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Tuesday, 6 December 1960


Mr COURTNAY (Darebin) .- The honorable member for Ryan (Mr. Drury) seemed somewhat annoyed that there had been .some criticism - in his opinion, unfair criticism - of the work and the report of the Australian Universities Commission. All I want to say about that is that I think the commission applied itself industriously to its task, and it has brought down its report. In the course of his second-reading speech the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) said that the bill proposes to give effect, not to all of the recommendations of the commission, but in general to the recommendations of the commission. I was most interested in the remarks of the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Howson). He said - correctly, too - that the task of the universities is to train the best brains in the community to the highest possible level. He had some doubts as to whether or not the estimate of the projected increase in the student population of universities from 42,000 to 95,000 was warranted. He went on to say that some attention should be given to earlier training, mentioning the sixth form standard at secondary school level, and that some benefit in respect of university training would be derived as a result of improved earlier training.

I think that the approach - this Government approach anyhow - to education is incorrect. I speak as a person who, due to the poverty of his parents, never had the advantage of any of the higher forms of education. I consider that to make provision for an extension of university training is quite good in all circumstances, but at the same time, I think it does not make sense for the Government to refuse to take some responsiblity for the prerequisite to university training - primary and secondary education.


Mr England - They are all complementary.


Mr COURTNAY - Yes, they are all complementary. There would be no university training without primary and secondary school training beforehand. Secondary education at present cannot be improved because the States simply cannot afford to meet what would be required of them financially in improving it. A recent report printed and published by the New South Wales Teachers Federation, a copy of which I think every honorable member received, deals generally with the problems of primary and secondary education and, for that matter, tertiary education. It says -

The classrooms, teachers and teachers' colleges needed to meet the minimum requirements of the schools will cost millions of pounds. (In Victoria, a committee of inquiry appointed by the Government found that an additional £50 million would be needed over the next five years to meet the minimum needs of the schools. The actual needs of the other States are revealed in a report prepared by the respective Ministers for Education. This was to have been presented to the Prime Minister at the Premiers' Conference this year. This document should be submitted to the Prime Minister immediately and released to the public because it would show that, like Victoria, all the other States .need additional funds for education, running into millions of pounds.

Sums of this magnitude can only be provided by the Federal Government, the main taxing authority for the nation.

I think we must agree that sums of the magnitude that would be required to bring our primary and secondary education to a better standard, which is so much desired if we are to have a proper basis for university education, can 'be found only by the

Commonwealth. Yet time after time we have raised this matter only to receive a flat refusal from the Government, only to be told that it is purely a matter for the States. In the words of the Prime Minister, " That is the position, and one hundred speeches won't make any difference." I think that is a wrong attitude to take towards education generally, because if we are to maintain our position as a western civilization in an Asian setting we simply have to realize that our people must be educated to the highest possible standard.

I want to give a quotation from the " Professional Engineers Journal ". That journal points out that Dr. David Warren of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization stated -

.   . Australian technologists must get better salaries and social standing if we are to keep pace with world scientific advances.

Speaking at the Council of Adult Education summer school at Albury recently, he said that Russia realized 30 years ago that her future place in the world would depend on technological advances and was now getting the benefit.

It has long been clear that the full development of Australia depends increasingly on the support we give to science and scientists. In medicine, engineering, physics and other fields, Australians of talent continue to drift to overseas appointments. Unless we do more to attract and hold gifted students to careers in science, our standards will suffer. The value of extending our university facilities will be largely discounted if professional careers do not offer more encouraging rewards.

He also said -

If the Western democracies do not meet the challenge in the material sphere of production of food and power, they will certainly not win the conflict for the minds of the hungry.

The Soviet bloc has produced scientists and engineers in such numbers that they not only can hurl a planet to the sun, but even more important, they can send hundreds of their graduates to assist the undeveloped countries.

It is clear from Soviet achievements that the Soviet graduate is no less capable than his Western counterpart. Much of the Soviet success has been achieved by making the technological professions attractive in status and reward.

The importance of this measure should be clear to all of us. The most recent figures that I could extract show that in pure and applied science, Russia has 336 graduates for each 1,000,000 of population, the United

States of America 281 and Australia 79. I put it to the honorable member for Fawkner that the proposal to double the number of students at our universities is not too extravagant. Perhaps when the number is doubled we will find that further expansion of our universities is necessary. The Prime Minister said that we must match the world in scholarship, in technology and in trade.

One of the disappointing features of this legislation was mentioned by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) who said that no guarantee is given that there will not be restrictive quotas or general restrictions on entry to universities. I think the bill contains a further disappointment. As I said earlier, I speak as one who did not have the advantage and could not possibly have had the advantage of a higher education because of the economic position of my parents. If we intend to approach this problem seriously and to match the iron curtain countries, we must ensure that university training, particularly in the sciences, is available to every child who has the mental equipment and the capacity to qualify for such education. Apart from the question of imposed restrictions, there is no need for economic restrictions and they should not be permitted. Some lads - and lasses, too, for that matter - cannot obtain higher education because of the economic factor, though they are probably better equipped for it than those who are able to receive it. The Universities Commission could well have paid some attention to this matter.

The Murray committee certainly gave some consideration to it, and it also considered secondary and technical education. It reported -

Though we made no close inquiry into the arrangements for secondary education we were sufficiently impressed by the evidence presented of wastage of talent at the secondary school level, due to early leaving, to suggest this problem merits close attention. For example, the 1954 Commonwealth Census revealed that only 45.8 per cent, of the 15 year olds, 20.5 per cent, of the 16 year olds and 9.4 per cent of the 17 year olds are in full-time education of any sort.

When the committee said that the problem merited close attention, it surely meant immediate attention, and I suggest that it meant immediate attention by this Government. This Government has been asked to give the problem immediate attention. Early in the year, a conference attended by some 3,000 delegates was held in Sydney. The conference asked the Government to set up a committee of inquiry similar to the Murray committee so that the needs of what is at present regarded as a purely State problem of primary and secondary education could be properly investigated. The Government refused. Of course, there could be no doubt as to the result of such an investigation. A committee conducting such an investigation would have to report that it is necessary for further Commonwealth aid to be given to the States so that they may properly meet this problem. After all, this touches on the university problem, because primary and secondary education provide the basic training, and this cannot be given properly while the schools are starved of buildings, teachers and finance. Only the Commonwealth can provide the finance necessary to carry out this work. The same comments apply to technical schools.

Two years ago, in Victoria, the Standards Association of Australia set new standards for the welding of pressure vessels. The Victorian Government introduced legislation requiring that a very high standard, the highest in the world, be achieved by a pressure line welder before he is permitted to weld pressure vessels. This is because of the danger to the public if such vessels burst. Although the Government imposed that requirement by legislation, not one technical school in Australia was equipped either with grants or with teachers to enable it to give instruction at the required standard. As a consequence, some large industries were held up. The Victorian Education Department said it would like to meet the requirements, but at least two years would elapse before it could establish such a school and give training to the standard required to satisfy the requirements of the Standards Association of Australia.

A serious situation developed, and the industry itself had to establish a school. I think this school is unique. It is unique in Australia, anyhow. It was established in this fashion: The employers and the union met to discuss the matter. Wages were raised by ls. a week and the union then imposed a levy of ls. a week on all its members, thus raising £10,000 a year to establish this school, which is still the only one in Australia capable of training to the required standards. That sort of thing should not be necessary. The State Government should have been able to establish such a school. That is what has happened in one industry.

I know that this is a little wide of the actual report of the Australian Universities Commission, but the point that I wish to make is that the commission has declared that attention should be given to primary, secondary and tertiary training so that the training prerequisite for university study can be given to the best possible advantage.

In conclusion, I should like to say that we on this side of the House feel that the Government's approach to this problem of meeting our educational requirements is not achieving what is needed. We must meet our educational requirements if we are to continue to exist as an independent nation in our Asian setting and if we are to compete with and trade against those whom some consider to be our real enemies. We must train technicians and scientists in order that we may maintain our national existence. In my view, the Government's whole approach to this problem simply does not make common sense. The Government tries to consider one phase of education in isolation from the rest, whereas each is complementary to the rest. I believe that ultimately this Government will have to realize that it has a responsibility to cover the whole field of education, as it can do, rather than concentrate soley on one field which, to some extent, is primarily for the privileged. I do not say that in any spirit of criticism of the universities and those associated with them. I say it merely in order to highlight the fact that apart from artificial restrictions on entry to the universities there are economic restrictions - economic reasons why the best brains are not always trained to the highest level.

Wednesday, 7 December 1960







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