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Thursday, 16 August 2012
Page: 5556

Higher Education


Senator MARSHALL (Victoria) (14:07): My question is to the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research, Senator Evans. Can the minister advise the Senate on how the government's investment in Australia's higher education system has been reflected in the Academic Ranking of World Universities?


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western AustraliaMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:08): I thank the senator for his question. Yesterday's release of the Academic Ranking of World Universities was an outstanding demonstration of the quality and depth of the Australian university system. Australia now has the third highest number of universities in the top 100 world wide—a fantastic result. It is remarkable when you consider that that is only behind the United States and the United Kingdom, which have many more universities than Australia.

Senator Joyce: Are you ahead of Nauru or behind Nauru?

Senator CHRIS EVANS: Senator Joyce, you may not be interested in regional education but this government is. That is why the numbers are up so much and that is why they are thriving. The National Party may not think education is important but 19 of Australia's 37 public universities are now in the top 500. It is a testament to the leadership, the staff and the students of those universities but it is also a reflection of a government that has invested in those universities—invested in their quality and invested in their research. We know that under the Howard government they stripped funds out of the universities. It is their favourite place to go when they are looking to fill their funding shortfalls, and we know they will go there again if they get the chance. We have had record investment in universities and it is paying off. We know that we have increased funding to universities for research, including infrastructure, by 60 per cent.

Senator Joyce interjecting

Senator CHRIS EVANS: We also know, Senator Joyce, that there are more country kids going to university, and more of them on youth allowance.

Senator Joyce interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Senator Joyce, you will cease interjecting.

Senator CHRIS EVANS: Senator Joyce, have a look at the rural and regional figures. Why are they doing so well? It is because we funded them properly. Your disinterest on this issue does you no credit. Australia's future is as a smart country with a highly educated workforce. This is a fantastic result for the universities. It is a credit to them and a great credit to Australia and this government's investment in higher education.

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! I remind senators that interjections are disorderly.








Senator MARSHALL (Victoria) (14:10): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister advise the Senate on how the government's investment in Australia's higher education system has transformed access and participation?


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western AustraliaMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:10): The ticket to a strong future is a better future in education. By opening up the doors of university education we are unlocking the potential of thousands more Australians who have been denied access in the past. One of the most pleasing things about yesterday's academic rankings is that the depth of the sector was revealed. It was not just about the elites, not just about the older universities in this country, not just about the sandstones; it was about our newer universities and our regional universities not only lifting participation but growing excellence.

Senator Joyce: Give us a demonstration of how you roll over.

Senator Conroy: Another National supports the NBN—Richard Torbay.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Evans, please resume your seat. Senators Conroy and Joyce, it is completely disorderly to exchange comments across this chamber during question time. I am seeking to listen to the answer of the minister. Please continue, Minister.

Senator CHRIS EVANS: Mr President, one of the pleasing things is not only that we have been able to increase the number of Australians accessing university education and the numbers graduating; we are actually increasing excellence in the sector at the same time. Some commentators in recent days have tried to say that you cannot do both. Well, I think these figures absolutely prove that you can grow participation and lift excellence at the same time.






Senator MARSHALL (Victoria) (14:12): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister advise of any policy threats to these successes?

Senator Conroy interjecting

Senator Joyce interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order on both sides!



Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western AustraliaMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:12): I think the behaviour of Senator Joyce through this question period is showing exactly what the problem is. The opposition have no interest in higher education. Their record in government was to slash—

Senator Joyce: You have no values.

Senator Mason: That's not true.

Senator CHRIS EVANS: Senator Mason, you are excused. You are the exception, which is why you did not gain favour under the former prime minister, because he was not interested in it either. A good university system is vital to this country's future. To grow that sector and to grow excellence you have to invest in it. The Labor Party is always committed to growing excellence and to growing the strength of that sector. The results yesterday show that we are delivering on that. Those opposite are a great threat to that because we know where they will fund their blackhole from. We know where they will start looking for the $70 billion. They will start in the university sector, where the Conservatives in Britain did and where they traditionally have. That is a real threat to our future. (Time expired)