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Tuesday, 5 June 1984
Page: 2490


Senator BOLKUS —My question, which is addressed to the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs, concerns Aboriginal education. Is the Minister aware of the extremely high drop-out rate of Aboriginal students in tertiary institutions in Australia? Is this drop-out rate as high as 80 per cent in some tertiary institutions? Is the Government taking any action in an attempt to redress the problem?


Senator RYAN —Yes, I am aware that there is a very high drop-out rate by Aboriginals attempting to get a tertiary education. That has been an ongoing problem. I am also aware that there is a delegation of Aboriginal educationists from New South Wales in Canberra today. I will be meeting with them shortly to discuss particular problems being experienced in New South Wales institutions. The Government has taken a number of steps already. We will be taking more steps after our meeting with the delegation to assist Aboriginal people seeking to undertake tertiary education. One of the first steps our Government took was to appoint, for the first time, to the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission, an Aboriginal member, Ms Pat O'Shane, who is the Secretary of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs in New South Wales.

We implemented a scheme in the 1983-84 Budget whereby 100 special teacher training scholarships were provided to mature age Aboriginal students, with a higher level of allowances in recognition of their family and other responsibilities. This was a first step of our commitment to increasing the number of Aboriginal teachers in schools by 1,000 by 1990. Of course, that is directly related not only to those students getting tertiary education but also to the basic problem which underlies some of the problems which Aboriginal students have in higher education, that is, the problems which they experience in secondary schooling.

Because of the very small number of trained Aboriginal teachers, because of the inadequate training of teachers generally to deal with Aboriginal students, because of the total absence in many schools of Aboriginal studies or any proper recognition of Aboriginal culture and, of course, because of the poverty that characterises many Aboriginal families throughout Australia, there is a very serious drop-out rate in secondary education. Obviously that flows on to the problems that are experienced by Aboriginal students in higher education. Our special program to increase the number of Aboriginal teachers should start to have effect at both tertiary and secondary level.

We also increased the level of allowances paid to secondary and to tertiary students in our first Budget and provided ongoing support for the enclave programs. These are programs whereby groups of Aboriginal students in tertiary institutions are given special assistance and support and theoretically they are enabled to deal better with the pressures of higher education in a group situation. It has been a successful program, generally speaking, and one which the government wishes to support. Also, in providing an extra 3,000 places for higher education in 1984, we pointed to the desirability of Aboriginal students receiving special consideration in terms of those extra 3,000 places. I understand that that will be so.

Also of both short term and long term assistance in this matter has been the upgrading of the National Aboriginal Education Committee, which is the body accepted by the Government as our major policy adviser on all educational matters-tertiary, secondary, adult and early childhood education and so on. We have increased staff and resources, and the NAEC, under the chairmanship of Paul Hughes, is making a substantial contribution to policy formulation by the Government. The NAEC has recently completed a special report on Aboriginals and tertiary education, which has formed part of the Tertiary Education Commission's advice to the Government for the next triennium. Finally, volume 1 of the Tertiary Education Commission report, which was recently tabled in this House, sets out an extensive and thorough discussion of ways in which Aboriginals seeking tertiary education can be assisted. These outcomes can be improved and those detailed and informed recommendations are under consideration by the Government at this time. As Senator Baume, who is now seeking to interject to disguise the poor record on this subject of the Government of which he was a part, is aware, the decision by the present Government for the next year will be revealed when I issue the guidelines for the Commission in July.