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Thursday, 30 April 1987
Page: 2082

Senator WATSON(3.03) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

The report before the Senate at the moment really confirms the fears which many of us have had and which have been outlined to the Government with regard to the higher education administration charge. I would like to quote to the Senate from page 5 of the report, where it states:

It is clear . . . that the charge has had a substantial impact on the pattern of enrolments in higher education.

I and a number of my colleagues, including Senator Teague, drew attention to this shortly after the announcement of this charge. While overall enrolments in universities and advanced colleges have not been markedly affected, there has been a significant impact on the number of part time students engaged in tertiary education. This was the area which I and my colleagues directed to the attention of the Minister for Education (Senator Ryan).

Universities have registered an estimated fall of 8.7 per cent in the number of part time students enrolled, while external student enrolments have dropped by some 10.9 per cent. Similar figures were registered in institutions of advanced education. Part time enrolments are down by approximately 10.3 per cent and external students by some 6.5 per cent. Despite the Minister for Education's prior claims in response to a question from me that part time students were actually well-heeled public servants who could well afford the administration fee, the report indicates otherwise. So we were misled by the Minister for Education. The report states that the following groups have been most adversely affected by the charge: Mature-age students-particularly married women who are dependent on spouse support to meet their costs; students with dependent children; students with household incomes just above Austudy thresholds; external rural students; families with more than one higher education student; and postgraduate students. It is a deplorable state of affairs that members of such a large group may well be inhibited in their efforts to pursue further education and thus improve their employment prospects by the implication of this charge. Those with incentive to pursue further study alongside other commitments are, in many cases, being prevented from doing so as a result of the iniquitous charge put on by this Government.

We are told that the introduction of the charge is to enable the funding of an additional 1,000 new places in higher education in 1987, yet the statistics included in this report show that there has been a decrease in enrolment at the tertiary level-a minimal one, but a decrease not an increase, and as was projected and as was required. Despite the Government's attempt to minimise the impact on students who could not afford to pay through a number of exemptions, I submit that it is now patently clear that these measures did not go far enough. For little or no apparent gain in increasing student enrolments, the administration charge has been implemented at the cost of those who are trying to improve their lot in life, often under very adverse financial circumstances.

The report has made a number of recommendations. It is to be hoped that this Labor Government will take careful note of it in order to redress the iniquities of this particular charge. A number of further recommendations have been made, including that an efficient means be devised whereby the charge is linked to the length of courses and that there be further monitoring of the impact of the charge. These suggestions are valuable and should be pursued by the Government very speedily. Many potential students currently are being affected by the implementation of the charge and prompt action should be taken to remedy an intolerable situation. I am glad that the Minister agrees with me.