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Thursday, 18 September 2003
Page: 20539

Ms MACKLIN (4:40 PM) —I am very privileged to have La Trobe University in my electorate. It is a great university, with around 25,000 students. The last time I was there, not very long ago, was to hold a forum with students about the government's proposed university changes and to talk to them about Labor's alternative. The students were very concerned about what the government has in mind for them. Many of them said that if, when they started university, fees had been as high as the government is now proposing, they would have been put off going to university. Many of the students are very worried about what the changes will mean for their younger brothers and sisters.

The staff I spoke to at the university are also concerned about the impact of the government's proposed changes. They are not only worried about students being put off going to university but also concerned about the impact of the inadequate levels of funding and what that means for the standards and quality of education that are provided at the university.

La Trobe's submission to the current Senate inquiry into the government's unfair university changes includes a serious warning for the government. La Trobe University is unequivocal in its concern about full fee places for Australian undergraduate students. A statement from the university calls them `inequitable and unnecessary'. It also warns that increasing HECS is likely to `act as deterrent to at least some students'. La Trobe is concerned that the government's proposed fee hikes could push more Australians overseas to study.

La Trobe is also concerned about the impact of the government's proposed university changes on the quality and international competitiveness of Australian degrees. I think this is a very important criticism that the government should be mindful of. Universities in Australia should be congrat-ulated for their success in attracting many international students. The danger is that our universities are now very heavily dependent on the fees paid by these students to fill the gap that the Howard government's $5 billion funding cuts to our universities have made. Since 1996 La Trobe's income from international students has nearly tripled, amounting to over $25 million last year. Any decline in this income would have serious implications for the university. The university is rightly concerned that inter-national students may become less willing to pay for an Australian degree when in-adequate levels of funding mean concerns about quality. It says in its submission to the Senate inquiry:

Many of the countries whence Australia derives international students are investing heavily in infrastructure (notably Singapore and China) so that in qualitative terms their facilities are often superior to those in many Australian universities.

On another issue, La Trobe says that the end of universal membership of student organisations would be `the death of campus life', that it would make the university experience less appealing for both Australian and international students. The other impact of the government's proposed legislation on voluntary student unionism would in fact see 67 jobs lost in the La Trobe University student union.

Ms Panopoulos —It would give students choice; you don't want to give them choice, do you?

Ms MACKLIN —These are very serious warnings to the Howard government, which clearly the member for Indi does not want to listen to, which are jeopardising the quality and the reputation of our universities. Labor does understand La Trobe's concerns. Under Labor's $2.34 billion plan for universities and TAFEs, La Trobe University would receive $11 million in additional funding for quality and standards from a new indexation measure alone. There is no indexation measure in the government's package.

I am pleased to say that La Trobe can be sure that Labor have heard their message and we have acted. La Trobe's staff and management are in touch with their students' concerns about increased fees. They are passing those concerns on to the government, but clearly the minister and this government are out of touch and not listening.