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Tuesday, 23 October 1984
Page: 2270

Senator TOWNLEY(11.00) —I take this opportunity to discuss two matters. The first relates to the present situation within the university engineering faculties. I have been advised that a meeting of deans of university engineering faculties was held on 15 and 16 August 1984 at which considerable alarm was expressed about the funding of faculties of engineering in Australian universities. This is an issue about which we should be very concerned, because it will greatly affect the industrial well-being of Australia in the future. It will affect it in both the short term and the long term. Therefore, it should be of concern to all political parties.

Senator Jessop —The development of Australia depends on engineering.

Senator TOWNLEY —It certainly does. The development of Australia depends upon the number and quality of universities. One of the things that must be remembered with regard to engineering is that it involves an internationally accepted level of training, so that any engineers who are trained in Australia must be trained to a level that is acceptable on an international basis. Therefore, if a university's funds are not sufficient to train enough people, the number of people taken into that university's engineering course must be reduced. At present we are accepting many students from overseas, particularly, I believe, at the University of New South Wales. It was a dean from that university who, by way of a letter, once again brought this matter to my attention. Attached to his letter was a two-page document headed 'Crisis in Funding of Engineering Education'. I have shown it to the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Button), Mr President, and I seek leave to have that document incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The document read as follows-


1. The National Problem

Deans of Engineering Faculties in Australian Universities met in Adelaide recently to discuss their serious concern for the future survival of Australia's technological enterprises. The growth of these enterprises is fundamental to the commercial development of the nation in a world of increasing economic competition based on technology. Our national security and standard of living cannot be maintained unless we regain a higher level of technological achievement.

Technological development follows directly from the quality of Engineering Education. The Deans are concerned that the future is at risk because of the reduced investment in Engineering Education in their Universities.

2. The Quality of Engineering Education

Engineering Education is concerned with the development of problem solving skills which involve the integration of several disciplines; Science, Technological Sciences, Economics, Human Behaviour, Management. It is essential that clinical-style teaching be maintained even though it is a more expensive procedure. It is also vitally important that active technological research and industrial consultancy be continued to maintain the development thrust.

The quality of Engineering Education has been put at risk in recent years due to severe funding cuts. Australian Engineering Schools are expected to achieve more and more with reduced resources. Some faculties are being forced to reduce enrolments in order to maintain high standards of education. Such reductions are obviously contrary to the national interest.

3. Problem of Technological Change

The rate of technological change is creating an even greater demand for resources essential for the effective education of Australia's future engineers. Students now in universities will make their major professional contributions to the nation in the 1990s and beyond.

Engineers play a leading role in the design and development of our technological enterprises and consequently help to create new industries and provide employment opportunities throughout the community.

The rapid rate of technological change has exacerbated the consequences of funding deficiencies in recent years. There is a serious need for substantial upgrading in the resources available for Engineering Education.

4. Needs

Engineering is an international profession and Australian engineers must be trained to a level comparable with the best by world standards. Achievement of these standards is dependent upon the employment of high calibre and experienced staff, and the provision of up-to-date laboratories and equipment. Sustained periods of inadequate funding have seriously eroded the achievement of the high standards which the nation has achieved in the past.

In order to restore Engineering Education to the minimum level necessary by international standards, the Deans see an imperative need for additional amounts of both recurrent and equipment funds. Specific equipment needs will be advised in the near future.

It has been estimated by the Deans that, in order to restore funding to an acceptable level, the recurrent funds available to Faculties of Engineering should be increased by 15 per cent per annum for the next three years. This would then raise funding to a level which would be adequate, if maintained, taking CPI changes into account.

17 October 1984

N. L. Svensson (Professor),


Faculty of Engineering,

University of New South Wales,

PO Box 1,

Kensington 2033

Senator TOWNLEY —That is not a very long document, but it brings to the attention of anyone who may find this matter of interest the present situation within our universities. It is getting critical. I have spoken about it on many occasions over the past few years. During that time I have been trying to get the people who decide what money will be spent where to realise that engineering needs more money, and it needs it straight away. It will be seen from the last paragraph of the document that the deans estimate that in order to restore funding to an acceptable level, the recurrent funds available to faculties of engineering should be increased by 15 per cent per annum for the next three years. That shows that they feel that the funding level is very much below what it should be in order to be satisfactory.

Senator Peter Rae —They are also concerned about the role of engineering in bringing Australia up to world standard in technological change and what have you, as I understand it.

Senator TOWNLEY —Senator Rae is right. That very need is mentioned in paragraph 3 of the document-that without enough engineers and scientists, Australia will be left behind. This matter is worthy of consideration by both major political parties. I do not agree with what Senator MacGibbon said a moment ago. Maybe it is time that some of the scientists and engineers around this country became involved more heavily in the country's politics. They are certainly being neglected. We have many farmers and, with due respect to those in the chamber now, we have many lawyers, and people who, in many ways, have to make a special study of sciences if they are to realise just how important they are for Australia.

The other matter upon which I shall dwell quite briefly relates to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. I believe a very serious situation exists in ASIO at the moment in that ASIO is not being allowed to cover the activities of people within certain organisations in the way that it should. For that reason the information ASIO is able to forward to certain people, particularly about Ministers-I am not saying for a minute that it examines Ministers; perhaps I should say that it is for the protection of Ministers-during an election campaign and for the protection of those people who are very much in the public eye, is limited. It is almost as if ASIO were on strike. It is not able to supply the people who should be supplied with the information that is necessary, particularly at this time when so many Ministers are travelling around Australia and when tempers and thoughts are more political than they are at other times. It is always a little more dangerous in Australia during an election campaign. Not for one minute would I want Australia to reach the situation that applies in other countries, but certainly unless we have-

Senator Button —You have been trying to knock me off for ages.

Senator TOWNLEY —I think Senator Button recognises what I am trying to say. I am not trying to cause any difficulty but just to draw the attention of the Senate to this matter.

Senator Kilgariff —Are its surveillance activities being curtailed?

Senator TOWNLEY —The information I have received, following a couple of telephone calls today, indicates that ASIO is not allowed entirely to look at people within certain organisations that it believes are front organisations and at people who could well be terrorists. That is a very serious situation. It is a matter I have brought up tonight because I was not sure whether we would have an adjournment debate tomorrow or whether I would have time to speak during the sitting of the Senate tomorrow.

Senator Peter Rae —Are you worried about the way the Australian Democrats gag us ?

Senator TOWNLEY —I am trying to be non-controversial at the moment. I feel the matter should be answered by way of statement to the Senate either now or tomorrow, while the Parliament is sitting.