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Wednesday, 2 May 1973
Page: 1611


Mr STALEY (Chisholm) - As the Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly) said, there are 3 Bills before the House - the States Grants (Advanced Education) Bill, the States Grants (Universities) Bill and the States Grants (Universities) Bill (No. 2). I want to make it quite clear at the outset that the Opposition supports all these Bills but will move an amendment to one Bill only in the Committee stage. It is not an amendment which in any way goes to the substanceof the Bill but only to some rather important matters of form relating to future policy in the areas covered by the Bill. These Bills represent good moves and, we believe, a continuation and a natural extension of previous Liberal-Country Party governments' concern for universities and colleges of advanced education. I congratulate the Minister for Education (Mr Beazley) for bringing them in so swiftly.

Two of the Bills are concerned to increase the number of qualified social workers in Australia. This is to be done by making grants of $240,000 to the University of Melbourne, $75,000 to the University of Sydney and $40,000 to the Tasmanian College of Advanced Education. The grants are to be used to increase the number of social workers being trained at those institutions. This is timely because social work training has been somewhat frozen in recent years, largely because social work is a relative newcomer to university and college of advanced education courses and was a course not much in demand until the last 10 years. Inasmuch as it was not much in demand until the last 10 years it was rather severely frozen within the universities. The departments of social work were, as it were, half way to a position of full growth when they were, in effect, frozen. I understand that the increased expenditure provided in this Bill will enable the Department of Social Work at the University of Melbourne to increase its output of students by 25 per cent. This will enable the department to undertake the sort of course reorganisation which will give this course the features of a good university course and enable it to provide the full facilities which are. needed by the students of social work in the contemporary situation.

There is, of course, a very high demand for courses of social work by students entering universities and it is quite fascinating that the score which students have to achieve to enter a social work course at the University of Melbourne is the highest required by any faculty or department. It is higher even than the famous medical score. In 1973 a student has had to have a score of at least 317 out of a possible 400 to gain admission. This is somewhat higher than for medicine and quite significantly higher than for other major courses within the university context. There is a tremendous demand for what have been very scarce places. In the University of Melbourne Social Work Department, of 560 students who have social work as first choice, only 125, even with the extensions in the Bill, could be selected.

A very encouraging feature of the applicants for social work in the University of

Melbourne - and I trust that this would be so in other cases - is that a very significant and growing proportion are graduates from other faculties. They have done a first course. In the case of the Social Work Department of the University of Melbourne the extra money is being used to take in these graduates. Another pleasing feature of the growth of social work is that more males are now taking the course. This year at the University of Melbourne males comprise about 30 per cent of the total intake. It is a steadily rising figure- It is important because in many areas of contemporary social work it is valuable to have male social workers as well as female social workers.

One of the problems of primary attention that is often pointed out today by educators is that there are not enough male teachers with whom students can identify. This could equally be said about the social work profession. The increase in graduates in social work will enable the staff of social welfare departments more effectively to regionalise their activities, as in most States they are presently attempting to do. It will also enable the increasing demand by local government bodies for highly trained social workers better to be met. Anyone involved in local government or government activities must applaud that feature.

I believe that there is within schools a growing need for the extra skills which qualified social workers can introduce. It is also encouraging that of the graduates who are applying for social work at the University of Melbourne, a good many are qualified teachers who are taking social work as their second qualification in addition to their basic teacher qualification. They could provide an increasing source of manpower, particularly for schools in difficult areas with a high migrant population and certain social problems which need urgent attention. The increase provided for in the Bill is most welcome also in that field- I trust that the increase will also play an important role in the development of community health services and the like - choose whatever label you wish to describe them - with particular reference to social and preventive aspects of community medical care.

It seems to me that much of the present confusion and concern about the state of Australia's abortion law would not arise if these types of highly trained and qualified people were available locally to the various counselling services, community health services and all sorts of community care services at the local level. There they could be readily accessible to individual members of the community and we would not be faced with nearly the difficulty and sometimes frenzy that we presently face. The Opposition supports the Bill with great pleasure. We regard the provision of extra social workers as a matter of urgency.

We also support the implementation of the recommendation of the Australian Commission on Advanced Education that the Government should provide an unmatched grant of $5m for libraries in colleges of advanced education during the 1973-75 triennium. If the colleges of advanced education are to fulfil the absolutely crucial role in society which we desire them to have, their library facilities must be adequate to keep them in touch with all the important and relevant areas of scholarship and research. We as members of Parliament will have to get used to the idea of the rapidly escalating cost of effective modern libraries. Their problems and possibilities are enormous in these days of the information explosion.

I come now to the grants for needy students in universities and colleges of advanced education. We also support these grants and look forward keenly and anxiously to a long term policy of aid for needy students which will cope with the need where it really exists. lt was odd, a little worrying, and I imagine slightly out of character, for a Labor Government as a first act to rush in to abolish university fees. I stress that it is odd as a first act. I believe that it will be a tragedy if this largesse prevents the Labor Government and universities from realistically tackling the problems of student poverty and failure. The universities' heyday of almost infinite expansion vis-a-vis other sections of the community is well and truly over and the question of priorities is most pressing. Surely it is of the highest priority to ensure that the right students are being assisted and that students are getting the type of assistance that they really need. We might say that students need what they need when they need it, as many of us do.

As a matter of priority it seems to me to be far more important for the sake of Australia to ensure that those students who have the most potential receive real assistance when they need it than to encourage with scholarships students who will benefit only marginally themselves or the country by undertaking a particular course of study. In utilising limited resources we need to be much more ready to put in that stitch in time which can save nine. An investment today of a comparatively small amount of money - a few hundred dollars here or there - could save vast expenditure, perhaps thousands of dollars.

The Commonwealth living allowances scheme has clearly helped many needy students but it has suffered from certain defects. The means test on parental income has, I believe, been unrealistically low. The present maximum living allowance is $700 per annum for students living at home and $1,100 per annum for students living away from home. I understand that the allowance cuts out when the annual family income, after concessions for dependent children, reaches $2,800. The living allowance is far too low. I understand from university authorities that students with the most modest habits, both of study and in society, would need at least $1,600 to $1,800 annually as a bare minimum to live on. That assessment is based on the notion that they would attend the theatre only once in a couple of months.

Further, it is quite unrealistic to expect a student to have lived independently of his or her parents for 3 years before being able in general to qualify for a living away from home allowance. I know that there have been occasional exceptions, but I am talking about the basic principle here. The student who is thrown out of home or who feels forced, for what would seem to him or her always to be good reasons, to leave home will often be precisely the student in most need, both financially and psychologically. Yet the present living allowance is not really geared to coping with that situation.

One of the pleasant features of the present Bill is that it does provide for assistance to needy students in general enough terms for a student like that to receive the needed help. A student from a family earning a fair income who suddenly feels compelled to leave home is often faced with enormous psychological problems as well as financial hardship because pride will prevent the acceptance' of any allowance from home. Indeed, the matter might be determined at home without pride even entering into it. This student, who might be a very able student and who, at the point of most need under the present scholarship scheme, does not receive assistance, is surely the sort of student whom the universities would want to assist when they are able to testify as to the validity of a claim after investigation of the evidence.

I believe that the present Bill has the great virtue of allowing a university itself the maximum discretion in deciding how to help needy students. I would like to see the approach of this Bill built more into the Commonwealth living allowance schemes of the future, however they might shape up when the Labor Government does move to abolish university fees. In general, I believe that a lot more respect ought to be paid to informed university teachers and university authorities rather than the rigid application of over-niggardly rules, as they are on many occasions, for the point surely is that the universities will know best whether an individual student is worth a bit of extra expenditure. The universities will best know whether an extra expenditure of SI 00 or $200 in a final term might rescue from failure a student on whom hundreds or even thousands of dollars have been already spent in one way or another.

Student poverty and failure do operate in a pretty tight but vicious circle. Initial poverty can beget failure; failure can beget poverty. Some aspects of the present legislation do not help in this begetting of still deeper failure. It may well have been indeed a false as well as a sad economy to take scholarship benefits and allowances away after a little failure, as the scholarship schemes have done. Obviously we are not going into the business of subsidising failure as such. That would be a wholly illegitimate aim, but we must be sure about the economy involved in the early withdrawal of benefits on the basis of rather rigid rules.

I would like to know, for instance, what the Labor Government's attitude will be towards those students who go into universities, who do not have to face fee bills and may or may not receive extra allowances, if they fail, say, one or two subjects in their first year. Will the curtain come down on them and will they then have to pay a certain amount towards their studies for the next year and possibly then be driven out to a part-time job and so be faced with the sort of social and study sit uation which will beget further failure? I think it of great importance for questions like this to be considered in the broad context of aid to all students and in particular to needy students. At the moment the very delay involved in the sheer administration of benefits can create real hardships for the students who are suddenly thrown into need. In short, I hope that the universities and the Department of Education will be able to work more closely together.

There is a temptation to act out of a counsel of fear in this sort of matter. I think that we must resist the temptation to act out of a counsel of fear about the expenditure of Government money in this area because to act in such a way could prove to be a false economy. We do need to know a lot more about student need and its relationship to performance in universities and in colleges of advanced education. There have been isolated reports from time to time in various universities. Nearly all of them are out of date at present. One of the features of the administration of the Minister for Education (Mr Beazley) is, I understand, that he has asked his Department to look into these matters. I think it is of great importance that they be looked into because, pending the dissolution of the whole fee paying system in universities, we must be ready with legitimate schemes for student assistance.

I think few people doubt that financial hardship is at least a significant cause of student failure. We do not know precisely how to weigh this as one of the causes. The Metropolitan Universities Admission Centre in Sydney in 1972 found that 12 per cent of those who rejected university places in 1972 did so for financial reasons. The actual figure may be greater or smaller than was signified in that study. Hie Australian Union of Students has looked at the matter. It surveyed 1,797 Victorian tertiary students over the 1971-72 vacation period. The survey showed that 10 per cent of the students said that they were unable to earn sufficient money in the period to enable them to continue their studies, that 3 per cent did not re-enrol, that 4 per cent had to take part-time jobs and that 1 per cent had to switch to part-time courses. I understand that the survey showed that the hardest hit were those students whose fathers were tradesmen or in semi-skilled or unskilled occupations - precisely those who in most cases need the most help and understanding in the university context. There was also the excellent study by Mr 0'Hearn of the Melbourne University Faculty of Arts which helped so much to give us a humane understanding of the relationship between student failure and poverty.

There have of course been in all universities - 1 am not so familiar with colleges of advanced education - some schemes in addition to the Commonwealth scholarship and living allowance schemes to aid needy students. The most common form of assistance has been some form of student loan scheme, although some universities, particularly in South Australia, had a fee concession scheme. The deferment of tuition fees altogether has been an uncommon form of aid. The whole question of student loans as a form of assistance to needy students has been investigated very closely indeed by the previous Minister for Education and Science, I believe that a Minister for Education and Science some years ago, Mr Fairbairn, also looked at this matter. I know that Mr Malcolm Fraser undertook detailed studies and discussed the situation with banks as well as university authorities. I understand that he had agreement in principle from all interested parties that some sort of student loan scheme was a feasible proposition.

There are m;my who believe that, inasmuch as resources are now very hard to come by in the field of education, particularly higher education, it is quite legitimate to ask those who are receiving such significant benefits from society to have a hand themselves in, as it were, helping themselves. So the notion of student loan schemes for even quite significant sums which was abhorrent some years ago is, in the circumstances facing the universities today, not nearly so abhorrent to students. 1 think there is a widespread belief in the community itself that this is a most legitimate and useful way of extending assistance to students. The amount available for loan in the various universities has varied widely as between universities and, in fairness to the various universities, 1 think it will be necessary for the Minister and his officers to look at the existing loan schemes. Easily the best is in my old university - the Melbourne University. Some universities have very modest student loan schemes. I am not certain of the basis of the allocation to universities in the present Bill though I suspect it is some sort of per capita basis. In that case, some universities which are already doing quite well for their students in special need will be in easy street this year in this area but other universities will not do nearly so well under the present Bill. I think that point needs to be looked at by the Minister.

The fact of the matter is that the universities have already spent most of the money involved in this Bill. However this is not why the Opposition is supporting the Bill. Indeed it would not be a good reason to support it. We are supporting the Bill for much better reasons. But 1 think it is important for us io know how the universities have fared in expending the money this year. This year one of the problems with the scheme which will be largely unavoidable because of the newness of the Government is that the assistance was not early enough to help those who were considering whether they would start a university course this year. As has been shown in some of the earlier figures presented, some people are deterred no doubt at the point of entry, so this scheme will help those who are already attending university. There is also the question which is unresolved in what the Minister has said so far as to his future intentions in this area. I expect that a lot of this money will have been spent on grants and not on loans and, therefore, there will be no return to the universities. This is the basic reason why. in the Committee stage, the Opposition will he hoping to amend the Bill so that it will call for an accountability from the universities to the Australian Commission on Advanced Education and the Australian Universities Commission and so enable this highly important matter to be closely investigated by this House, as well as by the Minister for Education, before any unfortunate steps might be taken with respect to the long haul in this crucial problem.

The question of needy students is complex. It shades into various issues of student finance, such as the adequacy of living allowances under Commonwealth scholarships; whether assistance should be given solely on the basis of merit or on the basis of need; and whether all students should receive some grants. The availability of vacation employment, students dropping out for non-financial reasons and the concept of self help are also involved. There are new ways of looking at this question. The previous Government had started looking at some of these matters and the Minister for Education has taken useful and early action. 1 congratulate him and I took forward to his close attention to many of the matters which I have discussed tonight.







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