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Wednesday, 28 April 1965

Senator TANGNEY (Western Australia) . - In rising to support the amendment so ably moved by Senator Cohen I should like to congratulate him on the extent of the research he undertook before delivering his address to the Senate tonight and on the quality and logic of the statements he made. The fact that the Opposition is moving this amendment does not in any way decrease our admiration of the work of the Martin Committee in this very important and complex problem of tertiary education in Australia. I feel that all members of the Martin Committee - all men of very high standing in the professional life of the community - have done a very excellent job. The Opposition does disagree to the extent that we believe some of their findings have not gone far enough. But the very fact that they presented such a report to this Parliament will do a great deal of good in spotlighting the attention of the Australian public on the needs of Australia for various types of education.

The fact that this inquiry was limited to tertiary education only and, in the main, to many problems outside the university education at present available, is, I think, rather a limiting factor. The Opposition considers that there should be a complete inquiry into the whole of the educational needs of the community. It is of no use when discussing a building to sneak only about the roof and saying nothing about the foundation or walls that support it. We feel it is time that the Commonwealth Government undertook some responsibility for research into the whole of the education problems of Australia and we feel this may be done by the terms of our amendment as moved by Senator Cohen tonight. This provides for the establishment of a ministry of education with power to deal with research in this way, but not necessarily to take over control of the Departments of Education in the States or to decide that throughout Australia everv child from the age of seven should be studving spelling at a certain hour of the day and arithmetic at another hour and so on. We do not want the Commonwealth to take over responsibility for the details of ordinary primary education. We do feel that there are terrific problems which have arisen in the field of education and that it has reached a crisis. We feel that the Commonwealth Government has important responsibilities in this regard.

This report is so voluminous that there are certain aspects in each one of its sections which could, I feel, well be the subject of a separate debate. Of course that is not possible. However, there are certain aspects of the report in which I am particularly interested. One is teacher training. Another is the role of women in the system of tertiary education. The conclusions reached by the Committee on this aspect are conclusions with which I wholeheartedly concur. Another aspect concerns the various problems affecting students in the universities, particularly young students who face the difficulties of the transition period between secondary school and the first year at university when there is a great fall off due to factors which, in many cases, are beyond their control. Those things have to be really understood in the light of all the problems that are posed by the training of teachers. That is the reason why I interjected and asked Senator Laught who was responsible for the training of university teachers. In many cases they are like Topsy - they just grow. Some of them are brilliant men but when I was teaching I found sometimes that brilliance was not the only criteria to apply to teachers. Very often the teacher who has been a bit slower at learning is a much better teacher because he or she can comprehend more fully the problems of students. They know what it is to have to face difficulties. Things have not come so easily to them and in many cases this gives them a better understanding of the average student and, particularly, of students who are not in the brilliant category. No community can succeed if it is built up only of brilliant students. In many cases in the past the less brilliant students have done a better job in the long run as far as the community is concerned. This is an aspect of the report with which I would like to be able to deal more fully.

Another aspect of it in which I am particularly interested deals with the income groups of the families from which students come. Long before I came to this Parliament I did some research into this matter myself for the National Union of Australian University Students. I did this research into the income of the parents of students enrolled in our medical schools. It was very enlightening to me to find that very few of them - I think it was less than 10 per cent, of the future doctors of Australia - at that time came from homes where there were incomes of the basic wage or less. Very few students indeed came from homes where the only income was the basic wage. At that time this fact did not affect my own State to any considerable degree.

Senator Morris - Did the honorable senator say the basic wage or over?

Senator TANGNEY - It was about the basic wage. There were very few students who had enrolled at university who came from homes where the only income was the basic wage. Even if students from that income group were provided with expenses or had other assistance they still could not afford to go to university. Senator Cohen's remarks about the economic factor were valid but .perhaps they do not apply to such a great extent today because more Commonwealth scholarships are available than in the times of which I have just spoken. I was going back into history and there was much difficulty at that time.

Senator Cohen - It is still so, proportionately.

Senator TANGNEY - That is true. At the same time, I could not afford to go to the university - and I know there were many others like myself in Western Australia - if fees had been charged in those days as they are today. We in Western Australia could be very proud of the fact that we had a free university. I could not have attended university if it had not been free. Even then, I could not afford to go full time. I was one of the part time students referred to in this report - and not always referred to very sympathetically. I always take my hat off to part time students because I know from my own experience how difficult it was to attend a part time university course and be employed full time. I know that many people who were with me at the university at that time have achieved high places in the community. At that time Dr. Coombs, the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia, was not a full time student. He attended part time. Dr. Curtin, who was for a long time an economic advisor to the Commonwealth Government, was a part time student at that time. Many other people who were my contemporaries have done much better than I in the community although they were only able to attend university courses as part time students.

Because those part time students had to work hard to get the benefits of university education they were much more appreciative of it and therefore worked a great deal harder. Of course it was not very easy for them to do so. I am not in any way detracting from the work done by students today. These remarks might apply to them, also, but I feel they are having a much better time than we had. Of course I am glad that that is so. But I do hope that they realise what is being done for them in this respect. Now the University of Western Australia has been forced to charge fees for courses in the same way as have other universities in the Commonwealth.

Debate interrupted.

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