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Monday, 23 February 1987
Page: 419

Senator ALSTON —My question is directed to the Minister for Education. Is it a fact that, despite the introduction of full fee paying courses for overseas students, the demand has actually increased-and quite substantially? Is it or is it not a fact that there are many thousands of students who have achieved the necessary university entrance standards but who are denied access to any university course, let alone the course of their choice, because of the Government's unwillingness or inability to provide the necessary funds and its rigid ideological objection to the establishment of private universities? Why should Australian citizens not have the same rights of access enjoyed by overseas students? Would the Government be better placed to allocate the necessary funding if financial support were withdrawn from such fascinating mainstream courses as the Minister's own Australian Capital Territory technical and further education course on skiing and horse riding or the University of Sydney undergraduate course in gastronomy, its Master of Commerce course, Leisure in Society, and its infamous Political Economy course known as Bessy, which allows students the choice of such exotic but utterly economically irrelevant units as Working Class Politics, the Political Economy of Women, Fine Arts, Religious Studies, Philosophers of Disobedience, Direct Action and Political Authority, Environmental Studies, the Economic and Social History of Minority Groups and Peace Studies? Is this what the Government means by academic excellence?

Senator RYAN —Well, what an interesting question! We have just managed to learn something about the Liberal Party's education policy about which it has been so understandably coy. We have learned from Mr Shack that any non-government school will be funded regardless of standards and regardless of its effect on existing schools, that we will have a totally libertarian, open-ended approach to the funding of private schools. Mr Shack told us that over the weekend. Now Senator Alston has told us that the higher education policy, the university policy, of the coalition parties is to be censorship of universities. He has just let the cat out of the bag that the policy of the people sitting opposite will be to censor the courses operating at Sydney University. I hope that the Vice-Chancellor of Sydney University, Professor Ward, is interested to hear that the policy of the Liberal Party and the coalition-if it still exists-is to intervene in the academic domain of universities and to abolish courses. How interesting!

Honourable senators interjecting-

The PRESIDENT —Order! There are too many interjections. The Minister should be heard in silence.

Senator Chaney —Mr President, as you have disturbed the Minister's flow, may I say that I welcome that because the Minister is clearly debating the question and I would ask you to call her to order and to require her to answer the question asked by Senator Alston. She is clearly incapable of doing so.

The PRESIDENT —Order! There is no point of order. I ask all Ministers to answer questions as quickly as possible.

Senator RYAN —Mr President, Senator Chaney's embarrassment is understandable since he seems to be more attached to traditional Liberal values such as the autonomy of universities, but clearly the New Right brigade within his ranks has taken over and, quite clearly, by way of implication we have had the announcement that the University of Sydney and presumably the other 18 universities throughout Australia are to have their courses investigated by Liberal Party senators and censored.

I should also point out, because the honourable senator seems somewhat garbled in his approach, that technical and further education courses such as the ones he cited are available on a user pays principle. That, I thought, would have attracted the support of the Liberal Party, although any expectation that we might have of consistency from the Opposition is absolutely unfounded. The hobby TAFE courses are established according to the interests of people who want to undertake them and they pay for them. So it is entirely irrelevant to raise in a question about higher education funding those courses which citizens require and have organised through TAFE facilities.

As to the question of how many students will complete their higher school certificate satisfactorily but fail to gain a university place, we cannot answer that question yet because all the enrolments are not complete-final offers have not yet been completed-but of course, as always, the Tertiary Education Commission, in consultation with the Vice-Chancellors Committee, will let us know what those figures are. But whatever they are-and last year there were some thousands of young people who could not gain a university place but who had marks which in other years would have got them a place-they will be very much lower than what would have prevailed under Liberal-National Party policies. In the four years of the Hawke Labor Government we have created about 48,000 extra higher education places. How many did the Fraser Government create in a comparable four-year period? Eight thousand.

Senator McIntosh —How many?

Senator RYAN —Eight thousand. So, whereas we have created 48,000 places, publicly available on merit, the Fraser Government created only 8,000 in a comparable period. Whatever calculations we do when enrolments are complete and however many places we are short, we can add on another 40,000 to know how many short we would be if the policies of the Opposition parties had prevailed.

It is no use Opposition senators rising in this place to complain on behalf of students who cannot get places when they know two things. First, of all, the period of the Fraser Government saw the greatest attack on higher education since the Commonwealth had a significant role in it. Sir Robert Menzies would have turned in his grave at the attacks and onslaughts on universities and colleges of advanced education-a real decline in capital funding, a real decline in recurrent funding and a real negative growth in higher education.

Senator Peter Baume —You reintroduced fees.

Senator RYAN —Senator Peter Baume is shouting because he was Minister for part of the time and he is very embarrassed by it. Honourable senators who were associated with that period, when we saw an absolute decline in higher education and only 8,000 new places created, now stand up and say: `Well, how terrible. There is a shortfall in places'. If they had pursued policies similar to ours during their seven years of government there would be no shortfall. We would have places for all qualified students. We have inherited the terrible decline that they presided over and we are overcoming it; but we have not overcome it completely. It is also very clear that if those students who cannot get public places under the merit system currently available want places, in the unlikely event of a coalition government, they will have to pay $14,000 or $12,000 a year for them. Let us see how much demand there is under those circumstances.

Senator ALSTON —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I can understand the Minister's apoplectic fulminations in the tirade of abuse, but she did not get round to answering the first part of the question, which was whether there had been any increase in the number of overseas students subsequent to the introduction of the full fee paying regime.

Senator RYAN —Yes, of course there has been an increase. The final numbers of full cost overseas students are not yet known, but when they are known we will make them available to the Senate. Last year there were in excess of, I think, 400 students coming in under the full cost basis. Now that we have had such a growth in the number of courses being offered by universities and CAEs for full cost students, I think we can expect the final numbers to be some thousands, but those numbers are not yet available.