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Tuesday, 6 December 1960


Mr WHITLAM (Werriwa) (1:48 AM) , - Mr. Deputy Speaker, we are all in the debt of the honorable member for New England (Mr. Drummond) for the great contributions he has made to university education in Australia as the father of the only university to be founded between the two world wars and still the only university to be founded outside the capital cities. The bill, implements the financial recommendations of the first report of the Australian Universities Commission. Much of the financial provision in the last three years, pursuant to the report of the Murray committee, has been spent on university buildings. Every campus in Australia has been transformed in that period. The first report of the Australian Universities Commission recommends further generous provisions, and we are unanimously adopting those recommendations for further building in every Australian university. Every campus will be transformed still further in the approaching triennium.

In two other respects the commission's first report is somewhat of a disappointment. It is not as stimulating or as penetrating as the report presented by the Murray committee. 1 refer to the two aspects of students and staff. The provision that the commission has recommended for students will increase the number of Commonwealth scholarships by one-third. The present number of 3,000 scholarships has remained unchanged since 1951 and the commission points out that in the intervening years the pool of matriculants has increased two and a half times. Not all matriculants enter universities, but the number of students who have entered universities has doubled between 1951 and the present year. If the anticipated increase in enrolments occurs next year, even with the increase in scholarships from 3,000 to 4,000 which has been approved, the number of new students receiving Commonwealth scholarships will be only about 24 per cent., whereas in 1951, the first year of the scheme, it was 39 per cent.

The commission points out that in 1957-58, 80 per cent, of British university students were assisted, whereas in 1958 only 49 per cent, of Australian university students were assisted, 23.3 per cent, being in receipt of Commonwealth scholarships. The increase, now, of one-third in the number of Commonwealth scholarships will bring the number of Australian university students receiving assistance to somewhere about 57 per cent. Two years ago in Britain the Anderson committee recommended that every student accepted by a university should receive a scholarship. I draw that comparison because it is one which the commission makes and I believe it shows that we are still not tackling this problem boldly enough. As the honorable member for New England (Mr. Drummond) so rightly pointed out, no young man of talent or, indeed, of adequate capacity, should be deprived of the opportunity of university education. Long ago we accepted the principle of free primary education. Between the two world wars we accepted the principle of free secondary education. We still do not accept the principle of free tertiary education.

One still has the suspicion that the number of scholarships now being recommended is being kept artificially low for the same reason as the number has been kept at 3,000 up to this stage - to relieve the pressure on universities. It will be remembered that in September, 1957, the Murray committee reported that the number of scholarships offered should be increased without delay. In August, 1958, eleven months later, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) issued a statement, outside the House, to the effect that the Government would not at that stage increase the number of Commonwealth scholarships because university accommodation was already under great pressure. In the following March he told the honorable member for Ballaarat (Mr. Erwin) that one of the great problems was accommodation in the universities because these scholarships were very numerous. The reason why the number of scholarships has not been increased until now is to price some of the candidates out of the field in order to relieve pressure on the universities.

If it is necessary or desirable to keep down the number of university enrolments, the proper method would be to impose some test other than a means test, in order to keep university education, which the governments largely subsidize for everybody, including those who pay fees, for those who can benefit most from it. The worst way of keeping the numbers down is to put university education beyond the financial reach of a certain proportion of people. We are improving the position, but it is still quite obvious that in the 1960's the amount of assistance which will be available to matriculants to go to universities will be very much less than it was when the 1950's dawned in this country.

I pass next to the position of the university staffs. This, unquestionably, is the greatest problem facing Australian universities. We are meeting the challenge of accommodation. It is within our means, both financially and, in this Parliament, constitutionally, to provide benefits to students. We can make it possible for every student who can qualify for entrance to university to enter a university. But we still have not solved the problem of attracting adequate staffs. The commission recognizes this problem but it is very disappointing in its approach to it. It largely contents itself with the statement -

It is difficult to see the solution of this staffing problem if the present pattern of tertiary education persists.

Again the commission notes, somewhat forlornly, this quotation from an American report -

Can the institutions of the nation, staffed with corps of teachers whose average amount of preparation falls from year to year, continue to produce educated citizens?

Up to now we have met the problem by attracting the necessary additional staff to Australian universities from the United Kingdom, but that source is drying up. The United Kingdom itself is very greatly expanding its own university and tertiary education facilities. It is also meeting in an admirable way, the challenge to staff a very great number of international bodies and institutions in those communities which are emerging into self-government in association with our Commonwealth of Nations. There are fewer British academics now available for recruitment in Australia. In fact, the only country whose academics will find Australia more attractive than their own country, is New Zealand. We are already very greatly in debt to New Zealand academics, from Copland to Webb. It is probable that we shall still be the light on the hill to all those New Zealanders who cannot quite make the grade to the United Kingdom itself, but we shall continue to lose academics to the United Kingdom. The only time the trend was reversed was when the Australian National University was set up and we offered some of our greatest expatriates chairs or deanships in that institution.

We have always suffered the loss of some of the brightest products of our Australian universities. I suppose that is inevitable, as we are one of the outlying parts of the English-speaking world. Every large community or cultural group has that disadvantage. People inevitably go to the largest centres of population. Belgians go to Paris, Americans go to New York and

Australians go to London. Nevertheless it is disappointing to see that the commission does not suggest how this problem can be overcome. Australia's isolation, geographically and culturally, means that we shall clearly have to offer greater inducements by way of sabbatical leave, research facilities and so on if we are to attract first-grade people from overseas to Australian universities, or if we are to retain all our own first-rate men. It is so much easier and more attractive for them to go to other centres, particularly in the United Kingdom, where publishing facilities, academic circles and the whole cultural setup are so much more flourishing and integrated. There are three particular aspects-


Mr McMahon - What is the good of this at this hour of night, with no one listening?


Mr WHITLAM - That could have been said at any time during the last three hours. We do not arrange the speaking time. We are all speaking for the record.


Mr McMahon - I suppose that is all it is, but what a waste of time!


Mr WHITLAM - The Opposition is not responsible for arranging the business of the House. It is an unfortunate fact, of course, that university bills are usually discussed at the end of a session. I regret that the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) has now gone out in high dudgeon again. The 1951 bill was taken through all stages in the early morning hours of the last day on which Parliament sat in that year. The 1953 bill was taken through all stages during the early morning session of the last day, which concluded at 5.20 a.m. The 1955 bill passed through all stages in the last week of the session. The 1956 bill, was passed on the last night of the session. On this occasion we at least have the rest of to-day and all to-morrow to sit, but we are following the usual tradition, burning the midnight oil on a universities bill.

There are three matters to which I wish to direct the Government's attention. The Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck) is the only responsible person still in the House on the Government side. He is a product of what used to be the only free university in Australia. I would hope that these three matters which are in the Government's jurisdiction would be dealt with in good time and at a proper hour, before much further time elapses. They are the questions of teaching hospitals, technological education and teachers' colleges.

The question of teaching hospitals illustrates quite well the length of time that it takes for the Government to get under way. In September, 1957 the Murray committee singled out medical education as a problem which would require very careful consideration and discussion in the near future. In April, 1959 the State Ministers for Health took the matter up with the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies). In August, 1959 he referred the matter to the new Australian Universities Commission. In early December of last year he appointed an advisory committee to inquire into the matter. The committee, naturally enough - because this is a vast field - has not yet reported. I content myself with pointing out that it was over two years before this committee was set up to inquire into this field of tertiary education.

The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Howson) earlier - actually it was last night, at quite a reasonable hour - compared university enrolments in the United Kingdom and in Australia. The question of teaching hospitals demonstrates that there are a number of persons who are regarded as university students in Australia but are not so regarded in the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, whatever their students are called, teaching hospitals are part of tertiary education and they are accepted as such both in the United Kingdom and in Australia. This is one matter on which the Government has set in train the action which will lead to a report, but it waited for over two years to do so.


Mr Howson - You must not expect the report to be furnished quickly.


Mr WHITLAM - I expressly said that. It is a complicated matter and it naturally takes quite a time to look into it.

The next matter is that of technological education. The Murray committee again made quite a forthright recommendation on that subject in these terms -

The situation is indeed a complex one and calls for far closer examination than it has been possible for us to give. Such an investigation would call for participation by the various interests in the Commonwealth and State Governments, the universities, the technical colleges and industry. It should start by ascertaining more clearly what are the actual needs of industry and then make recommendations to find the best ways of meeting them.

The Universities Commission in its report said that among the typical issues which might call for the assistance of advisory committees in the future was technological education at the tertiary level. In the meantime, in November, 1957, the Australian Academy of Science reported to the Government that drastic measures should be taken to train more scientists and technologists. The report said that, per head of population, Australia was producing only half as many scientists as Great Britain and Canada, between one-third and one-quarter as many as the United States, and only a quarter as many as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

This is a matter which was strongly recommended by the Murray committee in September, 1957, and was referred to in the terms I have just quoted by the Australian Academy of Science in November, 1957. It has been put to the Government in the first report of the Universities Commission in October of this year. One would hope that not much longer will elapse before the Government sets up this committee to inquire into another feature of tertiary education. The Australian Universities Commission Act leaves it to the Prime Minister, the responsible Minister, to appoint such a committee. The Universities Commission and the Murray committee pointed to the need for such a committee. Let us hope it is not long before we have it.

The third matter is that of teachers' colleges. The Murray committee reported on the basic nature of teacher training in universities, and indeed in other forms of education. At paragraph 31, it said -

One major and critical field of graduate employment is that of teaching. Unless the schools can be staffed with soundly trained graduates, it is obvious that the whole educational edifice is threatened, for the schools, and the quality of their staff, will determine largely the volume of the flow of students into the universities and of graduates into the community. To-day the secondary schools, and particularly the high schools which provide an education to matriculation standard, are making heavy demand on the universities for graduates in arts, mathematics and science.

The commission in its report gives as one of the reasons for the very large - in fact, the unexpectedly large - flow of students into universities the rapid increase in the numbers of young people recruited by Education Departments to undertake teacher training courses involving university enrolment. On many occasions honorable members have referred to the fact that the Commonwealth Government takes no interest in education other than at the tertiary level, but teachers' colleges are a form of tertiary education which is basic not only to other forms of tertiary education but to every form of education. Several of us have raised this matter with the Prime Minister from time to time. In September of last year he gave an answer to me in these terms -

As for the matter of teachers' colleges, to the extent that this involves what might be called in a broad sense the university field, the commission will undoubtedly look at it. lt is a matter of regret to a very great number of us that the commission makes no reference to the problem other than in the passage I have mentioned. One would have hoped that in this matter the commission would seek the appointment of an advisory committee and that the Prime Minister would make such an appointment.

It is not easy to solve all the problems of national growth and university growth. The commission has on this occasion produced largely a statistical bulletin. It may not have had the opportunity to sort out all the remedies. Firstly, there is quite clearly some need for an investigation into how many people could benefit from university education in Australia or how many people want to benefit from it. We can then judge how far we are meeting the demand or the challenge.

Secondly - and this is a very large problem - the commission has given us painfully small assistance on how to attract staff to Australian universities and other tertiary institutions. Thirdly, it is to be hoped that we shall have in a reasonable time, considering the complexity of the subject, the Advisory Committee's report on teaching hospitals, and that similar committees will be set up to report on technological education as recommended by the Murray committee over three years ago, and on the problem of teachers' colleges. The latter is a form of tertiary education which is basic to all other forms of education in this country, and about which the Commonwealth has shown no interest at all.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.







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