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Thursday, 30 April 1987
Page: 2084


Senator VIGOR(3.17) —I rise to support my colleague Senator Powell. Education is a national resource and a national asset. It is part of the national infrastructure. Good education is of vital importance if Australia is to graduate as an independent trading nation in the modern global economy. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development examiners' report stressed the need for education, particularly technical education, which they described as critical to virtually every aspect of modern life.

The plea for increasing educational and skill levels has been taken up by all employer groups and unions as it has become obvious that Australia, rather than maintaining its position as one of the more educated communities in the world, has not maintained its educational advantage in any way. The OECD report stressed that the tertiary education system is the heart of Australia's scientific and technical effort.

In the light of Australia's need to expand its educational effort, and to invest more heavily in tertiary education, the findings of the monitoring committee that the number of students enrolled in universities at 30 April this year has fallen by 2,000 or 1.1 per cent from last year is most disturbing. Likewise, the number of students enrolled in colleges of advanced education has fallen by some 1,600 or 0.8 per cent from last year. The student load, however, has increased, since there has been an increase in full time students and a decrease in part time students, who are most severely affected by the student charge. The Australian Democrats in fact moved an amendment to try to give these people pro rata fees, although we totally oppose those fees as well.

Postgraduate students have also been more severely affected by the student charge. The other groups most affected by the charge are mature age students, female students, students with dependent children, rural students, students with disabilities and students who just fail to qualify for Austudy funding. The fact is that it is hitting at the people who are hard up, yet the Government claims that the purpose of the charge was to enable the Government to fund an additional 1,000 new intakes into higher education in 1987. The figures show that it has palpably failed to achieve that result. The Government also deducted the value of the charge from the grants made to the institutions. However, the institutions have found that in practice the cost of collecting the charge has amounted to half the revenue from that charge. This is a wasteful charge indeed when the extra stress placed on students in meeting that charge is also taken into account. It gives them real problems.

As I said, education is a national resource. There is a myth that education is also a personal asset and that a charge on students is justified since education increases their earning capacity in later life. This is a myth for many students since careers in social welfare, nursing, research, engineering, teaching, the ministry and the armed services to name but a few do not pay more than could be earned by expert tradesmen, supervisors or managers, who do not need such educational training. In fact, tertiary students make considerable financial sacrifices in studying at an age when their former companions are earning a full adult wage, courting and marrying and saving for a home and other capital assets which become more and more difficult to achieve as they become older because of the growing inflation which this Government is also responsible for. Tertiary education should be considered as a form of national service or national investment in the future from which future national wealth will be derived. Cutting back on education at this time, even indirectly through fees, is really scandalous. We need to stimulate high technology and marketing and management skills and increase the overall skills of Australia in the total working population. This is another example of Treasury mismanaging things. We believe it is doing the wrong thing. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard two tables which show participation in education and illustrate my points.

Leave granted.

The tables read as follows-

COMMONWEALTH TERTIARY EDUCATION COMMISSION

Review of Efficiency and Effectiveness

Report of the Committee of Enquiry

September 1986

Table 3.5

HIGHER EDUCATION PARTICIPATION RATES BY AGE(a)

(per 1,000 of relevant population cohort)

17-19

years

20-24

years

25-29

years

30 years

and over

1975 ...

110

90

36

9

1980 ...

98

90

43

15

1981 ...

94

88

43

15

1982 ...

96

86

42

15

1983 ...

100

88

41

16

1984 ...

103

89

41

16

1985(b) ...

107

90

42

17

(a) Data include overseas students

(b) Basic nurse education students in advanced education in 1985 are not included. The rates for persons aged 17-19 and 20-24 years are 109 and 91 respectively if these students are included.

Table 8

ELIGIBLE STUDENTS NOT RECEIVING AN OFFER FOR A PLACE BY AGE AND QUALIFICATION

Category

1985

Total

eligible

No

offer

% No

offer

1986

Total

eligible

No

offer

% No

offer

20 and under

Year 12 Home State ...

73,556

13,608

18.5

78,798

16,814

21.3

Year 12 Interstate ...

8,047

2,343

29.1

9,776

2,690

27.5

Other ...

11,669

3,138

26.9

14,395

3,460

24.0

Total ...

95,933

(a)...19,489

(a)...20.3

102,969

22,964

22.3

Over 20

Year 12 ...

9,815

2,703

27.5

7,937

2,297

28.9

Other ...

28,189

6,696

23.8

33,673

7,740

23.0

Total ...

41,525

(a)...9,865

(a)...23.8

41,610

10,037

24.1

Grand Total ...

13,8397

(b)...29,294

21.1

145,101

(c)...33,001

22.7

See footnotes to Table 1.

(a) Includes data for Canberra CAE for which no further breakdown was provided.

(b) Includes data for Darwin IT for which no further breakdown was provided.

(c) Includes 522 eligible applicants at Darwin IT which cannot be allocated into age groups.


Senator VIGOR —I thank the Senate. The tables show a lower participation in higher education between 1975 and 1985.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Morris) —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.

Question resolved in the affirmative.