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Wednesday, 2 November 2011
Page: 12455


Mr BILLSON (Dunkley) (11:49): I enjoyed the member for Mitchell's contribution as well. It was very erudite and responsive and quite innovative. I was actually waiting to hear the member for Melbourne's contribution, but I understand the member for Melbourne is a no-show and that the member for Mitchell recognised that I cannot run quite as quickly as I used to be able to. I thank the member for Mitchell for that.

The Higher Education Support Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2011 updates the maximum public funds allocated to fund Commonwealth supported places as a consequence of projected increases in enrolment. This is, I think, a worthwhile ambition, and I will talk briefly about the Bradley review and its implications, not only broadly but also specifically for the community I represent. The idea that there is an opportunity to uncap places is a tantalising prospect, and I will touch briefly on the potential of that. The bill also provides for increases in funding with indexation and for further out years funding to take account of the budget cycle—the 2011-12 budget commitments run into the 2015 calendar year. There is also an opportunity for discounts that relate to students who pay their HECS upfront or repay these fees early.

The key outcome of the Bradley review as it relates to the community that I represent is the ambition for a greater level of student participation and academic attainment. That is very worthwhile and it is something that certainly drew me into public life. I very much believe your postcode does not determine your potential, but too often people from communities where post-secondary education is not the norm might not consider it to be a legitimate ambition for them. In my own family, my brother and I were the first in memory who attended tertiary education. For many communities, particularly in the greater Frankston area and the Dunkley electorate, which I represent, higher education is often viewed as a distant thing. It is a distant thing not only because it is an experience that might be unfamiliar for a number of our households; it is also physically a distant thing. I often reflect on the fact that, if someone in my electorate in the Mornington Peninsula or greater Frankston area wanted to study fibre-optic engineering, they would have to travel to the Bundoora campus of La Trobe University—for those who do not know the geography of Melbourne well, for a 9 am lecture tomorrow, best they leave now. But our community is viewed as being in that greater metropolitan area that is often misunderstood when it comes to questions about living away from home. That simple example about a particular course of study available at a particular campus of a particular university within the greater Melbourne metropolitan area may as well be light years away. That is of concern.

The Bradley review sought to recognise the aspirational goal of having 40 per cent of Australians between the ages of 25 and 34 holding at least a bachelor's degree by 2020. The government subsequently pushed the ambition of that date out to 2025. That is an ambition and an aspiration the coalition supports, but ambition is not enough; you need to put the architecture and the infrastructure in place. This bill goes some way towards that. What the bill does not do and what I think is desperately needed is to build up the appetite for people who might not see a bachelor's degree as an achievement for them and to have those people realise it is an opportunity for them. To do that there is a need to build up aspiration and ambition, but also to make interesting and engaging courses of study relevant to those people and to the community that they are a part of available in a reasonably accessible way. That is the challenge that we face on the Mornington Peninsula, in the greater Frankston area.

Last night, on adjournment, I touched briefly in my remarks on the tertiary education provision plan for outer south-eastern Melbourne. I pay tribute to Peter Hall, the Minister for Higher Education and Skills in the Victorian government, and also to Professor Kwong Lee Dow. I was fortunate enough to speak with Professor Kwong Lee Dow and those supporting this examination about the kinds of challenges my community faces. The data on this is quite compelling. The data shows that, in terms of post-secondary education, participation and attainment for our region is about half the Victorian average. About half the average is about half the ambition that this bill seeks to support. So there is an awful lot of daylight between where we are now, where we could be to just match the Victorian average and where we need to be to achieve the goals that are set. The answers to how you close that gap are in part touched upon in this bill. I think the uncapping of places is a smart way to go. It allows universities to respond to student demand and not to have their course offering contained by a centrally determined program about which courses will be funded through government support and which ones will not be. That needs to be backed up by the demand of students to take up that opportunity.

One of the things that Kwong Lee Dow correctly identifies in his report is the availability and accessibility of courses of interest. I declare a pecuniary interest as Chairman of the Monash Peninsula Community Advisory Council. I declare that interest because often that role puts me as an agitator within the Monash family. Madam Deputy Speaker Burke, you would know from your location that Monash has some fine facilities: the Clayton campus, Caulfield and others are fantastic. The one on the peninsula, though, looked like it had a grim future. We were able to turn that around by focusing the campus on health and wellness programs. The former Howard government provided, from memory, about 230 extra places in that health and wellness group, dealing with such things as occupational therapy, physiotherapy, speech pathology, allied health and those kinds of courses, which was further added to by Monash, recognising that it needed to beef up the student load and the offer at the peninsula campus. That has been a fantastic success. There are more than 3½ thousand students studying at that campus in Frankston, but increasingly it is people from outside our region. The gap that needs to be dealt with is the academic appetite of the region within which that campus is located.

What the bill needs to recognise is that to get a higher level of participation you need to be able to incite, encourage and inspire people to take up those courses wherever they may be available. As Kwong Lee Dow rightly identified, being able to get to them matters a great deal. Campuses such as the peninsula campus of Monash have extraordinary infrastructure and have all of the success and achievement of the Monash University behind it and breathing through it, but we need to go further. We need to have that participation rate lifted in the greater Frankston, Mornington Peninsula region to at least the state average and then to hopefully resemble some of the ambition that the Bradley report and this bill seek to support. We need to make sure there is something there that attracts our local students.

I have put out a proposition and I have said that we need to turn Monash Peninsula into a higher education base. We need to introduce small business courses, because the local economy is crying out for competent, vocationally relevant, academically trained and fit-for-purpose business graduates to help run the small businesses that are in our region. We also need to look at expanding the arts offering, and certainly some of the allied health and the connection with wellness programs, and even insights around substance dependency and things of that kind. There is a very relevant need to build the skill base there as well as the broader arts courses of study. We need to get into science and look at taking the allied health and science based competency at that campus and expanding it into broader fields of science so the people can see that that is relevant to their career and life ambitions. We also need to look at engineering as a competency that is valued and very much in need in all economies and show that it is also an area of study that people can relate to. Families, in particular, know what an engineering degree is about. Families, in particular, might not know the vast range of community development work that is part of occupational therapy, but yet occupational therapy is the banner of the course. If a young person was talking about doing occupational therapy, they really should take their parents along to the campus at Monash Peninsula to show them what a vast array of opportunities this may open up. That lack of awareness within the broader family group may also be an impediment to participation. It may also undermine aspiration. It will certainly not help achieve the aspirational goal of having 40 per cent of Australians between the ages of 25 and 34 holding a bachelor's degree by 2025. I submit that this is a useful and constructive step in the right direction, and it puts in place some of the tools that are needed to achieve the higher level of a bachelor qualification for the Australian public. But it needs to be supported by specific strategies to lift aspiration and improve accessibility. We need to make sure that young people think about higher education, even if it is not the experience of their family or social group, and understand how it can contribute to improved livelihoods and opportunities down the track. We need to make sure they have within reach courses of study that are relevant to their ambitions—ambitions lifted and inspired by us talking and engaging with young people and making sure that the courses of study available to them are within reach.

In coming days there will be a very constructive series of steps which I hope will really lift opportunities on the peninsula. I hope Monash University Vice-Chancellor Ed Byrne and the chancellor and all the council will embrace what the academic leadership of the university has suggested, and that is that it is time to think about different models for Monash in different regions so that they can better respond to the specifics of the regions where the university operates. Monash, as a leading Group of Eight university, needs to continue to be world class and it needs to continue with its research. But it also needs to recognise that it is embedded within, and is part of, these regional communities and needs to carry the expectations of the communities that host Monash campuses.

For our case, that means revisiting some of the ENTER scores. For our case, that means considering a model like the University of California, where the campus in LA is slightly different from the campus in San Diego. The campuses are all under the UC banner but they are all quite specific and responsive to the communities they work with, support and service, and they also offer different experiences and different courses. I would like to think that that could be Monash's future. I would like to thank that the peninsula campus will set up the greater Frankston-Mornington Peninsula area as a learning environment for higher education that is vocationally focused, where degrees give people the tool kit they need to go out into the workforce for fulfilling careers and to support the local economy. I want them to see that the investment of time and personal effort will provide them with rewards, and that the building blocks for that successful future are within reach.

We have fibre optics, but students have to leave home early to get to their classes on the other side of Melbourne at the Bundoora campus of La Trobe. That is not good enough. I would like to think that the Monash University campus, and the infrastructure that is there, could reach out to other highly valued and successful providers such as Chisholm to offer a far richer range of higher education that responds to the needs of the local community but more particularly lifts the eyes of young people in our region to see that tertiary education is there for the taking, that if you apply yourself this delicious world of opportunities is available, that your postcode does not determine your potential and that other things are needed to achieve the ambitions that Bradley outlined.

This report gives me some encouragement about what we could do together with Monash and Chisholm to service the greater Frankston-Peninsula region. I aim to engage with the minister, Peter Hall. I know he has some resources available to support regional campuses. I would guide him towards thinking that targeted investment and a slight adjustment to the current model are needed to bring about a higher level of aspiration and participation. Just doing more of the same and not tackling these underlying impediments to this goal will not see us achieve it. But I think we can see a way forward, and I hope all levels of government can get behind that.