Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Thursday, 29 April 1965


Senator TANGNEY (Western Australia) . - When the Senate adjourned I was discussing the position of part time students and the imposition of fees in all Australian universities. I had mentioned that until comparatively recently, Western Australia was the only State where university education was free and available to all who matriculated. There was in that University perhaps a greater proportion of part time students than at any other university in Australia. I also mentioned that many who had held very prominent positions in the community had passed through the University the hard way. In mentioning some by name I omitted to say that the present Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Hasluck) was also a graduate who had worked and had been able to take a university course part time. Many others who have achieved some kind of eminence in Australian public life owe a great deal to the fact that the University of Western Australia was a free university and encouraged part time students.

I feel, however, that the general opinion throughout Australia in university circles - and I hope I am wrong in this - is that the part time student is a sort of second rate student. That was disproved in my own university in Western Australia where many part time students took a very active part in student affairs and because they had to make sacrifices to attend the University, they were deeply conscious of their debt to it and tried to repay part of that debt through community service. Now things have altered considerably. The university population has increased remarkably over the postwar years.

There is a trend which is not so apparent at first sight when reading the Martin Committee's report which followed an investigation of this matter. In Australia we are particularly in need of doctors for rural service. This is marked in Western Australia. There is a shortage of doctors in country areas at a time when the people of the Commonwealth have become more health conscious. Great demands are made upon the time of doctors, yet the number of medical students has decreased in the past few years. For example, in the last four years the numbers of students enrolled in the medical faculty compared with the total number of students enrolled has decreased from 18.1 to 9.4 per cent. That is proportionately about 50 per cent. I do not mean that their numbers have actually decreased by 50 per cent., but the number of students enrolled in the medical faculty in ratio to the total number of students enrolled has decreased by 9 per cent. of total enrolment.

The greatest increase in student courses is in the Faculty of Science which has increased from 12.3 per cent. last year to 16.2 per cent. this year. There was a time in 1961 when the proportion was even higher. I think that this does emphasise the complete change that has come over the community in the last few years. Science has developed many kinds of new skills and a new way of life throughout the world. By so doing, science has brought other problems of its own making of which we must be very cognisant. For instance, the fact that science has been so successful in this regard has brought up problems of leisure. It has brought about a shorter working week. Automation is developing to a large extent. We are now preparing for an age which is so highly developed scientifically that we will be faced with the problem of increased leisure time. What is to be done with leisure time? That question gives us a great deal to ponder particularly with regard to the problems of social behaviour especially among our younger people. We cannot sit back and say that it is no concern of ours, that it is their free time, and that is the end of it.

In my opinion more emphasis should have been placed by the Martin Committee on the development of the humanities and the arts, and not so much emphasis purely and simply on the utilitarian aspects of education. No education which is only a bread and butter education is complete. We have to provide for the complete man and the complete living. There is over emphasis today in Government circles - this is my personal opinion - on the development of the sciences within the universities and our schools. That is why the grants which have been made to the schools by the Commonwealth Government have been for the development of scientific laboratories. I should like to see more help given to schools generally for the development of all types of education and not have attention focussed purely and simply on science. I do not want it to be thought in any way that 1 deprecate the value of science in the community, schools and universities. I do not for one moment do so. But I feel that we can over emphasise science education to the detriment of other aspects of education.

We find also that we are to have more economists and more theoreticians. The number of people taking Economics courses has increased and the number taking Arts degrees has increased also. Here I should like to utter a few thoughts of my own. More women students take an Arts degree course than other courses, not because they are not capable of taking a more complex course but because the Arts degree course offers them more prospects of employment and so on later. Here again we find that only 26 per cent, of our university population consists of women. Looking at the community as a whole, we realise that the ratio of men to women is practically 50:50, yet only one in four university students is a woman. If we look at the examination results each year - these results are the only criterion we have on which to base our judgment or our comparisons, although they are not the absolute authority - we find that quite often it is a girl, completing her leaving certificate examination, who fills No. 1 position in her State.

In Canberra last year, the top honours for the leaving certificate examination went to girls. The same situation applies in my own State. I mention this to show that girls are just as capable as boys of passing examinations and becoming university material. We must look elsewhere for the reasons why girls represent only 26 per cent, of the university student population. I would say that one of the reasons is that, after finishing their degree courses, girls find there are very few permanent posts open to them at the same rates of pay and conditions as for men. This opens up a very big subject. The main employment outlets for qualified girls are found in teaching and, to a lesser degree, in the Public Service.

One does not find very many women holding senior positions in the Public Service. Those who do are on much lower salaries than men and, of course, they must leave their positions on marriage. A girl who marries generally does not want to continue working, but whether she continues in employment or not should, I think be a matter of choice, not of dictation. She should not be obliged to leave her employment. I think the majority of girls who marry want to settle down to home life and so on. They do not want to be obliged either to work or not to work; it should be a matter of choice for them.

There is a huge wastage of intellectual power in the community in this way. I think that in a report such as the one with which we are dealing there should be a recommendation that facilities be made available for women later in life - after they have reared their families - to be brought up to date on the latest developments in the fields of work in which they excelled before marriage, so that they might once more take an active part in the work of the community.


Senator Cormack - This is post facto. Why is it that women do not enter universities?


Senator TANGNEY - That is the point I am trying to make. They are looking ahead. Some people take the view that a girl will marry, so it does not matter whether she has a university education. We should try to raise the status of educated women and arouse a public consciousness that education is never wasted. If a woman is properly educated, I think that makes her a belter wife. I do not mean that she will be a better wife if she is a crank, but I think a better educated woman is a better wife.

I find that of the university students who are women, 60 per cent, take an Arts course, because that gives them an opening for teaching, for some Public Service positions and so on. Only 25 per cent, of women students enrol for science courses, and 1 think this is due to the fact that there are not many openings for women in the fields of research. In the Australian National University we find women occupying very high positions. This University is giving a lead to other universities in Australia in appointing women to some of the higher positions in scientific research. We then come to the fact that only 16 per cent, of women students take a medical course. I cannot understand why this is so, because I feel that a medical course would be highly satisfying to a woman. There is plenty of scope for women doctors. I would like to know whether any inquiry has been made to find out why so few women who are qualified to do so take medical courses. I know that the medical course is longer than most of the others and is expensive. The only common factor that I can find in trying to discover why the numbers of students taking medical courses have decreased proportionally and why so few women take medical courses is an economic factor. The fees which are charged for this course are now very high. Even if Commonwealth scholarships are granted, of course they are not adequate. This report tells us that there are insufficient Commonwealth grants.

I suggest to the Government that it examine the fees charged at our universities. I think only about nine per cent, of total university income is derived from fees. Portion of that amount is already being paid by the Commonwealth Government through its scholarships fund and it would not involve the Government in a great deal of further expense if it were to abolish fees altogether. The increased expenditure could be counterbalanced against the amounts paid in Commonwealth scholarships, which could become residential allowances, living allowances and so on. We would know that not one person would be refused admission to an Australian university on economic grounds alone. That is my first submission to the Government.

I think it should investigate this problem because I am sure that it would pay dividends in the long run. if it were adopted.

In Western Australia at present quite a number of students come to me for assistance. They have not been brilliant enough to gain Commonwealth scholarships, the examinations for which are highly competitive. But they are good students who have overcome quite a number of difficulties and handicaps.


Senator Morris - And they may turn out better students in the long run.


Senator TANGNEY - Definitely. They are more tolerant. They may be plodders, but at least they are workers. I believe that the expense incurred in granting them university training would be well repaid. Quite recently I was interested in the case of a student who- had quite a lot of family worry and tragedy in one of the eastern States. She had almost completed a medical course but could not continue with it because of the limitations of the course. She had only a year to go before obtaining her medical degree. She represented a good risk for a loan at a university, but she had to go to Western Australia and take a job last year in an attempt to earn enough money to keep herself at the university for 12 months. Fortunately I was able to present a case for her to the University of Western Australia and obtain for her a student loan from a fund which is run by the University. She will be carried over this year so that she may obtain her medical degree.

I believe that the Commonwealth Government should set up a loan fund for such circumstances. I do not want honorable senators to think for one moment that I am in favour of giving everybody everything for nothing, but I am in favour of the setting up of a loan fund to assist needy students. Each case could be investigated as to character and that type of thing before a loan were granted. It is unlikely that the borrowers would let down the Government. When the money is ultimately repaid by the student while he is practising his profession it would be available to lend to other students. These are human problems which crop up in our universities. They are very real and very delicate problems to handle at times. This report deals in great measure with the utilitarian aspect of tertiary education, but it leaves a lot to be desired with regard to other aspects of training. I would like to see a little thought put into these details.

The other side of the picture is the question of grants for research which are very important. Quite a number of big business firms in Australia have heeded the call of the Australian National University to assist with research grants for special scholars in various fields. The Commonwealth scholarship scheme should be extended to embrace research scholars and students at teachers training colleges. The whole heart of the Committee's report is the provision of adequate teacher training facilities - not just for teachers in the area of primary, secondary and tertiary education, but over the whole field of education. I may have missed a page of the report here and there, but I could not find in it any reference to the necessity for the adequate training of teachers for mentally retarded, handicapped or disabled children.


Senator Morris - But that would not come in under the heading of tertiary education.


Senator TANGNEY - No, but it does come within . the whole ambit of teacher training. The State training colleges are starved of funds but are doing the best they can. In Western Australia we have two teachers training colleges, both of which are situated in the suburb in which I live. I was a student at one of them for some time. The other one has been established only since the last war. It is housed in old Army type huts. The work that has been done by the staff and students at the Graylands teachers college since its inception is simply amazing. They have planted lawns and have taken a pride in the institution, even though they have only Nissen huts in which to work. A wonderful, corporate spirit has been developed. When looking at it one would think that it was a second rate teachers college, but the standard of the students who graduate from it and of the corporate spirit that has been developed is very high indeed. I regret that the staff and students have to work in such circumstances. There are no covered ways between the lecture halls, which again are only old Army huts. There is not adequate provision for playing fields, but the students have helped to build a tennis court and so forth. The library is housed in another Army hut. The summer climate in Western Australia makes work in those surroundings rather killing; I just do not know how these people manage to work so well. A new teachers training college should be established soon. All these things place a terrific strain on the Budgets of State Governments. The problem is greater than that of paying teachers' salaries.

I stand to be corrected if I am wrong, but as I said last night, nowhere in Australia that I know of is there any provision for the training of teachers for tertiary education. It seems that in universities note is taken of the amount of material a man has written and whether he has presented papers to learned societies rather than of whether he is good at imparting his own very adequate store of knowledge.


Senator Laught - Is there any such training anywhere in the world that the honorable senator knows of?


Senator TANGNEY - That is what I am trying to ascertain. Some of the most brilliant men to whom I have listened or whom I have known have been deplorable teachers. Only years after one has left the university does one appreciate the full import of what they were trying to teach. This problem must be examined, especially when we think of the number of students who drop by the wayside, particularly in their first year at university. The Commonwealth should be directly concerned about this problem, because continuation of a Commonwealth scholarship depends upon the results of the student in his first year at the university.

The transition from secondary school to university is too sudden for many students. There should be some intermediate step. Students come from a sheltered classroom where everything is turned on and suddenly they find themselves in a completely new environment. If they are holders of a Commonwealth scholarship, .they have the added worry about whether they will pass their examinations and still receive their scholarship in the following year. All these things make it very difficult for students to concentrate. In addition, there are all kinds of activities which are quite new to them. When they go to university they enter a completely new world.

We have become a very examination ridden community. Everything depends upon examinations. It is a wonder that half of our children are not in the mental asylums because after they have got the junior or the intermediate certificate they have to get the leaving certificate, in the last few years in my own State I know that parents, after having struggled to keep their children at school to get the junior certificate, have found that it is worthless for entrance to many positions. Where the junior certificate would have been accepted a few years ago, now the leaving certificate is essential. Then when they get their leaving certificate they soon find that they need a university degree to get a position as a dustman.

I do not mind the community concept of education improving in this way, but I think that we place a lot of false value on many of our university examinations. To me a university degree means not how much I know but how much 1 do not know. It has taught me how much there is still to be learned, and that you cannot get by with merely a university degree. Some people think that once you have a leaving certificate or a degree you know everything and arc fit for anything. That is quite an illusion. Many subjects which are taught in our secondary schools are not of very much help unless a person intends to go to a university. Of the children who commence schooling at five or six years of age, I think that only about 5 per cent, continue on to the university, yet the whole of the educational programme in this country is directed towards that 5 per cent. It should be directed towards all the children who attend schools.

So far as teacher training is concerned, the standards are different in every State. I know of a student who achieved quite a good leaving certificate pass. Great sacrifice on the part of his parents was necessary to enable him to stay at school. He could have left school at the age of 15 years and entered the Public Service, but he continued on at school until he was 17 years old. He passed the leaving certificate in seven subjects, some with distinction, but he missed out by a couple of marks in a compulsory subject. He took it in the supplementary examination and passed, but he could not be admitted to either the university or the teachers training college. He achieved a good average - percentage over all the subjects.' He got a job cleaning floors in a warehouse, and he did all kinds of other jobs while he was waiting for his application for entrance to the university or to the teachers training college to be discussed. Just as he was reaching the desperate stage, he saw an advertisement for the Adelaide Teachers College. He went to Adelaide and was accepted there. He is now in his final year and is doing very well. He has done well in his preliminary practices and so on. He will make a fine teacher, but he is lost to Western Australia because of this inflexibility, of selection for the limited number of places in our universities and training colleges.

I think that the limitation of faculty numbers has gone quite far enough. I know that it is difficult for the universities to cope with the increased numbers of students who wish to enter them, but I do not think that they should be excluded because people cannot afford to pay the high fees involved: I do not want to make the debate a political one, but I would like to say that it was the Scaddan Labour Government which decided that the University of Western Australia should be a free one. That position continued for over 40 years. I am one who is very sorry to see the passing of that institution, which at that time was unique not only in Australia but also in the British Commonwealth of Nations. This Report does not deal with the numbers of children who complete their secondary school education, but this is the basis upon which tertiary education must be considered. The numbers who start off in first year and drop by the wayside before they get to the final year at high school are surprising. This is a problem in America also. When I was in America 1-8 months ago I studied the problem with some of the authorities there and the way in which it is being tackled. They call it the fall out or drop out problem and they have many of the same problems that we have, but they have a greater range of secondary schools. They have a greater range of liberal arts colleges, which are mentioned in the motion and also in the amendment, so more of their high school population are given the advantages of. going on to some kind of liberal arts college which is not of the standard of a university but which does give them some form of tertiary education.

What the Labour Party does not want to see, in implementation of this Report, is the establishment of some types of inferior educational institutions to take the place of universities, which have been promised and which are warranted in many parts of Australia. Mr. Deputy President, I ask for leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.







Suggest corrections