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Tuesday, 11 May 1965


Senator MURPHY (New South Wales) . - Mr. President, we are debating a motion -

That the Senate take note of the Report of the Committee on the Future of Tertiary Education in Australia.

Tertiary education in Australia is a matter of the utmost importance. The Martin Committee has made an extremely valuable report. It spent a long time on its investigations and did a great deal of research, and its conclusions must give everyone cause for thought. Even if one does not agree with all the findings of the Committee it is obvious that the inquiry should not end here, because one of the things stressed not only by this Committee but also by the teachers and educationists of Australia as well as by the Australian Labour Party is that tertiary education is interdependent with other forms of education - primary, secondary, vocational, technical and other forms of education outside the universities, which have generally been regarded as the field of tertiary education. There is in Australia a widespread and deep dissatisfaction with both the quantity and quality of education in this country.

Sitting suspended from 5.45 to 8 p.m.


Senator MURPHY - Before the sitting was suspended I was saying that there is dissatisfaction throughout Australia at the quantity and the quality of education at every level. This dissatisfaction is also apparent in the report on tertiary education which is before us. The dissatisfaction exists at the quantity of education because it is apparent that many students who are capable of receiving a higher than secondary education are not receiving it. The main reason for this is economic. The Committee has recommended that scholarships be provided. That will go a long way towards meeting this economic cause but the Government is not prepared to endorse the Committee's recommendations. This means that persons who are capable of receiving a higher education and who should be receiving a higher education simply will not receive it. This means also that persons who would seek to have, not a university educaion, but an education in the type of institution which is covered by the Institute of Colleges will not receive it.

We have in the public gallery tonight students from Burnie High School, so perhaps it is pertinent to remark that the Government has failed entirely in its obligations in respect of tertiary education in Tasmania because it is not really prepared to do what it seems to be doing in other States. That is insufficient in any case, but the Government is not prepared to go even that far in relation to Tasmania. Representatives of that State from all political parties have complained bitterly about Tasmania being overlooked in the proposed grants to the States for these higher educational purposes.

We have a situation in which higher education is suffering in quantity. The universities are overcrowded and there still remain people capable of receiving a university education and capable of satisfying all requirements who are not able to attend the universities because of the social economic set-up in Australia. When other countries in the world - the older countries and the newly developed countries - are striving to their utmost to enable every citizen who is capable of receiving a higher education to receive that higher education, we in Australia are neglecting it. We are very concerned about getting out the iron ore. We are very concerned about developing our natural physical resources but the most important resource of all - the young people of our country - we are prepared to neglect. We are prepared to say that it is too costly to give them the education that they need and deserve. This is nonsense.

To fail to educate our young people is the most costly thing we could do. It is the worst thing we could do to them as individuals; it is the worst thing we could do to ourselves as a society. Yet that is the course upon which this Government has embarked. It has continued along that course, notwithstanding the protests which have been made to it by teachers through their organisations in the various States and through the Australian Teachers Federation; notwithstanding the protests which have been made over the years by State Premiers and Ministers for Education through the Australian Education Council; and notwithstanding the recommendations which have been made by the Committee which inquired into tertiary education in Australia.

Our Government is not prepared - that means the Menzies Government is not prepared - to spend what we should spend. The Menzies Government is not prepared to carry out the recommendations of the Committee in relation to scholarships, nor is it prepared to carry out the recommendations of the Committee in relation to teacher training. Honorable senators on both sides of the chamber have agreed that the training of teachers is fundamental to better education in Australia. The teachers, at least, have faced up to the problem and have said that more teacher training is needed. One of the wonderful things about this problem is that the teachers themselves have not tried to pretend that their training was all that it should have been, nor have they tried to pretend that all is well in teaching. They faced the situation. They have done their duty by their students and have said: "All is not well in teaching today. All is not well in education. Teachers should be better trained. There should be more of them. This needs Commonwealth assistance because it is beyond the capacity of the States." What the teachers have said has been echoed by the Committee.

As well as the quantity of education in Australia not being what it should be, the quality of education also is not what it should be. This derives, in part, from the lack of proper teacher training and from insufficient teacher training. But it has other causes as well. We live in a community in which teaching is choked by the traditions of the past. We have broadly the same kind of higher education as existed in the Middle Ages. We are a community which educationally is choked by tradition. What was good for the people in the Middle Ages and what was good for the people in the 17th century is still by and large supposed to be good for us in 1965. We have the same system of lectures and the same set-up of faculties. We have the same kind of controls and it looks as though we will continue to have them.

There are great vested interests in education just as there are in other fields of life. We speak of the monopolies which exist in industry. There are monopolies in primary industry and in secondary industry. There are also monopolies and vested interests in tertiary industry - in the field of tertiary education. Those monopolies and vested interests are determined to maintain the same kind of set-up as has existed for generation after generation. It is heartening to learn that the teachers of this community, the Committee which inquired into tertiary education in Australia and the Australian Universities Commission which has endorsed the Committee's report are willing to break away from the traditional patterns of education. It is about time that some new light was thrown on the subject. It is difficult to believe that with all the changes that have occurred in our society over hundreds of years our system of imparting education, especially at the higher levels, should continue to be the same in essence. But it is the same, and we suffer. What is at the top inevitably affects what is at the bottom. So in Australia and in other parts of the world we have a system of education which is not at all satisfactory to people who have to live with it.

Let us look at our system of education. If one looks at it as a whole one sees the need for many changes. The Martin Committee dealt with many aspects of the subject in its report. When dealing with universities the Committee recommended as follows -

Consideration should be given to organising on national basis ad hoc committees or conferences of scholars and teachers to examine:

(a)   The implications of modern scholarship for the content of secondary school courses in English, foreign languages, mathematics, chemistry, physics and biological sciences.

(b)   The principles underlying the matriculation examination.

(c)   The articulation of study in the final year of secondary schooling and the first year of university study.

A little further on the Committee statedUniversities should, from time to time, examine the content of courses to discover what should be added in the light of new knowledge, and also what should be discarded as outmoded.

It seems almost farcical that gentlemen of the eminence of those who comprised this Committee should have to meet and say that scholars and teachers should examine the implications of modern scholarship for the content of secondary school courses in subjects such as English. But is that not necessary?

We have reached the stage in relation to education where we have hardening of the arteries. There has not been the kind of examination that the Committee has said should be made. This is the most elementary thing that ought to have been entered upon. It concerns the quality of our education. Let us take the first subject that was mentioned - English. If we were to go throughout Australia and take a gallup poll of businessmen, professional men, men in the street, politicians or anybody else, asking them what they thought of the results of the teaching of English in Australia, an overwhelming majority would say that those results were disgraceful. As a community we are not satisfied that as a result of secondary school teaching, let alone teaching at the tertiary level, we are able to speak or to write as well as we should. The community as a whole is grossly dissatisfied with the standard of the teaching of English. English is basic to all our education; it is the flux, the ether, by which we communicate our ideas. It is in the use of English that most of the subjects achieve any real meaning for us. If we cannot understand this means of communication how can we really understand other subjects such as philosophy and psychology? As I suggested earlier, from time to time the whole community has expressed loudly and clearly its dissatisfaction with the standard of the teaching of this subject at every level.

What has been done about this shortcoming? As far as one can judge, very little has been done. Why is that so? It is because we have had a static approach to education; we have had the vested interests; we have had persons who have been concerned with preserving things as they are. What happens at the end of a secondary school education so far as English is concerned? I do not say that there are not exceptions, but at the best high schools in Australia, whether they be private or public, the best students really are not able to speak or to write English as they should. At the end of their secondary schooling most students have a complete dislike for English literature as it is taught to them. The amount of garbage that is fed to students during a secondary school course can only make tertiary education extremely difficult.

By way of illustration let me take the teaching of Shakespeare. Can one imagine anything more ridiculous than the way in which Shakespeare is taught in our secondary schools? Students, instead of being taught to love Shakespeare, to get a broad understanding of what he has done and to become familiar with his plays, are tortured to learn out of date expressions, to analyse and re-analyse his works, and to boil them down until they mean nothing. The plays and the spirit of this great playwright are so dissected, so torn about, that no student can really end up enjoying the course in Shakespeare. Yet this goes on year after year. Why is that so?


Senator Cavanagh - Because the spirit of purpose is lost.


Senator MURPHY - As the honorable senator has said, it is because the spirit of purpose is lost. The honorable senator knows it, I know it, and everybody else knows it. It is wrong. Yet it is done. Why is it done? It is done because it was done last year, the year before, and the year before that. It has been done for a generation and it continues to be done. The students who are now sitting in the gallery no doubt will be subjected to the same kind of nonsense.

What I am about to say applies in other fields, not only in relation to English. We live under a system whereby an outstanding character like Shakespeare is made to become so like a god that he holds up progress in the understanding of English literature for hundreds of years, just as Aristotle was made a god and held up the progress of science for 2,000 years. The attitude is that nobody could be as good as Shakespeare, just as it was that nobody could disagree with Aristotle. The result is that students are forced to study something that is written in what has become old English and is difficult for us to understand. That is the kind of thing that the Committee was referring to when it said that we ought to be having a look at secondary school courses and at the methods of teaching that are employed. Just fancy our having such nonsense as putting students to secondary school for five years and having them study one after another Euclid's theorems from No. 1 to No. 90. What is the purpose of it? It is said that there is no real purpose in their learning what theorem No. 60 or theorem No. 87 is but that by doing so they are being taught to think and to reason. It would be much more sensible to give them a short course in logic, the lessons of which they could apply in al! spheres of study.

Unfortunately, we seem to direct our educational system more to the acquisition of knowledge than of understanding and wisdom. Most of the knowledge gained under our present educational system is useless and the student, with the reaction of most human beings, forgets it soon after he has learnt it. Why should anyone carry around in his head - even a professional engineer - the theorems of Euclid from 1 to 90? It is a useless burden of knowledge which brings with it very little understanding and direction towards thinking in our secondary schools. The same type of pattern is carried over into tertiary education. The snobbishness which exists in our tertiary education is evident in our secondary education. It is regrettable that there is no snob like an intellectual snob. There is much evidence of such snobbishness on the educational scene today.

We have grown to think of our educational system as being one dimensional. We think of it as primary, secondary and tertiary. It is regarded as a yardstick, the first foot of which is primary, the second foot is secondary and the third foot is tertiary. It is not like that. We do not live in a one dimensional world. As we understand the world since Einstein, it is four dimensional. We ought not to think that our tertiary education is education of the university type which follows at the end of secondary education and that is all it is. There is a type of pure, distilled tertiary education which is university education, it is thought, and other types of education are said to be in some way impure or adulterated. It is held that other forms of tertiary education ought not to be allowed - or if allowed it is some kind of concession to persons who are not good enough to achieve the standards of a university. This is not right. We have in our community people of all types who are capable of completing a secondary education, matriculating, attending a university and satisfying the standards of a university. Sometimes university standards are rather peculiar. But we also have in our community people who have bents in other directions and who ought to be able to gain a higher education even if it is gained outside a university. There is no reason to look down upon those people. We have many people in the community who are capable of learning a great deal and benefiting themselves and the community by education gained outside a university.

The Martin report has done a great deal towards shattering the traditional patterns of education. It is said that education at the tertiary level ought not to be regarded in a single dimension fashion. There should be at least two other forms of tertiary education which would fall within the scope of the institutes of colleges and the boards of teacher education. Three forms of tertiary education would then exist - the universities, the colleges within the institutes of colleges and the boards of teacher education. This seems to me to be a most desirable development, notwithstanding the opposition which exists in universities to this development. Some persons in universities fear that a great deal of public finance will be directed to institutions outside universities. Their fears may be justified. I think that public finance should be so directed.

We have neglected for too long the other forms of tertiary education. We have treated them as though they were not quite right. It is time that this attitude was changed. Human beings are made with different talents. We have for too long neglected the talents of those who are not fitted for a university education. Those who maintain that a student should either meet the standards of a university or forgo higher education should recall the history of some of the greatest men of recent times who were barely able to meet the standards of a university. Louis Pasteur was barely able to meet the standards of the university he attended in France, yet once he had passed its barriers he demonstrated within 12 months that he was one of the greatest scientists the world had ever known. Other figures come to mind, one of the greatest of whom was Einstein. He also was not a star at a university. As I recall it, his attainments at his university were such that after he had completed his university course he was able to obtain a post only equivalent to one with our Registrar of Patents. Despite his lack of university success, Einstein came to be perhaps the greatest scientist in his field that the world has known. There are many other such cases. I refer, for instance, to Mr. Penfold who is recognised throughout the Australian scientific community as a great scientist but who did not have any formal course of education.

The problem of education is deeper than simply ensuring that proper standards are set up at each level in the one dimensional field. That does not mean to say that this Parliament and the Government ought to permit any relaxation of university standards. I firmly believe - and I think it would be the belief of all honorable senators - that the standards of the universities ought to be maintained and enhanced. I think they will be improved if those students wishing to attempt courses such as those to be covered by the institutes of colleges are removed from the universities. I do not suggest that they should be removed compulsorily. but many thousands of students now attending universities find it difficult to cope with the standards demanded. By their presence they make it more difficult for other students to get through their courses because of overcrowded conditions. All interests would be served if other forms of tertiary education were available outside universities to cater for such students.


Senator O'Byrne - The first year failure rate bears that out.


Senator MURPHY - Yes, it does. This means that one must look outside as well as inside the universities for growth of tertiary education. The report itself has stated that these institutions outside the universities should deal not only with technological matters but also with other fields of study, and I believe that that is right. I think also that this would be a healthy thing for the universities. The competition from some of these outside bodies may make the universities stand a little on their toes.

The universities have contributed a great deal through the ages. They have contributed a great deal in our present time to the extension of education through Australia but there is this tremendous gap in the other field. It is proposed by the Committee that if the institutes were set up one would have a pattern of education which, for instance with engineers, would cover not only the four years course in the universities leading to a degree of Bachelor of Engineering and formal post-graduate courses for a Master's or Doctor's degree, but also a three years or equivalent part-time post matriculation course in technical colleges, including institutes of technology, the qualification to be a diploma, and post diploma courses of one year in selected institutions, leading to a degree of Bachelor of Technology.

There may be some question as to whether or not the institutes and the colleges which are represented within them ought to be able to grant degrees, but part of the Committee's report is the emphasis upon transference from the colleges to the universities and transference from the universities to the colleges. This is a most important part of its recommendations, because people mature at different times. People come into their intellectual stride at different times, so that a person may be going apparently slowly at some institute and come into his intellectual flowering and be capable of going on further than it was anticipated he might do. On the other hand, some person may be at a university and apparently doing well and come to the end, virtually, of his intellectual course, that is, as a human being. He is no longer going on as he should, and although it appeared when he started that he would be able easily to cope with the university course, it then appeared that he was unable to do so. Such a person ought to be able to transfer to one of the colleges and end up with a diploma, so that he may make the utmost of his ability.

These proposals of the Committee, I think, are well made, as is the proposal that the status of the technical colleges should be raised and strengthened. This link between the tertiary institutions was dealt with by the Committee at page 174. It cites Doctor Darling, who said -

Wc have accepted as needs we must the doctrine of educational equality as a necessary corollary of democracy, but we have never made up our minds clearly as to what we mean by this education for alL

The report then states -

This comment becomes more significant when it is recognised how tenuous are the educational links between the groups of tertiary institutions.

The report then goes on to state, at page 175-

In particular there is a danger of higher education becoming identified in the minds of the community with university education, and of a university degree becoming the single symbol of intellectual aptitude. Ability is a complex human quality; and emphasis on university studies to the exclusion of others in higher education is wasteful of much human talent.

The Committee points out a little later on in its report that if these proposals were accepted the distribution of students among the major groups of institutions was likely to change. The report continues -

The education to be provided in some colleges, for example, should attract greater numbers of students than hitherto. Some students find difficulty in making wise decisions as to where their abilities and their inclinations lie. Further, the motivations of students often change as they grow older.

The Committee then says that it is of the utmost importance that this transference back and forth between the universities and the colleges should be made possible.

There is not at the moment an easy method of transference. This means that if a student finds that he is incapable of completing a university course now, he just drops it. We then have a person with wasted years, who has not achieved a goal, who feels frustrated and who goes on in life forever lacking confidence. He ought to be able to move across to an institution where he could complete a course and obtain a diploma which would give him status and the prestige attached to it and would enable him to use it, because these diplomas and degrees have an economic value. There are awards and agreements which are based directly on the holding of some particular degree or diploma. Equally so, a person going through a college ought to be able, if he finds that his abilities are greater than he thought, or if his goals are increased, to change to the university and obtain a degree. Alternatively, he ought to be able to obtain a degree as suggested by the report through the Institute of Colleges.

Mr. Deputy President,I see that Mr. Reynolds, the honorable member for Barton in the other place, is now in the gallery of the chamber. He is one who has strongly espoused this notion that there must be provision - and adequate provision - for tertiary education outside of the universities. It is an idea that I think will become generally accepted, but it is one which is a definite breach with our traditional thinking. It is something which this Committee has done and I think that it is the greatest thing that it has done because the other matters, for instance, the matter of teacher training, were things which were apparent. More money had to be spent; there had to be more teachers. It was obvious that more money ought to be spent on scholarships because we all want to make a higher education available to those students who are capable of benefiting from a higher education. Indeed, the Australian Labour Party considers that higher education should be fr.ee, in particular that tertiary education should be free to all who are capable of having it. Such tertiary education ought not to be limited to university education. This could be done, as Senator Cohen showed in his masterly analysis of the figures. It would take very little to make university education free for all who could use it, because the amount that is now gathered from fees is only a small fraction of the amount that is spent by the community through the universities.

The proposals of the Martin Committee have been slashed. The Government has not been prepared to take up tertiary education in the way recommended by the Committee. The Australian Labour Party does not agree with certain of the matters raised by the Committee in its report, but these are subsidiary to the main issues. The Committee has suggested, for instance, that a tertiary education commission be established. It has dissected the problem and laid it bare, giving its conclusions. In doing so it has performed a great public service. But we do not consider that this is the way to handle the problem. There ought to be a government department - a responsible ministry - looking after education. Surely if we are to spend vast sums on education we ought to know what we are -doing. There ought to be constant investigation in this matter. The problems of education are now national problems. We should have a Ministry of Education, with a Minister seated in one of the chambers of this Parliament, so that matters concerning education may be fought out in this place. The issues should be brought to light. Questions ought to be asked about these matters. We ought to have a responsible department constantly investigating these matters and dealing with them. Education ought to be brought nearer the heart of the nation. This Parliament is the heart of the nation. This is where these matters are determined. The closer we are to this place in matters of education the better served will education be. What subject is there greater than education which should call for the immediate and close attention of the National Parliament?

The Labour Party regrets that the Government has rejected the central theme of the Martin report, namely the organisation of tertiary education into three types of institutions. We regret that the Government has rejected all the Committee's recommendations relating to teacher training. We believe that the Government's proposals will result in incoherent administration of tertiary education by the proliferation of committees and indefinite areas of mini.terial and administrative responsibility. We deplore the Government's failure to accept the Committee's recommendations concerning scholarships. In an amendment to the motion -

That the Senate take notice of the following paper. we seek to add an expression of our regret that the Government has failed specifically to endorse the Committee's recommendations on scholarships, teacher education and scientific and social research. We regret also the imprecision of the Committee's concept and the Government's concept of nonuniversity tertiary institutions. The reason for this imprecision may arise due to various factors. One is because the Committee is, in a sense, breaking new ground and no doubt there will be opposition to its proposals. As I see it, if we preserve the status of our universities and the standards of our secondary education we should be prepared to support a great extension of the colleges envisaged by the Institute of Colleges. I would go along with what I understand to be implicit in the Committee's report - that these institutions would not in any way be restricted to technological colleges. Why should we not have tertiary education dealing with the arts, such as music, and with the humanities? It has been said - a little unkindly by some people - that this would achieve little. It has been said by one person well versed in political science -

The greatest educational fallacy in the proposal for tertiary colleges is the assumption, implicit in the Report, that students can receive some kind of " training " in the liberal arts which can then be rewarded with a diploma. It is extremely doubtful whether the liberal arts can or should be regarded as a " training " for anything. If they are, it can only be a training of an unspecialised type whose vocational usefulness is quite unspecific

Those are the words of a learned writer. They illustrate the type of thinking with which I do not agree, although I have great respect for their author. If this type of institution trains people to think for themselves and to know more about the world in which they live - perhaps to improve their English, to give them an understanding of literature and to let them know more about the world than they learned at secondary school - what is wrong with it? Why should it not be encouraged? Why should not the financial and moral weight of the community be put behind these institutions? Why should not students be encouraged to go to them? When I refer to students in this sense I do not mean only youthful students because we are living in a four dimensional world not a one dimensional world. Progress is not from primary school to secondary school and straight to university. There should be room in our tertiary education system for persons of any age. We live also in a dimension of time and we have not made enough use of the talents we have. We have not been inventive enough in our institutions. The Martin Committee calls for an inquiry into education is Australia on a much wider basis than previous inquiries had. The Labour Party wholeheartedly supports that call, which is made also by the teachers.

I believe that we are slipping badly in Australia in our education. If we look at the world scene we see that the developing nations are accelerating at a much faster rate than we are. The young nations which are now behind us will soon be up with us. If we persist in pursuing our traditional modes of thinking in education, as in other spheres, we will soon drop behind in the race for life. It has happened to nations again and again in history. The young people who are sitting in the gallery have probably read about the growth of great empires. One remembers that the empire of the Arabs was one of the greatest that the world had seen. They were able to sweep across Europe. They had scientists, philosophers and artists. But because they did not keep up with their education they soon slipped behind until in our own generation they were downtrodden people. Let us not think that this type of thing cannot happen to us.

There are many ways in which tertiary education can be improved. It does not belong merely in the universities or in the institutes of colleges. Tertiary education is something which ought to be going on all the time. The Japanese are constantly calling international conferences to discuss all sorts of subjects. The conferences sometimes go on for weeks, educating the people in various ways on higher education. Other nations in the world are experimenting in higher education, but unfortunately we, until the advent of this report, were far too set in our ways. It reminds one of the Professor of Worldly Wisdom, spoken of by Samuel Butler in his famous book "Erewhon". The Professor of Worldly Wisdom was one of the professors at the Colleges of Unreason. The hero of the book came up against him because he spoke of certain persons being men of genius. The author said -

The venerable Professor of Worldly Wisdom, a man verging on eighty but still hale, spoke to me very seriously on this subject in consequence of the few words that I had imprudently let fall in defence of genius. He was one of those who carried most weight in the university, and had the reputation of having done more perhaps than any other living man to suppress any kind of originality.

We have a report which though cautious and conservative in many ways, nevertheless seeks in one way to break out from the traditional patterns by way of emphasis. It seeks, and is supported by the community in seeking, to enlarge our notion of tertiary education so that we may carry it on in all spheres. Let us not attend only to those who are capable of going to the universities. Let us raise the standards. Let us spend more money. Let us make our universities of world reputation, but let us not neglect the talents of the rest of the community. Let us be prepared to spend heavily to overcome the legacy of our failure in the past. Let us make the utmost use of the talents of not only our young people but the rest of our people in all the spheres of higher education which lie outside the universities. I support the amendment and express my congratulations to the Martin Committee for the extremely valuable report which it bias rendered to the Australian Universities Commission for submission to the Parliament.







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