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Wednesday, 18 February 1987
Page: 166

Senator PARER —I refer the Minister for Education to her Press release of 12 February entitled `Education boosting exports'. The release said that there had been an explosion in 1987 in the number of courses offered to full fee paying students by Australian universities and colleges and that she expected some thousands of overseas students to enrol here. Can the Minister explain why this opportunity, available only to overseas students, is not available to the tens of thousands of Australian students who qualify but who are unable to make the quotas because of the very limited places?

Senator RYAN —The answer is simply a policy one. It is the policy of our Government that Australian students should have access to publicly-funded places in universities and colleges on the basis of merit. It is a system which is substantially supported throughout the academic community and which has led to very high standards-standards which have meant that we are now in a position successfully to export our education services overseas. If the kind of education system which some people on the opposite side of the chamber propose-a libertarian system in which anyone can set up and offer any courses they want and charge what they like for them-had prevailed over the last three or four decades, I very much doubt that we would have maintained the high standards of teaching and research which we now enjoy and which have resulted in overseas students seeking Australian places in established and recognised institutions. Overseas students may apply for places in those institutions which are offering full cost courses and I am pleased to see that there are in the vicinity of 400 spaces now available. However, they still have to meet very high entrance criteria. It is not a question of simply being able to buy their way into places. If they are applying for courses such as medicine-some institutions in South Australia, for example, are offering medical places on a full cost basis to overseas students-they still have to meet the very high entrance requirements of, for example, the medical faculty at Flinders University.

So the overseas students are not a lower standard of student. They are not students who can simply buy their way in. They are students who meet the very high academic standards and who can also afford to pay the full cost of their courses. When they do this they are not taking away places from Australian students because extra places are being created by the fees that they are paying. They are paying full costs, including a component for capital equipment costs, so the universities or colleges may expand at no cost to the taxpayer and continue to take in very highly qualified students from this population of overseas students. Senator Parer suggested in his question that students who fail to secure sufficient marks to get a public place in an institution should be able to buy that place anyway.

Senator Parer —They are qualified.

Senator RYAN —They are not qualified in terms of the places being offered by the institution. It is a competition. I find it quite astounding that we often hear complaints from honourable senators on the other side of the chamber that our society is not competitive enough and that we are not concerned enough with standards and quality. Yet when we have a system-as we have in higher education-which is concerned with standards and quality, which is available only on the basis of merit and which, in a number of areas, has increasingly high standards of entry, we suddenly get complaints and people opposite say: `People who did not get a high enough mark to get a public place ought to be able to buy their way in'. The long term consequences of that would undoubtedly be a lowering and a confusion of standards and a confusion of the purposes of universities and colleges. It is not a course of action that we intend to follow.

We are very pleased that our policy of exporting education services is proving to be successful and I believe that several thousands will be enrolling on that basis this year. I suppose that we will have the final enrolment figures in the next six weeks and I will be very pleased to tell the Senate what they are. But it is quite a different kind of operation to say `We have a high quality product for which we are anxious to earn foreign exchange and thus assist in our balance of payments problem,' from saying `We have people who certainly have their higher school certificate. They certainly got marks. They did not get enough marks to secure a place in the institution they wanted. If their parents are rich they ought to be able to buy their way in'. That is not a course of action that this Government will follow.

Senator PARER —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Is the Minister saying that the qualifications of those students coming in are higher than the qualifications of those Australian students who are qualifying but not making the quota? What is the difference between overseas students coming in and paying fees and Australian students who would pay fees and who are suitably qualified?

Senator RYAN —There is a difference and I thought I gave a very clear example. A Malaysian student wanting to go into a full cost medical place at Flinders University has to have two things: He has to have the $12,000 or $14,000-I am not quite sure what it is-that is the cost of the place and he also has to have a higher school certificate result which is adequate to get that person into medicine. The numbers of students who are saying that they do not have a place are mostly at the lower end of HSC results.

Senator Messner —So they are excluded.

Senator RYAN —I would say that all students who got a high enough mark to gain entrance to an Australian medical faculty would be able to get a place in some other faculty even if they could not get it in medicine because it is the top 5 per cent. They would be able to get a place, say, in architecture or engineering in another institution.

Senator Parer —Why do they miss out?

Senator RYAN —It is certainly not the case that the majority of students missing out have marks in the top 2 or 3 per cent; the honourable senator knows that. It is also the case that when an engineering or medical faculty takes full paying overseas students those students have to have marks that are equivalent to the marks of Australian students who are getting in. So standards are preserved, export dollars are earned and merit and quality--

Senator Boswell —And Australians miss out.

Senator RYAN —I thought Senator Withers was interested in competition. It now appears that--

Senator Peter Baume —He is not here.

Senator RYAN —I have tried to assist Senator Parer. He is obviously having some difficulty in following my very lucid explanation.