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Wednesday, 6 June 1984
Page: 2631

Senator PETER BAUME(3.14) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the papers.

The report entitled 'Mutual Advantage' is an important document, and the Opposition welcomes its production. The title 'Mutual Advantage' indicates the emphasis which the Goldring Committee of Review of Private Overseas Student Policy placed upon this subject when it came to consider the place of overseas students. I think it is fair to say that it considered mostly the international obligations of Australia, as part of this region. That was probably the prime focus of this report. To the extent that there is a problem in this country in relation to the placing of overseas students, I think we have to examine carefully what it is that the Committee has recommended and whether those recommendations are appropriate and likely to be effective. It is my view that more work needs to be done on how to accommodate overseas students in Australia in our tertiary institutions, acknowledging the value this has to Australia in many international relations terms. As part of the good neighbour policy in our region more work needs to be done on how to accommodate these students into our tertiary institutions at the time when many qualified residents of Australia are being turned away. It is this difficulty which has highlighted the problem in recent years and which really led to this Committee being established.

Yesterday I received a letter from Dr Ken McKinnon of the University of Wollongong, in which he presented figures which suggest that 20,000 qualified students were unable to get entry into universities in New South Wales alone this year. That gives us some idea of how great the squeeze is across Australia. Additionally, certain faculties of the University of New South Wales have an extremely high proportion of overseas students, and this has given rise to some unfortunate incidents on that campus, and some unfortunate comments. I think the Faculty of Architecture of the University of New South Wales, certain courses in computing science and certain courses in engineering, shows quite an atypical concentration of overseas students. There have been complaints from the parents of qualified resident students, that those students cannot get entry.

We have to find an answer which allows us to meet our obligations within our region, as good neighbours, and to undertake activities which benefit Australia in many ways, by helping overseas students, and yet at the same time by accommodating the needs of resident Australians. In that context the proposal by the Goldring Committee, which might allow the number of overseas students on campuses actually to double from its present figure of 5 per cent to a maximum target figure of 10 per cent, seems not to be wrong but to be premature. It is a recommendation which can really be considered only when the other problem of how to accommodate the needs and aspirations of resident Australians can also be answered. It is a problem which has been described as a displacement problem because while we have a finite number of places available on our campuses, for every student we take in from outside we displace one who is a resident Australian.

The solution should be very simple. In order to discharge our obligations under this or similar programs, we simply need to increase the number of available places on our campuses to give all students a chance and to remove absolutely any notion that to take one from outside involves displacing one from inside. It is entirely possible to have both goals being met, one alongside the other. In this regard I welcome the recommendation of the Goldring Commitee that the money collected from the overseas student charge should no longer go into Consolidated Revenue but should be applied to educational expenditure to help provide the extra places. If that happens it may be possible to overcome some of the difficulties.

As I say, there is nothing wrong with the recommendation of a 10 per cent target, except that it is premature until the displacement problem is dealt with and resolved. I welcome the report's proposals that the concentrations of students from overseas in any one course should not exceed 25 per cent. I think that has to be considered alongside the displacement problem. I welcome the proposal that the overseas student charge-or the equivalent money-should be allocated to the education budget. I acknowledge that Australia has an important role to pay.

The Opposition intends to give very careful consideration to this large report. For example, we are aware that in the United Kingdom 5 per cent of students are from overseas. We would like to accommodate the generous provisions of this report, but to do so in a way that is consistent with the needs and aspirations of Australian students for an adequate tertiary education.