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Students, universities concerned for future -

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Students, universities concerned for future

Reporter: Mike Sexton

KERRY O'BRIEN: Universities were once a hothouse of radical politics.

But now, it seems the only unrest comes from concern over changes to higher education.

Under the Howard Government something of a culture change has been forced on universities -
encouraging them to take on full-fee paying students from here and abroad, while increasing the
cost of the higher education contribution scheme, or HECS, which the Keating Government started.

Labor has tried to take the running with a series of policy announcements - the latest, just

Nowhere does the issue resonate more than in the marginal, inner-city seat of Adelaide, which has
the highest concentration of university students in the country.

In the third of his reports from the seat, Mike Sexton tests the mood in the tertiary institutions.

MIKE SEXTON: The University of Adelaide is one of the nation's most hallowed schools.

For over 130 years its leafy surrounds have nurtured Nobel Prize winners and Rhodes Scholars.

Up the road, in contrast, is the modern steel and glass of the University of South Australia which
was created in 1991 by an amalgamation of teachers colleges and technology institutes.

And both have emerged as battlegrounds in this election.

JODIE JANSEN, NATIONAL UNION OF STUDENTS: The seat of Adelaide has the highest proportion of
university students living within its boundaries of any seat in the country, and that is the reason
that NUS has decided to target the seat of Adelaide.

MIKE SEXTON: University students represent 1 per cent of the votes in this seat, which the Liberals
hold by just 0.6 per cent, so the parties are keenly aware that higher education policy could help
decide which way it goes.

The National Union of Students is targeting Adelaide with a niche campaign - reinforcing that some
full-fee paying courses will now cost $100,000.

JODIE JANSEN: The Howard Government really in its last three terms hasn't done much for students or
young people.

I think that young people are much more inclined to vote for the opposition parties - the Greens,
the Democrats and the ALP - than they are to vote for the Coalition.

MIKE SEXTON: Min Gho is studying both law and engineering at Adelaide University and believes the
burden of both fees and HECS means students are struggling with a combination of study and work.

MIN GHO, STUDENT: I know some of my friends as well have had to skip classes because they've had to
go and work and if they don't go and work, they don't eat.

I suppose that's a more extreme example but that does happen and we certainly need to look at a way
where we can support students, who will be the future of this country, in a proper way.

MIKE SEXTON: In a bid to boost university coffers, the Coalition will next year allow universities
to increase HECS fees by up to 25 per cent and boost the number of full-fee paying students.

Both Uni SA and the Adelaide University will raise HECS by the full 25 per cent.

And while university places will be more expensive, they'll also be more elusive.

Earlier this year, Federal Education Minister Brendon Nelson announced the roll-out of 25,000 new
university places across the country.

However, the places are not evenly distributed, with South Australia receiving just 6 per cent as
compared to 25 per cent for Queensland.

JODIE JANSEN: South Australia will actually be worse off under the Liberal Government in the
future, with less HECS places than what we have had in South Australia previously.

MIKE SEXTON: Recently at the University of Adelaide, a lunchtime forum allowed the candidates a
chance to sell their education policies.

KATE ELLIS, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR ADELAIDE: A Labor Government will create 20,000 new full and
part-time university places every year for Australian students to start their degrees.

SENATOR GRANT CHAPMAN, LIBERAL: The Howard Government will provide an extra $2.6 billion to the
higher education sector over five years as part of its higher education reforms, providing
universities with more resources and students with more choices.

MIKE SEXTON: Liberal Senator Grant Chapman stood in for absent Adelaide MP Trish Worth and found
himself facing a hostile crowd of students and academics.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE ACADEMIC: Having already virtually destroyed the sector as far as staff/student
numbers are concerned, how can you guarantee now that you are going to do something to redress all
that damage that you have already done?

SENATOR GRANT CHAPMAN: Well, I don't accept that this Government has done damage to the tertiary
education sector.

There are more students at university now than ever before.


A hell of a lot more!

(Laughs) That's a ridiculous response.

SENATOR GRANT CHAPMAN: Well, that is not a ridiculous response.

internationally competitive with the kind of funding that's currently made available for research.

MIKE SEXTON: One of the most outspoken academics was Peter Mickan from the University of Adelaide
linguistics department.

Dr Mickan believes the restructuring of universities towards a user-pays system has increased the
student/teacher ratio to the point where research is being threatened.

PETER MICKAN: If we have an increased teaching load, it means that the time that is required to
carry out research is no longer practical and increasingly we find that we haven't got the time to
be able to do the research and to produce publications that are an absolutely essential part of our

MIKE SEXTON: In this frantic week of campaigning, Mark Latham has visited the University of South
Australia confident Labor's policy of rolling back HECS would be a vote-winner among students.

MARK LATHAM: If we win on Saturday we will get the parliament back before Christmas so we can stop
the 25 per cent increase in HECTARES, which has been such a worry through the sector.

MIKE SEXTON: However, for universities, the Latham plan does have some unknowns - chiefly when it
comes to funding.

All universities have already budgeted for next year with HECS increases included, so if those
increases are knocked on the head they'll find themselves with a black hole on their balance sheet.

MICHAEL VENNING, NATIONAL TERTIARY EDUCATION FUND: Certainly, Latham has said he will reverse the
HECS fees increases that have occurred and will increase operating grants.

If he wins, we can only hope he increases operating grants sufficient to compensate the loss in
HECS fee income.

MIKE SEXTON: The National Tertiary Education Union, which represents university staff, says it
isn't supporting any party in this campaign but is targeting the seat of Adelaide in an attempt to
put higher education on the agenda.

Certainly, Labor likes its chances in this sector.

In Adelaide, the universities have hundreds of staff and thousands of students and while not all of
them live in the electorate, remember at the last ballot Trish Worth won by just 343 votes.

MICHAEL VENNING, Certainly there is enough votes to swing it.

It's whether the voters who have them choose to use them or not.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Mike Sexton with that report.

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