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Tuesday, 24 March 1987
Page: 1196

Senator PETER BAUME —My question is directed to the Minister for Education, in that capacity and in her capacity as Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on the Status of Women. It relates to the effect of the introduction of a tertiary fee by way of a higher education administration charge. I advise the Minister that tertiary enrolment figures are now revealing that, while full time enrolments have held up, enrolments in part time courses, especially by women, have decreased by a large amount. I ask: What action does she propose to take, as the Minister for Education, in view of the diminished capacity of women to enrol in part time education? As the Minister responsible for the status of women, why has she put into place policies which have led to this specific and tragic reduction in tertiary education enrolments by women?

Senator Walsh —What about your policy?

Senator RYAN —As my colleague Senator Walsh interjects to suggest, if women or any others are having trouble raking up $250, how will they be placed when the fee is $12,000? In terms of what Senator Baume claims to have discovered, that is, statistical evidence of a drop in the participation by women as part time students, it is too early to make any definitive comments on that. As Senator Baume is aware, a research project is being managed through the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission and being monitored by a representative monitoring committee-including members of this Parliament-which is examining that matter.

At this stage, it is too early to interpret changes in full time and part time enrolments as meaning that fewer women are enrolling. Some students for example, are deciding to go full time instead of part time as a result of the $250 charge. That may be a positive development for them. It may be in their interests to get their degree earlier. It probably is. Certainly, if they are studying in order to increase their labour market chances, it is very much in their interests to complete their degree as soon as they can. We do not know yet whether the apparent decline in part time enrolments in some institutions will be explained in terms of the growth of full time enrolments in those same institutions by the same groups. It is simply too early, in terms of the thorough way we are conducting the monitoring of this situation, to make any comments.

A great deal of criticism has been heard from the other side about the $250. I would like to repeat what I have said on previous occasions; that is, the most needy students are exempted from the charge or compensated for it. The question of part time students is a little different. One fact that needs to be borne in mind is that about 88 per cent of part time students are in full time employment and therefore, one would think, in a position to get together $250 if they decide they want to proceed with their studies. There is another aspect of this, which is that part time students have a notoriously high drop-out rate, or have had in the past. That is, many people enrol for a part time course in a fairly ambivalent frame of mind and discover a few weeks or months later that they are not really in a position to fulfil the requirements of that course. If we are discouraging dilettantes from undertaking university courses, that is not necessarily a bad thing either. So before we start weeping and wailing, or Senator Peter Baume, whose party is now positing full cost fees, starts weeping and wailing about the effect on women, let us look at the facts and interpret them rationally.

Senator PETER BAUME —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The Minister, in her response, said that she was not aware of the figures and that she could not be aware of them. Is the Minister aware that I represent this Senate on the Council of the Australian National University, and will she accept my assurance that the information I gave her about the diminution in the enrolment of women in part time education is a fact at the university? Also, I ask the Minister again, as the Minister responsible for the status of women: Why has she put into place policies which have led to a specific reduction in the capacity of women to enrol part time in tertiary education?

Senator RYAN —I do not think that Senator Peter Baume's participation on the Council of the ANU really alters anything I have said. Senator Baume has access to some information coming from one institution. There are 18 other universities and 46 colleges of advanced education in Australia, and I am waiting to see what enrolment pattern emerges from them.