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Monday, 26 May 2003
Page: 14864

Mr CADMAN (2:43 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Education, Science and Training. Would the minister inform the House of responses to the government's higher education package announced in the budget and how the government's changes are going to provide better, fairer education to Australian students?

Dr NELSON (Minister for Education, Science and Training) —I thank the member for Mitchell for his question and his very strong commitment to the University of Western Sydney. His enthusiasm for higher education is matched, if not exceeded, only by his commitment to the 70 per cent of young people who do not go directly from schools to university, instead going to TAFE apprenticeships and work. The government announced in the budget a transformational package of reform for Australian higher education to drive the nation's economic and social development. It includes $1.5 billion of extra public funding in the first four years and $10.6 billion extra public funding in the first decade.

The response to the package has been generally very supportive. For example, Professor Schreuder, President of the Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee—and these are the men and women who live and breathe Australian universities, who have committed their entire lives to the very best that Australian higher education can offer—said that it was:

... now critical that the Parliament legislate to adopt this comprehensive policy and funding transformation package to create an internationally competitive system of universities, diverse by missions but excellent in outcomes.

On 15 May, the Australian, in editorialising, said:

The idea of change might frighten some academics but Dr Nelson's reforms offer them a unique chance to help their institutions grow and prosper. It is a chance that all who believe Australia needs a world-class university system must embrace.

The Australian Financial Review on the same day said in part:

The reforms offer the universities the chance of a richer and more fertile future. They should grab it and the Senate and the states should not stand in their way.

In the Age on 22 May, Professor Peter Doherty, a Nobel laureate with one of the finest academic and scientific minds this nation has produced, said:

After a process of wide consultation, our democratically elected Government has spoken on the issue of funding higher education. The Brendan Nelson recommendations offer a way out of what was rapidly becoming a national disaster.

The three critical messages that the government is delivering in Australian higher education are, firstly, that it is investing another $1½ billion of hard-earned Australian taxpayers' money in Australian universities; secondly, that it is increasing the number of places that are available for Australian students—the number of HECS places will increase by 31,500 in the first five years, including fully funding 25,000 marginally funded over-enrolled places; and, thirdly, that, for the first time, the government will make student union membership voluntary. The government will expand the HECS system so that no student will pay any kind of fee when they get to the university gate; instead, they will pay it only when they leave university as a graduate earning, on average, $622,000 more over a lifetime. For the first time, for the fewer than two per cent of students in Australian universities and for those who choose to go to the 84 private higher education institutions, the government is prepared to offer those students a loan that they will pay back only when they graduate. Absolutely no student—or, indeed, their parents or families—will be required to find the money when they get to the university door.