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Friday, 19 November 1965

Mr REYNOLDS (Barton) .- I rise to support the Bill. I find it difficult to reconcile the statement made by the honorable member for Bowman (Dr. Gibbs) at the conclusion of his speech with his earlier remarks. In the terms of his own philosophy, the Government, in introducing this measure, is as guilty as is anybody else of the kind of thing that the honorable member condemns. What the honorable member refers to as uniformity is what a lot of us would describe as sensible co-ordination of national effort in respect of science, or in respect of any other enterprise for that matter. Harking back to the honorable member's comments about the Australian Labour Party, I have been looking at the report of the debate on the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 1965-66 when we were dealing with the Commonwealth Scientific and In dustrial Research Organisation. I noted that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) made a strong plea for much freer control over the C.S.I.R.O. - for less bureaucratic control.

On the other hand, we have been attacking the unco-ordinated, piecemeal approach of the Government to various problems. A good example is afforded in the giving of aid for the establishment of science laboratories. The Government has made a grant for the establishment of science laboratories and the provision of science equipment, but it resists any entreaty to provide aid for the training of science teachers. Some fairly good science laboratories will be established in various parts of the country, but we will still have the unfortunate situation of there being very few qualified science teachers to teach in them, whether they be in the secondary schools, the new tertiary institutes or the universities.

This Bill provides for the expenditure of £2 million of the allocation of £5 million that was recommended by the Australian Universities Commission for the 1964-66 triennium. Honorable members will recall that the Universities Commission, in the report it presented to the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) on 27th August 1963, recommended that a sum of £5 million be provided specifically for research at the university level. A sum of £2J million was to be provided by the 'Commonwealth and the remaining £2t million was to be provided by the various States. We ail recall that in approximately the middle of the term the Government suddenly announced that it would not provide the extra sum of £1 million to match the provision of £1 million by the States over the last year of the triennium. A sum of £3 million only was allocated to the universities.

One of the results of the Government's action was an outcry from the universities to the effect that they had proceeded on the assumption that a sum of £5 million would be made available. Research projects that had been undertaken by the universities had to be cut short. The whole purpose behind the triennial grants is to ensure continuity of planning and that the universities will know what funds they will need. Many of the universities' research projects were based upon the availability of a three year grant. We can imagine the frustration and the lack of economy that flowed from this sudden, jolting curtailment of funds.

The Commonwealth then announced that it proposed to set up the Robertson Committee to examine individual claims for research grants. Such claims were not to be limited to university people; they could come from outside bodies. As we all know, approximately 90 per cent., or perhaps even 95 per cent., of the grants to be made available will go to people who are working on projects that are associated with the universities. What I and the universities would like to know is why the Government changed its policy. After all, the Australian Universities Commission, in its second report, which was presented to the Prime Minister on 27th August 1963, stated-

The Commission believes that universities should have freedom in distributing their allocations between projects.

It believed that the universities should have this freedom -

The Commission's sole concern is that research, in its fundamental context, shall expand in extent and develop in expertise.

This is the thing about which the universities are still asking questions. I do not pretend that I know of my own knowledge that the universities are not happy about this new arrangement. From what I can find out I believe that they are quite happy that things are being done in this way and that individuals or individual teams of research workers make their applications to this expert Committee which then examines them and chooses those that it considers are deserving for support - always, of course, within the limits of the finance that is made available. I suspect that the £2 million envisaged as being made available under the terms of this Bill - £1 million by the Commonwealth and £1 million by the States, if the New South Wales Government belatedly accepts the recommendation that £2 million be the limit - will set quite definite limits on the amount of research that can be undertaken. It appears from the remarks made by the Prime Minister that quite a number of applications for grants have been made. I believe that the House ought to be told just how many were made, but we have not been given this information. We do not know what percentage of the total number of applications is being catered for by this measure.

I should like to have seen also an analysis of the grants that have been recommended. We have been given a list of the individual workers and teams that are to receive grants and we are told which universities and other research institutions they belong to. But we are given only a very short title describing the research to be undertaken. In many ways this is not sufficiently descriptive. After all, since this Bill is presented to the Parliament, apparently we are expected to be able to make some judgment on the research programme that is being undertaken. For our benefit, therefore, I should like to have seen some kind of analysis of the projects involved, even in terms of the proportions related to the physical sciences, the social sciences and the humanities respectively. I should like to have seen more detailed descriptions of the projects involved. I do not suppose that many of us would claim to have great knowledge that would enable us to make profound judgments on the projects for which grants have been approved. But I believe that if it is good enough for these projects to be recommended to the Parliament it is good enough for us to be given a little more information than we have received. I should like to have seen a much more complete analysis of the programme that we are being asked to approve by means of this Bill.

As I said earlier, I should still like to hear an explanation of the reasons why the recommendation made by the Universities Commission for the 1964-66 triennium was discarded in favour of the appointment of this expert Committee that has been charged with the task of dealing with the matter as it has been dealt with. I have not inquired of anybody about this, but I suppose that there are people who will interpret what is being done as a further intrusion by the Government into the affairs of the universities. As I have mentioned, the Universities Commission recommended that the universities be left free to make grants in the way they saw fit. That proposal has now been changed. I guess that this has been done after considerable thought. But, as I have said, there are probably people who will regard this as a further intrusion by the Government into the academic freedom of the universities. I do not see that very readily, but this is a matter that may well be raised.

I now come back to my request for a better analysis, for the information of the Parliament, of the research programme that has been approved. On an examination of the list of approved projects, even with the limitations that I have just described concerning the lack of information given in the titles of the projects, it occurs to me that very little provision is made for educational research. Some people may accuse me of having a one track mind and being preoccupied with education.

Mr Bridges-Maxwell - We would never accuse the honorable member of that.

Mr REYNOLDS - I hope not, but other people have done so. I am glad to learn by implication that the honorable member considers that there ought to be heavy emphasis on educational research in this country. In another debate recently I stated that the Chairman of the Australian Council of Educational Research had indicated that only one sixth of 1 per cent, of the money spent on education in Australia today is spent on educational research. This Government still grants only £7,500 a year to the Council. I think the provision of much more money for educational research is long overdue. We seem to have become greatly preoccupied with the externa of educational requirements. We are very much concerned about providing decent school rooms and school laboratories, good teachers, adequate supplies of good textbooks and efficient teaching aids, but I believe that a great deal more needs to be done in this country to inquire into the content of education. What is it that we teach? Should our teaching programme be the one that we have now? Is it organised as it ought to be in terms of syllabuses and curricula? Is it examined in the proper way so as to draw out educational objectives of the kind that we are striving for? These are the things that we must ask ourselves.

We must look particularly into the content of education. Is the content of what we teach in our history classes relevant to the circumstances of today? Is the content of our language studies relevant to Australia's place adjacent to South East Asia? Is the content of our studies in economics and many other important fields relevant to the world of today in which we live? At least we have been prodded into looking at the content of our science courses. I think we were a little ashamed when we did so. As a result of that assessment something new has come in this field, though probably we still have a long way to go. But at least we have had a look at the science situation. A great deal of waste occurs in every classroom today because we are teaching things that are not relevant to the kind of society in which we live or that which we may envisage in the next 20 years or even sooner. These are the things that we should look into. We must consider the content of what we teach as well as provide the equipment and other resources with which the teaching is done.

I do not see much in the programme envisaged in this measure that gives -us occasion for great enthusiasm about our intentions for educational research in the future. What I see gives me no more cause for enthusiasm than does the paltry annual grant of £7,500 to the Australian Council of Educational Research, which is one of the foremost educational research institutions in Australia. This sum is not much more than the equivalent of the salaries of two very ordinary research workers. We should provide more for educational research in our next Budget than this infinitesimal sum. I hope that when a programme of the kind now before us is presented to us again we shall receive an analysis of the kind for which I have asked and that in that analysis much more prominence will be given to educational research.

I wonder what will be the future of the Australian Research Grants Committee - the Robertson Committee as it is called. Will this be just an interim, short-term, ad hoc body to deal with the particular programme now before us or will it become some kind of permanent institution like the Australian Universities Commission? We have been told nothing about this. We do not know whether this Committee will be a continuing body. I believe it is important to the universities and to all who are concerned with research for us to be told in the immediate future what the long-term objective is. We in the Australian Labour Party, of course, have been advocating something much more expansive even than this. We advocate the establishment of a national science policy related not only to university research projects or tertiary research projects generally but also to scientific and social research in all the various fields involved, including industrial research and research undertaken by bodies below the tertiary level. I know that the Government is making some inquiries in this matter and has sent somebody to Canada to look at its policy, with the object of evolving machinery to cater for the whole matter of national research. The Committee on the Future of Tertiary Education in Australia - the so-called Martin Committee - in Volume III of its report stated -

There is some evidence that thought is being given to the establishment of research institutes in specialised areas. Outside the Australian National University, the recently established Institute of Applied Economic Research in the University of Melbourne is, perhaps, the most notable. Advantages follow from having research institutes and research chairs closely, if informally, associated with the relevant teaching departments, as appears to be happening in the Australian National University. Such arrangements reduce the danger that good teachers may be lost entirely to teaching. In the humanities, however, research fellowships within the teaching departments are more likely to command support than separate research institutes. Strong arguments can be made for the development of research institutes to unite various disciplines in the study of a common field, such as the problems of urbanisation, or of a common area such as South East Asia.

I hope that before long we will be given some indication of the extent to which the Government is encouraging the establishment of such institutes. Similarly, I hope that we will be given some indication of whether the Commonwealth is prepared to take any notice of the Martin Committee's recommendation that Australia establish institutes overseas. The report to which I have referred mentions the example of British institutes in Rome and Athens. Such Australian research institutes would provide opportunities for Australians to engage in scholarship at its highest level in some overseas countries.

Before I conclude I want to inquire about what is to happen under this programme in respect of the Australian National University. The Australian Universities Commission, in its report to which I referred earlier, recommended that £li million be provided over the period of three years for research at that University. The other universities have had taken from them the decision on how they will spend their research funds. That decision has been given to the Robertson Committee. But from what I can see, that does not apply to the Australian National University. I should like the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr. Freeth), who is at the table, to tell me whether that is so. Is the Australian National University, as distinct from all other universities in Australia, to be given a free hand in allocating its research funds? It was given £li million over the triennium - £500,000 each year. All the other universities were given a total of £5 million. Is the Australian National University to retain the prerogative of making its own allocation of research funds to its own research projects?

There is only one other matter to which I wish to direct attention. It is the serious shortage of library facilities at our universities. This is very relevant to any programme of research. A recent report stated that Australian research was very limited because of the scarcity of library facilities in this country as compared with overseas countries. The report that I noticed stated that the Harvard University - which is only one of the many universities in the United States - has a stock of library books twice as large as that of all of the Australian universities combined. The report went on to say that Australia's 11 universities have a combined collection of 3.1 million' volumes, which is considerably smaller than the Yale collection and about the same as that of any three reasonably sized universities in the United States. An American library expert, Professor Maurice Tauber, was in Australia in 1962. He conducted a survey of Australian library resources. Speaking of our universitity libraries, he said -

Compared with British or American libraries, the collections of Australian libraries are barely beginning.

It is not much good making this money available for research - whether it is allocated to the universities directly or in the way that is provided in this Bill; that is, by making grants to individual projects - if we do not concomitantly make available the facilities that are necessary to enable decent research to be done.

Despite the situation that I have just described, the Minister in Charge of Commonwealth Activities in Education and Research (Senator Gorton) told a Library Association conference, which was held in Canberra only a short while ago and was attended by about 800 delegates, that university and secondary school libraries were "quite well off". He said that the Commonwealth would not increase financial aid for such libraries. That is the kind of statement that we seem to be hearing at every hand's turn. I share with the honorable member for Bowman a certain admiration of the Government for, over a period of years, coming into the field of education. I will not go into the politics of this question today; they do not matter. The Commonwealth has come into the field of education in a way for which I have a certain admiration.

But my admiration is limited because the Government acts in a sort of piecemeal way. It undermines its own programme. It provides research grants, but then it denies the facilities that are necessary to carry out the research. The research will be the more inhibited because of the lack of facilities. In the same way, as I said at the outset, the Government helps to provide laboratories, equipment and science text books for secondary schools, but it will not do anything to help to provide the science teachers, who are the absolute core of the whole programme. Quite frankly, this annoys me. I believe that this undermines the programme to an extent.

The honorable member for Bowman categorises the Labour Party as being all in favour of uniformity. What we favour is not uniformity but a co-ordinated programme of development or plan of development. It is no wonder that the Prime Minister rejected the report of the Vernon Committee, because this was what it envisaged for the whole Australian economy. I want to see implemented in the field of education what it envisaged for the whole economy. I am afraid that that is not being done.

The shortage of library and other facilities is accentuated at the present time by the great growth of post-graduate research in Australia. We are very anxious to promote post-graduate research, if for no other reason than to provide the future lecturers and pro fessors of our universities. We will have enough trouble in providing the staff to cater for the future generations of young Australians who want to go to a university or another tertiary institution. If we inhibit research in this way, we will always have to apply quotas and shut out many youngsters who are qualified to be in our universities or other tertiary institutions and who ought to be there. With those remarks, and the queries that I have raised, I say that I support the Bill.

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