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Thursday, 19 February 1987
Page: 264

Senator WATSON —My question is directed to the Minister for Education. To what extent has the imposition of the $250 administration fee had an impact on enrolments of students attempting to gain tertiary qualifications on a part time basis? Is the loss of part time students expected to affect adversely the operations of departments that traditionally have a large percentage of part time students? Has the impact of the fee affected the quality of enrolments?

Senator RYAN —Senator Watson is somewhat premature in expecting an answer to his question. He may not be aware that some weeks ago I made an announcement that the Government, through the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission, is funding a research project which will investigate precisely those matters which he has raised. It will research the effects on enrolments of participation by certain groups but, in particular, by part time and external students. When those results are known, which will be fairly soon, they will be discussed by a monitoring committee which has on it, apart from members of the Government, representatives of the vice-chancellors and the college principals committees and representatives of student organisations. Based on the findings and recommendations of that Committee the Government will be in a position to take any steps that may be necessary.

Senator Newman —When will that be made public?

Senator RYAN —The research results will be available to us by, I think, the end of March. We will then need a period to examine them. I certainly want the information to be available to me at the beginning of the budgetary process so that if it is necessary to make any adjustments-I am not making any predictions about that-the Government will have the relevant information so they can be made. But I point out with respect to part time students that a number of rather erroneous claims have been made and given some publicity in the media. I think one such claim was implied in part of Senator Watson's question. There is an assumption that students who enrol on a part time basis are worse off in some way as a group than students who enrol on a full time basis, whereas information which CTEC has available as a result of its investigations into distance education demonstrates that about 88 per cent of part time students are in employment. Certainly, the group to which Senator Watson's question referred-public servants-are, by definition, in employment. I think it would be a very confused argument that said that a person on a public servant's salary is in a worse position than a student who has very little means of income other than--

Senator Newman —What about the nurses' upgrading in employment?

Senator RYAN —I know the Opposition is not very keen on facts about this matter and that it feels extremely touchy since we know that its true intention, should it ever get into Government, is to charge full cost fees. The whole question of $250 will fade into insignificance when students are faced with paying several thousands of dollars every year. In contrast to this, our Government is conscious of the need to have more people in higher education, to have a better skilled and better trained work force. We already have an outstanding record in this respect. If we are to be rational in the application of policy we should not listen to claims such as that all part time students are the most disadvantaged. If there are public servants in my Department or any other department, or in State education departments, who are on good salaries and who are in many cases upgrading an already existing tertiary qualification, it is simply foolish to say that that group of people is more disadvantaged than the people who are not in paid employment. Let us get some rationality into this debate.

Opposition senators interjecting-

Senator RYAN —I have been asked about the married women. Similarly, it would be foolish, and it would not contribute at all to equitable public policy, to suggest that all married women are poor. They simply are not. We will be looking at the circumstances of women without an income, but the fact of the matter is that many married women students-we do not know exactly how many-are married to men who are on high incomes. If Senator Newman or Senator Vanstone wants to say that their needs are greater than, say, those of single supporting parents who are living on a pension, let them say it, but it is not a position that has any rationality.

As I have said, the Government will be examining closely the results of the research which will demonstrate the facts about participation of part time and external students. It is worth knowing too that as far as full time enrolments are concerned there has been no drop off at all of applicants. In fact we are being told that we have an inadequate supply of places. Before these people who are in such a tenuous position of having a semi-secret agenda of full cost fees start ranting and raving about some people being required to pay $250, it is better for us to get the facts and to make any necessary or desirable policy adjustments on the facts.