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Tuesday, 6 December 1960


Mr BRYANT (Wills) .- The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Howson) has confirmed the viewpoint expressed on this side of the House by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) that the report of the Australian Universities Commission is, in many respects, superficial. The honorable member approached the whole question of university and tertiary education from the point of view of what the Commonwealth can do with the best possible grace at the lowest possible expenditure. I take issue with the honorable member for Fawkner on some of the principles he has espoused, in case people might get the mistaken idea that he speaks for the majority of the Australian community. First, I direct attention to the suggestion that the Universities Commission proposed to push people through to the predicted number of 95,000 students by 1966. The honorable member suggested that there should be some slowing down process and that there should be some stringent selection. What is involved in this? You will pass this way but once, and if you miss out on opportunities for a university education, you are not likely to get them again on a second time round. We on the Opposition side reject emphatically any suggestion that anybody who has not qualified has not the capacity to attend a university and might not be able to do so.

What are the simple statistics? The birthrate in Australia is about 200,000 a year. The psychologists tell us that between 16 and 20 per cent, of the young people can satisfactorily do a university course. That means about one-sixth of 200,000 born every year - some 30,000 to 40,000 persons - have the capacity to do a university course and obtain whatever comes from it such as the development of personal resources, and return to the community all that flows from it apart from their own personal advantage. At present, and even at the projected 95,000 enrolments, there will still be in the the higher educational bracket only 50 per cent, of the human potential this country has to offer. We cannot afford to lose 50 per cent, of our best possible investment - the brains and the wealth in intellectual capacity of the community. The honorable member for Fawkner was speaking against the general pattern of Australian opinion. Of course, we realize that the projected enrolment as stated at page 18 of the report is likely to be inaccurate. We have already found that the Murray report, which is not so many years old, was inaccurate. There is a rising demand for education in the community. Some of it stems from the rising standard of living and some from the changing attitudes in the community.

I started at high school at Frankston in Victoria in 1927. Some 88 students embarked on the course and only one of them went directly to university. A lot of us were able to benefit from the opportunities offered by the Labour Government after the Second World War; but only one out of 88 was able to go directly to university. Thus we find throughout the community that perhaps fifteen or sixteen of those in the lower forms at high schools, and a higher proportion in the public schools, now eventually reach the university. Now there is a social change and a realization among parents that a university education is something for their children as much as it is for those of the social class from which the honorable member for Fawkner has sprung. That is, of course, implicit in this States Grants (Universities) Bill. The stimulus that flows from it is a first and important contribution. It is inadequate because it starts at the top. It still will be assisting that section of the community which can best afford it. We must find ways to take this principle into the lower echelons of the education system.

What it does do is to bring the idea of a university as part of the Australian community before every person in the community; and that is something we must foster.

I was a teacher in the Victorian Public Service for many years. Not so long before I came to the Parliament, parents came to me on parents' day. You could take the school records and say that Mary or Bill should undertake a university course. They had not thought of it for their children. They were from the artisan class. They had not given much thought to that possibility; but the foundations that were laid between 1946 and 1949 have stimulated enthusiasm for higher education in the community. I believe the universities system has given further stimulus to it, but the system will finally break down unless we are able to take this enthusiasm into the top brackets, particularly of the secondary schools.

There are many questions which remain unanswered throughout this report in relation to its implementation. The honorable member for Fawkner seemed to be staggered by the cost. I thought he came from a group in the community and a family which thought in millions. The report at page 54 shows us that actual expenditure by the Commonwealth over the next few years will be £40,809,000 and by the States £6,425,000. An amount of £40,000,000 is a lot of money, but I remind the House that it is only the cost of fifteen Boeing aircraft. I remind honorable members that there is no difficulty in finding money for at least one other branch of tertiary education. The Royal Military College at Duntroon, not so very far from this building, has some 230 students, and it costs about £750,000 a year to run. Every military cadet, therefore, is costing about £3,000 per annum to train. We cannot complain, therefore, when we are asked to find £500 a year to train students in other professions. It is a simple matter of community priorities.

The commission, of course, has not as yet really grappled with the problems, first, of the economic difficulties in which average Australian parents find themselves, and secondly, of raising the quality of the students coming from the schools. Perhaps " quality " is not the correct word; per haps I should say the capacity of students to cope with their university careers, because in most respects the quality is undenied. The students must have a fair amount of native intelligence if they are to pass the matriculation exam. The honorable member for Fawkner said that there must be some form of selection. The matriculation examination is, of course, very selective. It is a very high hurdle for most students to jump over. There are, in fact, two hurdles; the first is represented by the intellectual capacity to pass the examination, and the second by the economic difficulties of the parents in getting their children through. I am looking for answers, first to the economic question, and, secondly, to the question of surmounting the intellectual hurdle by providing better secondary education facilities. This will mean the provision of more teachers and more schools, and I believe it will require Commonwealth activity at the secondary education level. This will be necessary before we can make satisfactory progress in the field of tertiary education.

These are matters that are apparent to every person in the community who is interested in the subject of education, and I hope that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), in the short period of Prime Ministership that is possibly left to him, will turn his attention to these important and pressing national problems. The Commonwealth has become the principal buttress of university education, and this development has interesting ramifications. One of the most significant developments in Australian higher secondary and tertiary education has been the increased activity of Labour governments. When the Commonwealth adopts the practice of subsidizing tertiary education on more or less a £1- for-£l basis, the States that have done the most to develop their higher education facilities now find, although they receive a higher proportion of the Commonwealth grant, that they have to find greater amounts to meet that grant, on the basis of £1.8 of their own money for every £1 of Commonwealth money. This must represent a substantial drain on the financial resources of, for example, the New South Wales Government.

In this respect I would point out to the Prime Minister that the report that we are discussing is not really a national Australian report. The approach adopted by the commission to the universities questions is based on considerations of an aggregation of State universities. The basic concept is of necessary finance being found by the State governments. This may well be a sound idea from the point of view of ensuring regional autonomy for the universities, but the whole concept of depending upon State financial activities is wrongly based. This, of course, was the idea implicit in the Prime Minister's own speech, when he suggested that the prime financial responsibility rests with the State governments and that therefore we should leave i he matter to their initiative.

Another anomaly arises from the fact that in New South Wales a higher proportion of students manage to reach matriculation standard, and therefore there is keener competition for Commonwealth scholarships. I believe this to be unfair to students in New South Wales, and that a truly national approach should be made to the question. It is important for all honorable members to realize that New South Wales has made a substantial contribution to university education. Figures given by the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics show that in 1959 the New South Wales Government spent £3,036,734 on university education, while Victoria spent £1,044,604. Three times as much money was spent by the New South Wales Government as by the Victorian Government, while relative population figures show that New South Wales has 37.5 per cent, of the Australian population, and Victoria 28.33 per cent. With the addition of grants, money from fees, and so on. expenditure on universities in New South Wales totalled £5.611,886 in 1959, as compared with Victoria's expenditure of £2.565,286. Expenditure in New South Wales was a good deal more than twice as much as the expenditure in Victoria. This means, of course, that there is not equality of opportunity for university education for Victorian and New South Wales scholars. This is another sound reason why a national Australian overall approach should be made to the question of university education. Similar proportions, of course, are reflected throughout the whole structure of higher education as between the two States. The total number of staff in New South Wales in 1959 was 4,205, while in Victoria it was 1,739

I put these facts to the House, because I believe we will have to adopt a national approach in this field of Commonwealth activity, as we have done in other fields, and there is no indication of a national approach in the report, nor, indeed, was there one in the Prime Minister's speech. I hope that the conservative tendency, which was obvious from the right honorable gentlemen's speech and is apparent throughout the report, to preserve the precious, sacred constitutional position, will be overcome, and that the Government will realize the necessity to provide equality of opportunity for all Australians, no matter what their economic background, or under what State Government they are fortunate or unfortunate enough to live.

Another interesting feature of the question is that the emergencies of two, three or even five years ago, which resulted in the appointment of the Murray committee, have become the plans of to-day. It is obvious from the remarks of the honorable member for Fawkner and honorable members on this side of the House that a state of emergency exists in university education, as in every other form of education, but one fails to discern any sense of urgency in this report. We must appreciate, first, the economic difficulties which restrict the opportunities of most children in the community to enter the universities. Only in the last few days I have discovered that in Victoria the books necessary to study for the matriculation examination alone cost £40 a year, or almost £1 a week. This is a substantial financial burden, and we should consider making grants to students to help them meet this commitment. I also remind honorable members that the Commonwealth scholarship scheme has become completely out of touch with increasing demands for scholarships. In the last few years university enrolments have ben continually increasing. Figures published by the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics show that in 1955 there were 8,525 new enrolments in universities. This number of course, includes a few people studying for higher degrees and so on, who would not ordinarily be counted as applicants for Commonwealth scholarships. In that year. of course, there were 3,000 Commonwealth scholarships available. The number of new enrolments in the following years was as follows: -

 


Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - How many scholarships were available in those years?


Mr BRYANT - In every year the number of Commonwealth scholarships has remained at 3,000.


Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - You must have made a mistake.


Mr BRYANT - No, there has been no mistake. In addition, the report that has been tabled in the Parliament shows the number of scholarships that has been recommended for 1961, quite apart from other announcements that have been made. If there is one part of the report that stings me, showing, as it does, a miserable approach and one indicative of a social attitude that receives no support on this side of the House, it is this sentence -

After careful examination, the Commonwealth Scholarships Board has recommended that the number of scholarships should be increased to 4,000 in 1961.

Is that not remarkable? The Victorian report directs attention to the urgent need to increase the number of Commonwealth scholarships; the Murray report states that the number of Commonwealth scholarships should be increased, and now the Commonwealth Scholarships Board after careful examination has recommended an increase to 4,000 in 1961. This is not a matter which has to receive the approval of Parliament. I understand that the Commonwealth scholarship scheme is administered by regulation. What kind of careful consideration was given to this scheme which in this year will give perhaps only 25 per cent, of new students at universities the opportunity to obtain a Commonwealth scholarship? Reference to the annual report of the Commonwealth Scholarships Board indicates that in 1959 in New South Wales there were 5,975 applications for scholarships but only 1,794 were granted. So, there were over 4,000 disappointed applicants in that State alone. In Victoria there were 3,728 appli cations and only 1,230 scholarships were granted; in Queensland there were 1,481 applications and only 698 were granted; in South Australia, there were 1,277 applications and only 367 were granted; in Western Australia there were 523 applications and only 271 were granted, and in Tasmania there were 256 applications and only 162 were granted. There was a total of 13,240 applications in Australia but a number of applicants dropped out because they obtained bursaries from other bodies such as the State teaching services. The number selected for scholarships was 4,522, but this number was reduced to 3,000, so there were more than 10,000 unsuccessful applicants. Depending on the university and the State, at present about 70 per cent, or 80 per cent, of the candidates who sit for the matriculation examination pass it. This means that between 7,000 and 8,000 people who pass the matriculation examination and qualify for university courses are not able to undertake them without the support of the Commonwealth.

It is no small thing to undertake a university course, particularly if you intend to pay for it yourself. Because of the increasing dependence of State governments on the Commonwealth scholarship scheme and other bursaries, the tendency is for universities to increase their fees. In Melbourne arts subjects and most law subjects cost £27 a year each; science and firstyear chemistry cost £37 10s. a year each, and physics III. costs £114 a year. The average cost per subject ranges from £27 to £40 a year so that in Melbourne the actual cost of fees alone in any one year, not allowing for maintenance - all honorable members know what that would be for a student between seventeen and twenty years of age - is £114 for most courses and £108 for first-year law, commerce and arts. I cite these figures to make clear to honorable members, and to the community generally, that university education in Australia is very expensive and that only a small proportion of the students who undertake it receive Commonwealth or any other kind of assistance. This year 52 per cent, of students at the University of Melbourne pay their own fees. That is a serious matter. The economics of the situation must be preventing large numbers of students from attending the university.

One of the figures, that interests me from the social aspect is that in Melbourne although only 8 per cent, of students are in the major public schools, 22 per cent, of students at the university come from those schools. This is another social attitude which stems principally from a decision of the parents based on the economic aspect. Therefore, we must do something towards maintaining students, in Victoria at least, in the fifth and sixth years and in other States in the fifth year of high school. Something must be done if we are to overcome this obstruction, this stoppage, this blind spot in our education system.

Other things flow from the comments in the report and from other statements. Dr. Wyndham, Director of Education in New South Wales, has pointed out that the age of students entering university is becoming lower. This is what he said -

The leaving certificate examination was an examination originally designed for a group of candidates more than half of whom would be 18 years of age by the end of their last secondary school year. This was the case in 1920. By 193S, the proportion of these older pupils had fallen to 35 per cent.: by 1955 the proportion had fallen to 15 per cent. In the latter year, nearly 60 per cent, of candidates from public secondary schools were under the age of 17.

There is an economic pressure on parents which forces them to press their children on to higher education at the earliest possible age. We could overcome satisfactorily the difficulties of most students in the first year at university by giving them an additional year at high school so that when they went to the university they would be better prepared for the task ahead of them.

One of the problems of Australian education to which I wish to direct the attention of the Prime Minister - this matter has been raised on previous occasions and he has responded to it - relates to tertiary education and in particular the training of teachers. The Commonwealth is now assisting in the training of other professions - doctors, architects, lawyers, engineers, dentists and scientists of all kinds - but the teaching profession is to a great extent left out in the cold, except in relation to graduates of universities who ere doing post-graduate courses in diploma education at the University of Melbourne and similar courses at other universities. This is a field in which the State governments operate alone, but it is a field in which the Commonwealth logically could extend its assistance. It is the very key to the education system. The Crowther report in England stated the position in this way -

Everything in education depends ultimately on the teacher, and everything in educational progress depends upon there being teachers with the right qualities, and in the right numbers, to carry it out.

That deficiency will be overcome only by a dramatic and dynamic programme implemented by the Commonwealth and State governments in co-operation. This is probably the most pressing problem facing the Australian education system at present. It is generally accepted by educationalists that our teachers could receive more training. England with its difficulties, pressures, great population and background of conservatism is advancing. It has raised the school leaving age, and in two or three years' time will introduce three-year training for afl teachers. Some of our States are still backward. In Victoria and South Australia and, I think, in Western Australia and Queensland the school leaving age is fourteen years. In New South Wales it is fifteen and in Tasmania it is sixteen years, but in other part of the world sixteen is accepted as the logical school leaving age.

Those are the problems that must he solved in relation to education, but the Commonwealth Government is not making any progress in solving them. We on this side of the House support, as a general principle, the recommendations contained in the report and the bill which enacts those recommendations. Until we have some forthright approach to education and give it a top priority, and until we are prepared to put into it the same amount of money and the same degree of administrative care as we put into other fields of government, the country will be deficient m the development of its principal and most valuable resource - the mind and the intellect of its people.







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