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Wednesday, 15 October 2003
Page: 21430

Mr MOSSFIELD (11:04 AM) —In commencing my remarks on the Higher Education Support Bill 2003 and associated bills, I would like to work through part of the submission that the vice-chancellor of the University of Western Sydney made to a Senate references committee on higher education funding and regulatory legislation. Professor Reid, as a member of the ministerial reference group, expressed the hope that the Nelson review would be the turning point not only for UWS but for similar universities which serve increasing populations in outer metropolitan regions of Australia, where great faith is placed on education and where families make considerable sacrifices to ensure that as many of their family members as possible gain a university degree.

The view was expressed that there should be additional public funding in the higher education sector, that there should be no further financial strain placed on students and their families and that Australia needs not only one or two world-class universities but a world-class university system. Professor Reid is supportive of several of the government's reform proposals, but in relation to fees she said:

The measures relating to fees and interest-bearing loans I believe particularly reinforce the hidden faces of privilege and may increase the burden of disadvantage that characterises many of the communities in greater Western Sydney. I would not like to see this divide leading to differentiation in the sector based on individual or institutional privilege and wealth if there are no robust measures in place to counter this.

Surely this is a call for the political leaders of the region to stand behind our university and support its call for education services to be better resourced, but this has not happened. In fact, the UWS board has been castigated by the member for Lindsay in correspondence sent to the board for standing up to the government and seeking a better deal for `our university'. Indeed the chair of the hearing of that references committee, Senator Carr, raised this issue with Professor Reid and indicated that the letter accuses UWS of mismanagement, indecisiveness, and immaturity—quite insulting remarks, I would suggest. As Senator Carr said:

It is an extraordinary document. I have never seen a member of parliament's letter to a vice-chancellor like this in my 10 years in parliament.

The member for Lindsay continued her attack on the University of Western Sydney last week in the Main Committee. It is an ongoing and concerted effort to discredit the university for standing up against the proposed changes contained in this legislation. I am pleased to see that other government members in Western Sydney are not taking the same position. I note, however, that while there are some 46 Labor members and two independents contributing to this debate, there are only a dozen coalition members willing to speak out in defence of this bill. The member for Lindsay is not among those government members participating. She is very much conspicuous by her absence from this debate.

Professor Reid's response to the Kelly letter was measured. She pointed out that UWS had rationalised all of its courses over the past three years, that it had successfully introduced a new student information system, that it had reviewed all of its international courses with overseas visits and audits and that it had reduced the number of courses where this was necessary. The university has been absolutely assiduous, to use Professor Reid's words, in its management, in quality assurance and in finding efficiencies in order to position itself for the future.

Professor Reid also indicated that the ministerial reference group took the view that any government with a balanced policy agenda would ensure that any new funding would flow to those new generation universities—in at least in the same proportion to their size and community need—in the growing but educationally neglected urban frontiers of major cities. This has not happened in this round of funding, where the government has taken a one size fits all approach. It intends to fund students in the same way, in whatever institution they study, as long as they are studying the same degree. Professor Reid contends that the government's package does not follow this principle. Professor Reid also referred to the widening gap in the number of university students from Western Sydney compared to the number from the rest of Sydney. She quoted the 2001 census, which shows that only half as many people who live in Western Sydney are graduates compared to those who live in the rest of Sydney. With Western Sydney seeing 25 percent of Australia's population growth over the next 20 years, this gap will widen.

Under the previous funding arrangements, UWS turned away some 2,700 students this year who met the university's entry requirements. These potential students were mainly in the teaching, nursing, communications and business fields. This is an enormous waste of talent. Professor Reid has indicated that UWS has done extensive calculations, based on the government's revised offer, which suggest that the university will be $5.34 million worse off in the first year of operation of the package and just over $2 million worse off in the second year. This assumes that the 2.5 percent increase in funding is granted.

The University of Western Sydney is the jewel in the education crown of Greater Western Sydney, a region of Australia that has one-tenth of Australia's population and a GDP of over $38 billion. UWS was founded in 1989 with the purpose of providing high quality and accessible higher education and research in a region which has historically been underresourced. UWS is now the fifth largest university in Australia and the second largest in New South Wales—all achieved in just 14 years—with 60 percent of its students coming from Western Sydney. UWS has over 35,000 students, including more than 5,000 international students. There are six campuses located in Greater Western Sydney—at Campbelltown, Bankstown, Parramatta, Penrith, Richmond and, of course, Blacktown in my own electorate of Greenway. UWS has developed partnerships and agreements with other education groups such as TAFE, high schools, local government and private industry for the whole of the region of Greater Western Sydney.

The University of Western Sydney has suffered significant funding cuts over the seven years of the Howard government. The government has cut from it $270 million—the third largest cut to any university in Australia, behind Melbourne and Monash universities. Without over 100 years of building up investments in property and savings or the research base that can attract funding, UWS has been disproportionately hit by these funding cuts. UWS is situated in one of the fastest growing regions in Australia, and the demand for university places will increase year by year. It is interesting to note that the state of Western Australia has roughly the same population as Greater Western Sydney, yet that state has four public universities and a private university—Notre Dame. Members can see the sorts of pressures UWS will be under to find available places for our local young people who want a tertiary education. UWS trains our nurses and teachers. It trains our engineers and computer technicians. It trains our lawyers, accountants and business managers.

As the population of Western Sydney increases at a rapid pace—Western Sydney is expected to overtake the rest of Sydney in total population in just over a decade—there will be a need for more university places. The Senate estimates process has revealed that, unfortunately, there will be 510 fewer places available at UWS in 2005 than there are today if the current government policy is allowed to continue. With the changes being proposed in these bills, UWS has estimated that they will be a further $30 million worse off, so that will have an impact on the number of available places as well. The university lost half of its postgraduate research student places in the last round of changes, resulting in important economic, social and environmental research being curtailed. Fewer research places means less funding. There is an urgent need in Western Sydney, which I know you would fully support, Mr Deputy Speaker Price, to increase access and participation for all sections of the community and to provide students with educational opportunities regardless of circumstances, and this objective will not be achieved under the policies of the Howard government.

I will conclude my remarks by referring to a document produced by the University of Western Sydney. It states:

UWS does not support additional fee-paying arrangements. The UWS Board of Trustees has been consistent and clear in its view that the University would not offer fee-paying places in mainstream undergraduate programs in recognition of its concern not to substitute wealth for merit as a determinant for entry to University. Any scheme which encourages students to pay either part or full fees must be balanced to ensure that access to higher education is enhanced and does not lead to a two-tier system where wealth buys privilege.

I congratulate UWS and support the second reading amendments that will be moved by the Labor Party.