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Tuesday, 24 March 1987
Page: 1194

Senator CHANEY —My question is addressed to the Minister for Education and follows the rambling that she has just inflicted on the Senate. I ask her: Under her administration what happens to otherwise qualified students who do not meet the quota of available places? Is it a fact that under her administration thousands of such students are precluded from entry to Australian tertiary institutions while at the same time, under her administration, foreign students may buy places at those institutions?

Senator RYAN —In the first instance I must point out that there are in the vicinity of 40,000 extra higher education places available on the basis of merit; 40,000 more than would have been available had the policies of the Liberal-National Party coalition remained. So we are 40,000 students ahead before we even start this debate. Secondly, there is the question of unmet demand, and we are waiting on the final assessment of what those numbers will be. There will be an unmet demand; that is, there will be students who will have qualified for matriculation but not scored an adequate mark to get into the course of their choice. However, at this stage it certainly is the case that there are unfilled places in a number of faculties and institutions. So the question has to be taken in terms of the preference of the student. Certainly all the students who would like to get into a medical faculty cannot necessarily do so because the entrance marks are very high indeed. I am not sure that the community generally would like those high entrance marks to be greatly reduced. But the students who do not get the marks to get the place of their choice in the first instance can look for an alternative choice. They can repeat the year or they can do a technical and further education course. There are a number of other opportunities available to them.

The solution offered by the Liberal Party is that the students can turn around and pay $10,000 or $12,000 a year, knowing full well that there will be a two-caste system-those who have good enough marks to get a place on merit, and those who have had to pay for their places. That would inevitably, in the longer term, lead to a lowering of standards. We are not interested in lowering education standards in Australian higher education. In fact, there has been a demonstrable increase in education standards during the period of the Hawke Government.

As to the question of why overseas students are able to pay the full cost for courses, the first thing to say is that they get those places only if they have got an adequate mark, a mark equal to the Australian students who are already getting them. Secondly, they are not part of their tax raising, revenue raising and redistribution system in this country. They are not going to stay, live and work and pay taxes in this country. They have not earned an entitlement to a tuition free place in an Australian institution. The Australian society will not benefit from their higher education because they will return to their own countries and work there; whereas our Australian students will go into professions, administration and services and will bring back benefits to the community. So the criteria by which we judge appropriateness for overseas students is entirely different from the criteria by which we judge the appropriateness for Australian students.

Senator CHANEY —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The Minister has given a very long reply without dealing with the fundamental point of my question. Does she agree that Australian students who are academically qualified are excluded from tertiary education while foreign students may buy places? In other words, there are two classes of students, and foreign students in that sense have an advantage over the Australian born students.

Senator RYAN —I do not know whether Senator Chaney will now follow the example of some of his colleagues in his State and try to stir up a bit of racism on our campuses by suggesting that somehow overseas students receive favoured treatment compared with that given to Australian students. I will not answer the question in the terms in which Senator Chaney has put it because he has put it in the wrong terms. The implication of his question from the way in which he phrased it is that unqualified overseas students can buy their way into Australian institutions.

Two minutes ago I told Senator Chaney, as I have on numerous occasions in this Senate, that overseas students are accepted into Australian university places only if they have reached the same standard as Australian students who are already in the university. The Australian students who have not successfully got a place are at a lower standard. We are concerned about them; we are perusing policies of growth in extra places for them but there is no simple case of inequity between Australian students who do not reach a certain standard and overseas students who do reach a certain standard and have the money to pay for their places.