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Tuesday, 31 March 1987
Page: 1522

Senator BJELKE-PETERSEN —My question, which is directed to the Minister for Education, concerns the impact of the $250 administration fee on the enrolment of part time students at tertiary institutions and relates to her claim, repeated as recently as yesterday in an interview on the steps of Parliament House, that the fee is helping the Government provide extra places in tertiary institutions. Is it a fact that grants to tertiary institutions are made on the basis of an estimate from the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission and that in March the grants are adjusted on the basis of actual enrolment figures? As this is the last day of March, does the Minister now have accurate information on full and part time enrolments in universities and colleges of advanced education? If so, will she make this available to the Senate? If not, would the Minister please explain why not?

Senator RYAN —Let me say at the outset that, whatever the effect of the $250 administration charge on full time or part time students might be, it is nothing compared to the effect on all students throughout Australia if the party to which Senator Bjelke-Petersen belongs ever influenced government policy, because there have already been statements from the Premier of Queensland-a prime ministerial aspirant who we expect would have the support of Senator Florence Bjelke-Petersen-that he would abolish the Commonwealth Department of Education and the commissions that are administered by it, so that all of the costs of higher education in Queensland, for example, would be borne either by the State Budget of Queensland or, what is more likely, by the citizens of Queensland. So let us start with a realistic appreciation of what the National Party of Australia, or that part of the National Party led by the Premier of Queensland, would do if ever it got the chance to influence Commonwealth policy-which, of course, as we all know, fortunately, will not happen.

With regard to the impact of the $250 charge on particular groups, I have already explained to the Senate that the Tertiary Education Commission has set up a research project which is examining that impact in a proper methodological fashion. A monitoring committee, which includes members of parliament, representatives of the institutions and members of student bodies, will look at the results of that project and make recommendations to government about its impact so that the Government can be in a position to modify, if it should judge it necessary, the charge in relation to part time and external students. However, with regard to that part of the honourable senator's question which had to do with the way in which the CTEC grants are paid to institutions, her information is quite right. The Commission makes an assessment of the number of students who will be enrolled at a particular institution, a grant is made on that basis, and that grant is adjusted for the $250 charge. At the end of March, when enrolments are finalised, it can make adjustments if it has underpaid or overpaid an institution.

That is the procedure by which CTEC manages the business of giving to the institutions the appropriate level of grant. However, the full effect of the charge on individual institutions and on institutions nationally is not known at this point because, although enrolment figures are known, what is not known, or will not be known properly until we get the results of the research project, is whether those enrolment figures cover the same composition of students or whether there is a different composition. For example, there seems to be a trend to shift from part time to full time enrolments. Simply knowing the gross number of full time and part time enrolments will not of itself tell us anything about that shift or the reasons for it. Although Senator Bjelke-Petersen is right in her description of how CTEC calculates the appropriate level of grant to an institution, the effect, if any, on the participation of particular groups since the introduction of the administration charge will only be known at the time when the research project is complete. When we have that information, I shall be happy to share it with the Senate.