to funding growth in undergraduate student places and further opening the doors of university education. The bill implements a number of reforms proposed by the Bradley review, a broad review of Australian higher education commissioned in 2008.

Again, the member for Hume was talking about one of the implications of the Bradley review—about the changes to student youth allowance. The changes that this government has introduced in student youth allowance have actually increased the number of people attending university, particularly from regional centres, because it has recognised not just distance but people's incomes. We have modified that to ensure that more and more people can have access to universities.

One of the bizarre things about my electorate is that, while the university is sitting there, the people who live in the suburbs right next door to the university are the least likely to go there because of the sociodemographics of that neck of the woods. This bill will hopefully ensure that people in my neck of the woods who live within walking distance of that university will now have the benefit of maybe getting the opportunity to attend.

Firstly, the government will no longer set the number of places a university can offer. It will make its contribution to the cost of education of all students admitted to undergraduate courses of study. The legis­lative cap on the Commonwealth Grant Scheme is being removed by the bill so that universities will be funded based not on the number of places which the education minister decides they will be given but on the number of places they provide, so it will be up to the university to decide. They will be able to drive and look at what is the best mix for them. They will be able to say, 'These are the areas we want to go to; we need these places,' instead of turning people away, which currently happens.

This means that as at January 2012 universities such as Monash and Deakin will have greater flexibility to respond to the needs of students, employers, industries and their local communities. The capacity of the universities to be funded by places they provide is being supported by the govern­ment's increased spending on higher educ­ation. By 2012 the government will have increased higher education expenditure on teaching and learning by 30 per cent in real terms since 2007.

I think one of the things that we as a Labor government have not sold our story on is what we have done in the higher education space. We have done so much in this space since coming into government, because we saw higher education and universities completely denuded under the Howard government. There were so many restrictions on what they could do and how they could do it, and funding was taken away. One of the issues that we are still grappling with, of course, is voluntary student unionism. Whilst you may want to talk about unions and all the rest of it, it has actually deleted a whole lot of terrific services on my university campuses. Monash University is not in town; it is in Clayton. There ain't a lot there, and you cannot leave it because it is in the middle of nowhere. Once you are there, if you have arrived by public transport, you stay there for the day. A lot of the activities, the life on campus, have just gone and you are captive. You actually cannot go down the road—as the former minister for education in the Howard government said—to buy a sausage roll because there is not anywhere down the road near downtown Monash University to get it. So we have done a lot in this space, but more needs to be done.

This year the government will fund more than 480,000 undergraduate places at public universities. Particularly, this will greatly assist my electorate of Chisholm. The bill also eliminates the student learning entitle­ment that limits a Commonwealth supported student to seven years of study. It makes for a simpler, fairer system. Now a student who completes a three-year undergraduate science degree and subsequently goes on to a six-year medical degree will not suffer financial hardship by virtue of their study going beyond seven years. This is partic­ularly important for people who are at the University of Melbourne under the Melbourne model. It was going to be a huge impost on those students who were seeking to study under that regime.

Added to this flexibility, the government will engage each higher education provider in a mission based compact. These compacts will ensure that each university is aligned to a national higher education framework in terms of teaching, research, training and innovation. We want world-class univ­ersities. We have world-class universities. We want to maintain and grow them. The TEQSA Bill, moved earlier this week in respect of standards in universities, is also ensuring that this place will be great. The result is that this government is better informed about future research directions, approaches to innovation and efforts to train Australia's research workforce. It also means that the Australian education system is able to deliver high-quality education that is internationally oriented and recognised. This is something that is very much driven within my electorate at Monash University and Deakin University.

Importantly, this bill will also amend the Higher Education Support Act to promote free intellectual inquiry—and, unlike the member for Hume, I think that is a good thing. I think it is something that the universities have been calling for. Free intellectual inquiry will become an object of the act, and that is something we should be proud of. (Time expired)