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Friday, 22 March 1985
Page: 631

Senator PETER BAUME(9.09) —by leave-I move:

That the Senate take note of the statement.

We had here yesterday a debate which was characterised perhaps by its passion and by the very significant value differences which separate the two sides of the House. However, on this occasion the discussion is of a different kind. It will be a discussion as to whether we agree with the particular judgments the Government has made. I think what the Minister for Education (Senator Ryan) has brought down is a very important statement, one which people have been waiting to hear and one which helps to clarify a difficult area in Australian educational administration.

The Government has done some quite courageous things. In this statement, of course, it has reintroduced a form of tertiary fees into Australia. It has done it in a proper area in line with the recommendations of the Jackson Committee to Review the Australian Overseas Aid Program and has done it in a way for which I will give the Minister full credit in terms of the number of full fee-paying places that it potentially provides for certain students. It is important to identify what the problem has been in relation to private overseas students, and overseas students generally, in Australia.

We have limits on access to tertiary education because the number of places in the sector is fixed. This in turn is due to tight central government budgetary control over the tertiary institutions. A large number of resident Australian students were turned away this year from our tertiary institutions. I am not sure how many, but it may have been several tens of thousands. One thing is certain: With increasing retention in our secondary schools and with an increasing desire for Australians to participate the number turned away from our institutions will increase in the years to come.

Once people have been turned away there is no capacity for them to enter the tertiary system or higher education in Australia. As the system has operated, overseas students who come to this country have taken places within that total funded number and, by definition, have displaced resident Australians. That has really been the cause of the political sensitivity which has faced the Government and the Minister and which has led to this examination having to be done. There has been increasing resentment from disappointed students and parents when they see places being occupied by people who are not resident Australians. They see themselves or their relatives not being able to get places and they find no way to do anything about it because the total number of places has been fixed by administrative decree.

For that reason the Government set up the Goldring Committee of Review of Private Overseas Student Policy. Professor Jack Goldring from Macquarie University and his Committee produced a very fine report entitled 'Mutual Advantage', a report which I think set out many of the problems. It just happens that I do not agree with the final recommendations. The Goldring Committee recommended that we do not change the system at all; we merely spread the students around a bit more, with a limit on the number in any course or on any campus.

Nothing in the Goldring report will end the central problem, which is the displacement of resident Australians. There is a very easy way to fix that problem, that is, to provide a guaranteed number of places for resident Australians and then to admit overseas students in whatever numbers one wishes, but to admit them additional to the quota under whatever conditions of financial support one wishes. Essentially what was good about that section of the Jackson report which dealt with this problem was that it recognised that the solution lay in identifying the number of places wanted for overseas students and funding them separately from the quota. If we do that we end the displacement of resident Australians and thus end the political sensitivity which has accompanied having overseas students here.

Let me be quite clear. I believe Professor Goldring got it right when he said that we derive enormous advantage from having overseas students in this country. It is not just something that the students or their home countries are deriving advantage from; it is of mutual advantage; but it is up to us to resolve the domestic political problem which we have created solely because of the way we administer tertiary education. That is not the fault of the overseas students or countries or the fault of Australian students. It is a matter for government. It is only by providing a guaranteed number of places for our resident Australians and trying to accommodate them that we can overcome this problem. As I say, the committee headed by Sir Gordon Jackson recommended an approach which would have taken us down that road.

I believe that is the course which the Government should have followed. Given the fact that it had two choices before it, it has opted, as the Minister said in her statement, primarily for the Goldring approach. I wish the Minister well but I predict to her through you, Mr President, that it will not end the political difficulties which she faces. It will not end the sense of injustice which some resident Australians have or which some parents have. If that happens, and if that sense of injustice remains, I ask the Minister to consider taking further steps in this respect.

The Government, as announced in this statement, has taken some quite important decisions. I will go through some of the things which the Government has announced. The Government solution will require overseas enrolments in total to be no greater than they are at present. They may, in fact, be less. The Minister has simply said that they are to be no greater than they are at present. The Government should have provided the capacity for any number of enrolments provided they did not affect the chances of resident Australians. In this country there are educational institutions that offer courses which are sought throughout the world. We could have offered our educational services as an important export industry for this country. We have institutions anxious to take more students, we have academics anxious to teach more students, and we have more students anxious to be taught and anxious to gain access. It is a tragedy that we cannot bring the consumers and that market together. I fear that merely spreading the students around will not help all that much.

The Government solution has required that enrolments by overseas students will need to be diminished in some courses and from some campuses. That follows from the Minister's requirement that there be a certain maximum percentage of students in any course. We know that at present that percentage is exceeded on some campuses and in some courses. Therefore, as a result of the Government solution, it will now be necessary to displace, perhaps by attrition, the numbers on some campuses.

Senator Ryan —No, they can finish their courses.

Senator PETER BAUME —Sure. It will be the new enrolments. I say again that, had overseas students been seen as additional to the places available to resident Australians, it would not have been necessary to have taken up that condition or laid down that requirement. The reason the Goldring Committee actually made that recommendation was that it did not get to the central problem of ending displacement; all it wanted to do was make it cosmetically more acceptable. The Government solution will require that the overseas student charge be increased to all or most students. It is not quite clear from the Minister's statement, but it looks as if it will be increased to all students.

Senator Ryan —Oh, yes, of course.

Senator PETER BAUME —The Minister acknowledges that the charge will be increased to all students. The Government should have done what Sir Gordon Jackson suggested; that is, withdraw from the system the present hidden fees subsidy of $70m, because the overseas student charge pays only part of their costs, plus, I think, a $24m overseas aid subsidy. There is $94m which Jackson said could have been reapplied explicitly as part of Australia's nation to nation commitment, to its regional commitment, to its aid commitment as a high resource nation with regional duties and responsibilities. This is how our foreign aid effort should have been applied. If that had occurred, many of the students would have come here at no cost at all. It may, in fact, be the desire of the Government to provide a series of full and partial scholarships. I am concerned to know exactly what the Minister's statement meant when it said that all people will pay this increased charge.

I am perfectly willing to accept that on a government to government basis it may be the desire of any Australian government to provide a number of fully funded places. The Government solution then requires that we will determine separately the quotas for each country. The Opposition throughly agrees with this requirement. I mention one nation which has quite racist student selection policies. Honourable senators will not have much trouble guessing that that country is Malaysia. In Malaysia it is very difficult for Malaysian Chinese to get any kind of a fair go. It is very difficult for them to get access to education. The Malaysian Government, as an act of deliberate policy, directs places in Australia towards Malaysians of Malay origin at the expense of Malaysians of Chinese origin. In drawing up these quotas country by country, the Australian Government should ensure, when quite racist and quite unacceptable policies are in place, as they are in Malaysia, that places we make available under that quota are made available on a fair and equitable basis in accordance with the principles we adopt in this country. The Malaysian Government is not only anti Chinese Malays, but also anti a lot of things; for example, it is also anti-Semitic. Thus I support the Government on the question of quotas.

The Government solution also provides for the possibility of extra places over and above the ones which have been discussed for students who may wish to enter at full cost. I applaud this move as well. It will enable the tertiary sector in Australia to expand. If it is a sector which, judged against world standards, is a desirable place to attend and to learn; if our universities are of high quality it may attract extra students from overseas at full cost. We will be discharging our duties to our region through the other measures which the Minister has already laid down. We will discharge those responsibilities through what has been a $94m subsidy. But for the first time there now exists a capacity for people outside the quota wanting to come to Australian universities to do so at full cost. As I said before, this is the first reintroduction of tertiary fees proposed for some time and it is being proposed and put in place by the Labor Government. I think it is a proper proposal.

The Minister has given an interesting costing. She has told us that students will pay 35 per cent of full fees in 1986. She then told us in dollar terms how much that represents. By simple arithmetic it is now possible to derive the full cost of a university place in Australia. The Minister told us that for medicine, dentistry and veterinary science in Australia the full cost for educating a student in 1986 will be $12,400. I take it that my arithmetic is correct. The Minister has said that for all other courses 35 per cent of the cost will be $3,500. One does not have to be Einstein to work out that that indicates a full cost of exactly $10,000 a place. Those figures are interesting, especially when one realises that the Government does not fund existing universities or colleges at anything like that level.

Senator Ryan —That includes capital costs.

Senator PETER BAUME —General acceptance would be that capital costs, however they are looked at, would not exceed $1,500 a year. It depends what kind of notional apportionment one makes. But even taking off the $1,500 a year, the Government provides nothing like-

Senator Macklin —Four and a half thousand new places.

Senator PETER BAUME —The Minister is providing for Australian universities an amount which now quite obviously is inadequate according to the Government's costing, the costing which it will apply to overseas students. I say to the Minister: By all means make some notional allocation out of that $10,000 or $12,000 for the capital cost. This does not alter in any way the fact that we can now draw these figures to the attention of the tertiary sector and ask it to come back to explain those figures to the Government because those figures simply do not add up. The full cost for an overseas student is $12,400 to $10,000 less whatever is wanted for the capital cost; however, if one is funding places on Australian campuses one can ask for only $4,500 to $6,000.

The Australian tertiary institutions have claimed that the squeeze on funds is affecting their capacity to educate Australians and to operate effectively. The figures certainly seem to confirm this. I think the Government has taken some courageous steps in the report it has brought down. We applaud particularly the possible provision of extra places at full cost. However, we think the Government has continued to duck the domestic issue, which is the resentment by resident Australians who feel they are being displaced. As I said, the only way to resolve that problem is to provide a guaranteed number of places to resident Australians and allow overseas students to come in as additional to that number.

The Opposition some time ago set out its position on what we should do in relation to overseas students. We had no doubt that the position laid down by Sir Gordon Jackson offered the greatest hope for Australians. It is a matter of sadness to us that the Government has not chosen to take that course. However, I accept that it was in the end a matter of judgment. Our policy, working from the Jackson document, would have achieved maximum development aid for education purposes in our region and would have made that aid explicit. Our policy would have ended the displacement of resident Australian students from places in Australian tertiary institutions, and that is the major unresolved matter. Our policy would have provided, over time, for greater entry for foreign students in Australian tertiary institutions where those institutions were seen to be of merit. Our policy would have provided new opportunities for the Australian university education system to advance and to expand. I believe still that as a matter of judgment our approach was more correct. I hope the Minister's new policy will end what has been some quite nasty racism emerging on Australian campuses. I have no confidence that that will happen.