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Wednesday, 9 October 1991
Page: 1529

Mr CHARLES(12.40 p.m.) —-I rise this afternoon to contribute to the Appropriation Bill (No.1) debate with regard to employment, education and training. I would like in general to confine my remarks to the education and training sector of the portfolio. I commence by noting that, on my calculations, the overall increase in expenditure in employment, education and training in this year's Budget is some 7.7 per cent in nominal terms but we have increased the allocation for student financial expenditure by 18.5 per cent and general administration--that is, the bureaucracy--by 18.7 per cent.

I would question the logic--as I have previously--of increasing overheads and administrative expense to the detriment of teacher salaries, of capital infrastructure and of places in all of our tertiary institutions for students to meet the pent-up demand which has occurred throughout Australian society over the past decade. I note that recent estimates of unmet demand for the next student financial year are now being raised to the order of 30,000 places in universities. I believe the Minister for Higher Education and Employment Services (Mr Baldwin) has recently said that we will cut the intake next year and that will allow us to help meet the Budget. That means another 5 per cent of students who are qualified to go to university will not have places available. There are upwards of 120,000 full-time unmet places demanded in TAFE. I suggest that is a national disgrace.

Surely, at the beginning of the 1990s when we in this place have helped to create expectations in the community of places in higher education, when we have encouraged people to continue their education, and when the recession we had to have has made it incumbent on many young people to continue their education as there are no jobs for them, we must have a responsibility to make places available. We pass no test for equity if we cannot provide access for those young people and those re-entering adults who now wish to participate in higher education.

In my electorate we have very poor provision for tertiary studies. We have no tertiary facility of any nature, neither a TAFE nor a university. I note that the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Sawford) said that his electorate was particularly disadvantaged, having a participation rate of some 4.7 per cent, I believe he said, for 17- through 24-year-olds. In my electorate of La Trobe in one area the figure is approximately 8 per cent, in another area it is less than 6 per cent and in another area it is 4 per cent, so we have a massive disadvantage which we hope to address, with the Government's assistance, through the provision of university colleges or universities in two new areas.

It is not good enough that our youth continues at school without goals and without direction. We must decide in Australia for what reason we educate our population or we may well educate without effect. In some other countries, such as the United States, industry has decreed that it wishes the public education system to produce outputs--that is, individuals--who are well educated in general terms with high standards of literacy and numeracy and with an ability to learn. With such general grounding, industry will then supply the discrete training required to satisfy industry's need for competence in specific tasks.

Other countries, such as Germany, have created a dual stream education system where some portion of the young student population is, at an early age, directed towards academic studies and ultimate tertiary qualification. However, the majority of the student population in Germany is directed into vocational studies with some academic training which will lead towards real jobs in the real world of work. The American system works well for Americans and the German system works well for Germans. But Australia must develop its own system of education and training which will serve the needs of our individuals and the needs of Australian industry, business and commerce.

Prior to the 1980s there was little need for Australia to be supercompetitive with the rest of the world, but with our small population, our large land mass and abundant natural resources we were able to support one of the world's highest standards of living through a combination of largely self-sufficient food supply, together with export of raw or semi-processed materials, minerals and agricultural products. A high tariff wall protected local production of manufactured products and our export income paid for our import of manufactured goods which were either uneconomical to manufacture locally or beyond our capabilities technologically.

Unfortunately for Australia, rapid advancement in technology in the 1970s and 1980s has led to a very real decrease in the value of raw materials, including agricultural products, and an increase in return for value adding industries which has left Australia behind and in the grip of an ever-decreasing standard of living. In the same historical sense, our manufacturing and process industries developed along the lines of traditional British colonial top heavy management and craft based trade union structure. That structure set up very rigid and fixed skills training paths that were appropriate to the craft delineation or demarcations which applied in industry. A young person who wished to be a bricklayer obtained an apprenticeship with a company devoted to bricklaying, studied bricklaying and learned bricklaying on the job, and was expected to lay bricks for the rest of his life. If by himself he managed somehow to obtain carpentry skills, and at home in his own time and on weekends he made furniture for the family, those skills were nonetheless unrecognised and he was not allowed to use those skills at work in his real employment.

The concept that at work only an electrician is allowed to change a light bulb and only a plumber is allowed to change a tap washer is still alive and well in Australia in the beginning of the 1990s. The craft skills concept and the demarcation concepts no longer have relevance in other countries whose economies have long since left Australia's behind. If we wish to survive in the twenty-first century and if we wish to return to a position of having one of the highest standards of living in the world, we must give away our training concept based on craft and demarcation and rapidly move to an advanced system of training which is flexible, adaptable to needs, relevant to modern technology, applicable to the desires and capabilities of individuals and capable of certification and practical and financial recognition. Our training must be equal to world best standards according to world best practice and achieve world best outcomes.

Until tertiary education was disrupted by the Minister for Employment, Education and Training (Mr Dawkins) in his interventionist amalgamation philosophy, it had largely developed along British lines. Over time our universities and institutes of technology developed their own fields of individual expertise and their own standards of excellence in specific areas of curriculum concentration and research effort. In Australia we have not encouraged the private provision of tertiary education, with the result that almost all degree work must be undertaken in State funded and State run institutions.

We have achieved a high standard of excellence without external competition, but that is no doubt attributable more to student number restrictions than to competitive forces. The new unified national system, which is designed to force amalgamation between smaller universities, institutes of technology and colleges of advanced education, is premised on a concept that big is beautiful and that cost efficiency through reduction in expenditure on bureaucracy can be achieved through amalgamation and creation of larger units.

It is clear that we have a major problem with access to our tertiary institutions. Youth are being turned away from our universities in increasing numbers because of the lack of capital funding for facilities and recurrent funding for teachers and staff. It is my view that we must find a better and more equitable funding mix to allow all of our youth who are qualified to attend a university of their choice. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Dubois) --Order! It being approximately 12.45 p.m., in accordance with sessional order 101A, I shall report progress.

The Deputy Chairman having reported accordingly--

Sitting suspended from 12.50 to 2 p.m.