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Tuesday, 6 December 1960


Mr BEAZLEY (Fremantle) (12:15 PM) . - The honorable member for Ryan (Mr. Drury) citicized statements made by members of the Opposition and said that what the present Commonwealth Government is doing for university education is far in advance of what the Labour Government did. Of course, that is quite true. I recall that, when the Labour Government was spending £88,000,000 a year on social services, we replied to criticism by the Liberal Opposition of the day by saying, quite correctly, " When you were in office you spent only £16,000,000". Now, when the present Government is spending £300,000,000, the same process is followed in criticizing the £88,000,000 that was spent by the Labour Government. The truth is that, with the community passing through a process of evolution, our values in relation to these matters are changing. The honorable member for Ryan invited his opponents to look at page 68 of the report of the Australian Universities Commission. If he looks at page 69, he will see this interesting statement -

In Table 3 it will be noticed that endowment income and donations have increased from £219,000 in 1940 to £656,000 in 1960. In the same period, however, the total recurrent income increased from £1,050,000 to £22,680,000. The income from endowments and donations has thus decreased from 20.8 per cent, to 2.8 per cent, of the total recurrent income.

One would be adopting a false approach if one were to contend that, because in 1960 the incomes of universities are 22 times as great as they were in 1940, the volume of education given in Australian universities has advanced 22 times.

Quite apart from the difference in the amount of money expended, we are confronted with the fact that over a period of ten years' knowledge, especially in the scientific fields, has doubled itself. In 1940, no university was involved in expenditure on cyclotrons or the structure of nuclear physics, because universities had not entered that field. That does not alter the fact that the universties of those days produced the people who made the scientific advances that have been made and which have been so expensive to universities. This process will continue. I have no doubt that, if this Government went out of office next year, there would be increased expenditure by the incoming Government or, alternatively, if there is another Liberal Government which displays even an ordinary interest in the subject of university education, there will be further advances. These are fields in which the values of the Australian community are changing, and the government of the day reflects those changing values.

There is, however, a strange paradox - the diminishing ideal in Australia of the free university. In the latest issue of " Vestes ", Vice-Admiral Rickover, who is a leading scientist in the United States Navy and is perhaps the inventor, if one may use that term, of the nuclear-powered submarine, speaks with alarm about the sloppy state of American education and compares it unfavourably with the efficiency that is being displayed in Russia. He warns us against the idea that, if you have a democratic education structure, ipso facto it will be good when compared with that of totalitarian countries. Going back a century, he points out that authoritarian Prussia started elementary education, high school education and education in the gymnasia long before democratic Britain or the United States, and did so much more efficiently. Leaving that aside, Admiral Rickover has this comment to make -

So progressive dogma has sold out the American dream that the best of education should be free to every child in this country. What education we are giving the majority of our children is rarely above the elementary level. The best of education now costs more money here and takes three to four years longer to obtain than in other democracies or in totalitarian U.S.S.r.; abroad, even professional education is free or costs so little that few are barred by poverty.

This backwardness constitutes a serious indictment of our schools, especially now, when education determines technological power.

He goes on to say -

To-day technological advances are rarely brought about by mechanical skill, which merely improves known techniques through ingenuity. The advances come through the ability of talented, well-educated persons with highly developed professional skills to apply known principles to unforeseen problems, and through this process to derive new principles, and so on ad infinitum. Existing knowledge is the foundation upon which new knowledge is built. The country that has the greatest number of genuinely educated people must inevitably win in the end. Those who prevent our schools from really educating our youth undermine the foundations of our freedom and national power. These are harsh words, but they are the absolute truth.

One of the things that is very hard to understand is that, although the Commonwealth Government and the State governments are becoming increasingly involved with the universities and are increasingly giving them grants, and although there has been a trebling of endowments, the fees being charged by the universities are constantly rising. It seems to be that in Western Australia, which once prided itself on having a free university, the idea of free university education has been abandoned. I am indebted to the Registrar of that State university for drawing my attention to the rises and the projected rises in fees.

I refer to this because I am coming back to what Admiral Rickover had to say about something that is becoming common in Europe and is definitely in existence in Russia. I refer to the fact that it is possible to obtain an advanced education free. In Western Australia, despite Commonwealth grants, it will be harder for the child of poor parents to go to the State university than it was ten years ago. For instance, in the faculty of arts the first-year fees in 1950 were £7 5s., and the fees for other years were £5 15s. Next year, the firstyear fees will be £40 and those for other years will be £40 also. In 1950, the first year fees for law were £7 and for other years £4 15s. Beginning in 1961, they will be £40 in the first year and £40 for other years. For the faculty of education, the rise for the first year is from £8 15s. to £40; in pure science, from £9 15s. to £50; in engineering, from £8 to £50; and in agriculture, from £11 15s. to £50. In 1950, the fees for the faculty of medicine were £12 in the first year. In that year there were no second or subsequent years in medicine, because the university had not then established its medical faculty beyond the first year. Now the fees for subsequent years will be £90. I would say that university education in Western Australia was more accessible before the war than it is to-day, having regard to the fees and charges that I have mentioned, in spite of the fact that the Commonwealth Government is making these grants

On page 64 of the commission's report is set out the Commonwealth's share of the expenditure. There has been a tendency to speak as though the Commonwealth will be finding £103,000,000 for the next triennium. The Commonwealth's share of expenditure for universities other than the Australian National University in the triennium is to be £40,809,000, whilst the States' share is to be £62,425,000. So we are not enacting legislation now to commit the Commonwealth to an expenditure of £103,000,000; we are enacting legislation to commit the Commonwealth to an expenditure of £40,809,000. By other legislation, we are committing ourselves to an expenditure of £14,406,000 for the Australian National University.

On page 17 of the commission's report are to be found tables 10 and 11. Table 10 relates to past predictions and table 11 predictions of future enrolments at the universities. Although there are references to selective entries and to raising the standards for admission to the universities, I am afraid that the standard which is in fact being developed by raising the fees is not an intellectual but an economic standard. It may be a factor which reduces enrolments, but it may reduce enrolments at the universities at some expense to the community in the way of loss of latent ability and valuable manpower.

It is interesting, when comparing these two tables, to note that the prediction for 1960 was 48,040 enrolments, and that the actual enrolments were 53,000. That gives rise to the rather alarming thought that the estimate of 96,000 enrolments for the future may well be an under estimate. If there was an under-estimate of 5,000 in the past, then, on a comparable basis, the figure predicted for the future might well be under-estimated by 10,000.


Mr Bandidt - And, equally it could be a slight over-estimate.


Mr BEAZLEY - Yes, but the table giving the enrolments in the seventeen to 22 years age group shows that in 1946 there were 17,166 university students or 2.3 per cent, of the 742,000 in that age group.

The figure rose to 5.8 per cent, by 1959. I cannot see any reason why the values of the community will change. I think that the percentage of enrolments will go on increasing. I do not know at what point we shall reach the optimum, when all those who should be going to universities are in fact doing so. I do not know what the percentage would be then.

There is no sign of slackening. The figures all show a continuous growth, and 1 think one can assume that 5.8 per cent, is not the peak.

The comment in the commission's report that if we try to limit the size of the universities, then, on present trends, every couple of years the community will be committed to building another Monash university rather prompts the question: Would it not be better for us to spend money on more universities? The report mentions the rather astonishing fact that Cambridge and Oxford have each managed to keep their numbers down to about 8,000, which is a very much smaller number than the 19,000 at the London University and much smaller than the number at the ordinary Australian universities. I still feel that it would be desirable to build more universities now rather than to allow the existing universities to develop to the degree to which universities have developed in some countries, where they have from 40,000 to 50,000 students. Universities of that size become unmanageable administratively and rather soulless. The report quotes Professor Sanders, of the University of Western Australia, on the unprofitable efforts to eliminate students by raising entrance standards in the sense of examinations Professor Sanders is quoted in the report as having said in respect of a study of academic wastage which he made in Australia and other countries -

Evidence from Australia, the United Kingdom and Canada indicates fairly definitely that an endeavour to improve university pass rates by raising entrance standards . . . does not succeed. For example, on present evidence, it takes a very considerable increase in the entrance examination success of students to improve the university first-year pass rate by as much as 5 to 10 per cent. Further, a not inconsiderable amount of failure occurs among potentially able students, while there is evidence of success among other students who have been admitted on relatively low qualifications. The concensus of informed opinion is that if university pass rates are to be improved, the remedy lies within the universities themselves.

I have never seen any tables of comparison of the failure rates in law, in medicine and, shall we say, the arts and economics faculties. I do not know to what extent the common allegation is true that the failure rate is less a reflection of intellectual incapacity than of a trade union principle of limiting the number of people entering an occupation. I hope that it is not true, but if it is, then quite clearly no tinkering with the standards of entrance are going to solve that problem. In the September issue of " Vestes " there is a very careful study of the extent to which health is a factor in student failures. In an article by W. H. Trethowan, entitled "The Case for a Student Health Service", there is an extremely interesting study of failure in relation to the physical health of students. It is well worth looking at.

The tables of student-staff ratios at pages 37 and 38 of the report are some of the important tables in the document. I think that there is a strong disinclination to regard universities as teaching places. I quite appreciate that a university is not a high school; but it is also a fact that there is far too much complacency in universities about members of the staff who are completely unable to teach. Many of those who are unable to teach are not in some mystic way compensating for that lack by being outstanding figures in research who, at the same time, are incapable of communicating their findings. The suggestion is often made that a man is a brilliant scholar, or is doing some wonderful work in research, but is quite incapable of teaching. It is very interesting to note that Mr. Rowe, the former Vice-Chancellor of the University of

Adelaide, whose book, " If the Gown Fits ", has caused a considerable amount of disturbance, in defending his book in the September issue of " Vestes " has this to say -

Outstanding teaching should be honoured and rewarded for its own sake, regardless of research. During his early years in a university the average student needs to be taught by supervised, and perhaps trained, staff whose primary interest is teaching and who have not been appointed for their records or promise in research. There should be more lecture courses in post graduate years, preferably on a national basis. The much discussed broadening of education is perhaps best provided by teaching broadly round the subject of primary interest and staff may need to be trained to do this. Refresher courses are needed for graduates.

He has this to say about research -

The output of departmental research of recognizable quality is small. Departmental research work does not provide the basic conditions for successful research and will inevitably decline in importance.

I believe that as research requires more and more equipment and becomes deeper and deeper, as with the research undertaken at the Australian National University, the division between the Institute of General Studies, which, in essence, is engaged in teaching, and the research section which engages in research, becomes more marked. This querying as to whether in the ordinary universities departmental research can have the quality that is now necessary is rather timely. Mr. Rowe went on to say -

The value of departmental research is rarely questioned and needs extra-departmental appraisal. Success in research depends more on leadership than on anything else and nothing, including salaries, should hinder the recruitment of men of great repute. Research should be on a national but flexible basis, providing for mobility of staff and research students.

I think that is one field in which the Australian National University can be really valuable; if people who have been developing some line of interesting research in the State universities can transfer to the National University and get on with that research, it is all to the good, but we hope that that will not be an excuse for those who cannot do the actual teaching.

Professor Oliphant once said in a speech which I heard that much of the most valuable research work to-day is done by under-graduates of about twenty years of age who are brought under the guidance of somebody who puts a problem to them and who can provide leadership. From such a team, completely new and pioneering learning often emerges. But it presupposes that some real teaching has been given to those under-graduates to bring them to the point where they are able to see the new aspects of knowledge which it is necessary that they should follow.

The Commonwealth is committing itself over the next few years to granting £16,466,000 for university buildings and £3,902,000 for the Australian National University, which means about £21,000,000 worth of building construction will be undertaken in the universities. It seems to me that only the University of Queensland is battling to provide a dignified building in the traditional university sense. How it has managed to hold out in the face of all the problems associated with stonemasonry nowadays and to go on with the building of a university in stone, I do not know. Perhaps a picture of the cost of university buildings, which would make it very dangerous for us to compare monetary expenditure now with monetary expenditure of the past, is to be seen in the University of Western Australia. There, we have a beautiful group of buildings constructed of stone, but the standard of former years has had to be completely abandoned because of present building costs. Buildings of brick and glass are now being erected.

I think it is inevitable that that should happen. I am not regretting it. If you have good teachers, it does not matter whether the teaching is undertaken in a tin shed. Originally, the University of Western Australia was housed in tin sheds, and some extremely distinguished work was done at that time.


Mr Whitlam - In Athens, the teaching was done in the open air.


Mr BEAZLEY - Yes. It is very sad that the cost of building has increased so much that only in Queensland, where there may be more stonemasons than there are in any other State, has it been possible for the university to continue to build according to a plan. It is amazing to think of what the relatively small endowment of the past, such as the Hackett Bequest, could achieve by comparison with the millions and millions of Commonwealth money that are spent to-day. The huge expenditures of to-day cannot produce buildings comparable with those that were provided in the case of the University of Western Australia for far less than £1,000,000. Let me say that the buildings of that university were completed only in 1931, which is not so very long ago.

The student and staff ratio brings us back to this question of teaching. I feel that university students at undergraduate level can be raised in quality by tutorial work. There is nothing to prevent recent graduates of outstanding ability from being used for tutorial work. I am speaking especially of the arts faculties and I should imagine that this would apply to law. I do not know anything about the medical faculties, although I understand that the universities draw in brilliant medical practitioners from the hospitals round about for tutorial and lecturing work in the university. Of course, that helps the man in his standing outside as a surgeon, physician or specialist. It seems to me that one way of solving the problem, of coping with the enormous increase in the number of students, is to do that sort of thing on a much greater scale. I suggest that the medical faculties should bring in more brilliant doctors or, if they are not available, able doctors, especially those who are able to teach. Universities will have to draw on lots of people who may not be full-time staff but who can do first year undergraduate teaching. Others can then take the students to the later stages.

This very great commitment of the Commonwealth for university education is inevitable if this nation is to be efficient. The viewpoint that is constantly put from this side of the House that the Commonwealth will be required by national necessity to buttress all those levels of education which lead to university and technical education is, I think, sound. I do not know whether we have ever made a survey in order to find out who ought to be going to universities and whether they are going there. That would be a valuable service for the Australian Universities Commission to perform. I remember it once being stated by the vice-chancellor of the University of Western Australia, before the war, that just about all those who were deserving of going to the university of Western Australia, where tuition was then free, and who could qualify were going there. I do not know whether he said that as a result of a scientific analysis or as an expression of his feeling. There ought to be some idea in the mind of the Universities Commission as to what intelligence quotient one requires to go to a university, and what percentage of the population is of that standard. The commission could also take into consideration other factors, such as application, if it wished to do so.

I feel that there should be portrayed in these reports a picture of the degree of success that has been achieved by the universities in attracting those who ought to be there, and also the extent to which there is wastage. I had the advantage of going to a university, but I can remember very many students in secondary schools and primary schools who, although they had far more ability than I had, never went to a university. If I regard myself as having deserved to go there, I must regard their nonappearance in a university as a wastage to the community. I feel that that is one aspect at which we should look; if we do not do so, we cannot really measure the success or failure of the universities to meet the needs of the community.







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