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Thursday, 6 September 1984
Page: 561

Senator PETER BAUME —I direct my question to the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs. I refer to her decision to abolish the per capita subsidy to students at residential colleges at Australian universities and colleges of advanced education. At the time the decision was taken was the Minister aware of a survey report by Professor David Beswick which revealed, firstly, that more than 80 per cent of college students come from non-metropolitan areas; secondly that in terms of their social and educational backgrounds they did not appear to be specially privileged and were typical of the university and college population; and thirdly, that the colleges played an important role in acclimatising students, particularly those from rural and isolated areas? Does the Minister contest any of the findings of Professor Beswick's survey? Indeed, on what basis was the Minister's decision made to remove the subsidy, and why did she ignore the advice of the Tertiary Education Commission that the money should continue to be provided to the colleges even if it were to be distributed by them in a slightly different way than at present?

Senator RYAN —Senator Baume has raised a number of issues surrounding the Government's decision concerning subsidies for accommodation purposes for tertiary students. One of the questions he asked was, why did we make our decision. The answer is that the system we changed was inequitable. We have changed it to an equitable system. It is in pursuit of the objective of equity that we have made that decision, as we have made all other decisions in this area. Senator Baume referred to the Beswick report, which gave a socio-economic profile of students in residential colleges. I was aware of that, and the Tertiary Education Commission was aware of it at the time we changed the policy. But that report and that socio-economic profile, which I have no reason to challenge in any way, does not answer the question of how a government can make scarce resources available for the purpose of assisting needy students and for those resources to be distributed on an equitable basis.

Senator Baume's series of questions leaves out the fact that under the previous scheme, which was in operation when Senator Baume was Minister for Education, the only form of subsidy to tertiary students went to those who were living in residential colleges. Everybody in the Senate knows that, although there may be some students in residential colleges who are not from wealthy backgrounds, there are certainly many more students from poor backgrounds who are not in residential colleges and who could never afford to be in those colleges. Yet no assistance was being directed from those funds to them. In fact, under the previous scheme only 6 per cent of all tertiary students benefited from this form of assistance. They benefited not on any sort of needs basis but simply on a per capita basis. So a college which had a large proportion of students from affluent backgrounds would get the same per capita assistance as a college, like some of our country colleges, which had a much greater proportion of students from needier backgrounds. There was no equity in the whole scheme; there was no acknowledgment of need. Although some students from less affluent backgrounds benefited-in fact, their colleges benefited; the students themselves did not benefit-the subsidy went to only 6 per cent of students. Under our scheme, taking up the direction of the CTEC advice, the money has been appropriated for a triennium but will be available for all institutions, all colleges of advanced education and universities, to participate in. Each institution will have an amount of money which it can administer by way of loans to needy students to assist them in accommodation matters.

Senator Chaney —A loan scheme?

Senator RYAN —An emergency loan scheme for accommodation purposes. There may be some other elements for which the emergency loans are made. I say to Senator Chaney that we oppose a scheme which would have caused poor students to have to borrow the entire money to undertake a degree. That is a quite different thing. We abolished that and have increased the tertiary education assistance scheme. The accommodation assistance will now be administered on a completely equitable basis. All CAEs will be able to participate in it-which was not the case under Senator Baume's scheme-as will all universities, and institutions will administer the loan funds on an emergency basis, with student participation. The details of how the scheme will operate will be announced later, but in principle that is what will happen. Nobody can say with any credibility that a scheme which was available to only 6 per cent of students, not on a needs basis, is better or more equitable than our scheme, which will be available potentially to all students on a needs basis.

Senator PETER BAUME —I ask the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs a supplementary question on the last part of my original question, as I am interested in getting the information on why the advice of the CTEC was not accepted. That advice, as I understand it, was that the money should be made available to the residential college authorities and be distributed on the basis of need. Am I incorrect in my understanding-or have I misunderstood the Minister 's reply-that it is to be made available not to the residential college authorities, but to the college and university authorities? Why was the advice of the CTEC not taken up by the Government?

Senator RYAN —That is a rather strange question. The advice of the CTEC was that the money should be administered on a needs basis, but it did not go beyond access to that money by residential colleges. Our Government wanted to go beyond that advice because we have a fundamental concern with equity and we wanted to make the scheme more equitable. The amendment suggested by CTEC would have moved some way towards removing the inequities from the scheme, but we have responded, according to our philosophy, by making those scarce funds available to all students on the basis of need-not only to students who are fortunate enough to be able to get a place in a residential college.