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Wednesday, 2 May 1973
Page: 1616

Dr JENKINS (Scullin) - As the honourable member for Chisholm (Mr Staley) remarked, the 3 main issues covered in these Bills deal with aid to needy students at universities and colleges of advanced education, increased finance for the training of social workers over the next 3 years at the universities of Sydney and Melbourne and the Tasmanian College of Advanced Education, and provisions for libraries in colleges of advanced education. It should be obvious that the Minister for Education (Mr Beazley) should be congratulated for what has been a very rapid response to an urgent situation. It would be admitted that the measures taken in these Bills do not solve all the problems in these particular areas but they serve as a start to cover the urgent problems that exist. Future planning will go on and we will see that the advantage gained from these measures is projected to its fullest.

In talking about needy students the honourable member for Chisholm started to speak about different categories and point out that there might be only a small group of students who at some particular time needed a small amount of money to assist them on to the completion of courses. I may be unfair to the honourable member but I felt there was a certain amount of elitism at a tertiary level in his remarks. It may well be that the most urgent needs for helping students go right back to the primary school level in a number of States, but one hopes that the various commissions that are now investigating the matter will deal with this particular subject.

I wish to make some passing comments on the question of needy students. The La Trobe University lies within my electorate of Scullin and at the beginning of this year a number of students of that university approached me asking what avenues of financial assistance existed for them. They were without university scholarships. Some of them had failed subjects and so had forfeited their university scholarships, others were trying to carry on courses at a part time level, and others were unable to obtain living allowances because of problems of parental and domestic relationships. It is very difficult to give appropriate advice in these circumstances because of the restrictive nature of the means test for the allowances covered by university scholar ships. I had no doubt that in many of these instances there was a real severance of the student from the home for a number of reasons, including the lack of parental understanding of what further tertiary studies meant. There were many other reasons. But the very rigidity of the testing for the living allowances prevented many students from receiving assistance. Another matter was the state of the student loan funds at the respective universities. Because of the restriction on the amount available to the students the amount was quite insufficient for them to be able to support themselves. Another factor was that many of these student loan funds attract repayment, require guarantors and are subject to a number of other conditions which many of these young people could not meet.

A wide number of factors create needy students, lt is not only economic need. A lot of it is social need as such. Some of it is due to psychological and other environmental factors which require services other than money. I agree that this measure is a great help to many of those individuals who approached me with their problems but, unfortunately, the lack of information in the university system does not allow one to make a proper judgment at this time on how effective will be the awarding of finance to needy students. The honourable member for Chisholm mentioned that universities might be the best bodies to know where such financial help is needed. This is so only if a proper system has been developed for acquiring knowledge of the students undertaking courses. It seems to me that the proper place for that to start is with the student right at the beginning of his course at the university or college of advanced education. Yet this seems to be the time when students are at their loneliest and when their problems are least understood or looked into. However, I appreciate that the step we are now taking has been taken as an emergency measure. I know that the Minister is conscious of these and other problems and will be thoroughly investigating the case of students who are needy because of economic or other reasons.

I should like to deal with the matter of the grants for training of social workers at the 2 universities and at the college of advanced education. These grants, which will be disposed of over a period of 3 years, will make a real difference in supplying an increased number of social workers, although I doubt whether the increased number in itself will satisfy the demands. A number of institutions hoped to instigate courses in social work but because of lack of finance for staff and facilities were forced to forego them. The Preston Institute of Technology, which is well known to me, was one of them. Despite the fact that many of the social workers who are entering the social work course already have a primary degree, I wonder whether we are not reaching' the stage of social development where there is a need for a greater degree of specialisation in the courses offered to (hem or whether they can in fact in their 3 year course hope to cover the whole scope of social work.

One can list the obvious reasons that are given for the need for a greater number of social workers and social worker trainees. They are needed in schools. Quite recently 1 received a letter from one of the primary schools in my electorate which operates in a relatively economically and socially deprived area asking whether urgent assistance could be given for a social worker to work in conjunction with the staff of that school. Of "course, no formal channels exist by which this could be done. This is a very difficult question to raise publicly because while the people living in this area might be economically and socially deprived they are also human beings who possess that human quality of pride, and if one were to name the institution it would react against public agitation and pressures to obtain social workers in the primary school situation.

A similar problem exists in relation to hospitals and health and the disposition of elderly patients and the chronically ill, for which social workers are needed. The development of community health centres will create a greater demand for them. It came to my mind in discussing the need for this greater number of social workers that there was one point we were missing and it was a point that was raised at the international conference on social work in 1966. Indeed, it was the subject of that conference, lt was the question of the urbanisation of our society and' the role that social workers must play in the urbanisation of society. The emphasis was on the need for inter-disciplinary planning so that the new towns that are being developed and the new urban complexes that are proposed are socially balanced. To do this requires the role of social workers.

Debate interrupted.

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