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Friday, 22 March 1985
Page: 637

Senator RYAN (Minister for Education)(9.47) —I will reply briefly to some of the points that were made to assist honourable senators in their understanding of the implications of the new policy. Senator Peter Baume and Senator Macklin raised matters concerning the overall cost of courses as they infer them to be from the level of the charge that will be charged overseas students. The $3,500 overseas student charge is 35 per cent of an average full cost of a course. Obviously we will have only two levels of charges-expensive and less expensive-and they have been derived from averaging the full cost of courses which can range from a few thousand dollars to $9,000 or $10,000. I think it would be unwise to extrapolate, from that averaging, to assumptions about the cost of every course in every institution in Australia. I make it quite clear that there will still be fully subsidised students coming from our region; that is, students from places such as Papua New Guinea and the South Pacific countries will continue to have all their costs met through the Australian Development Assistance Bureau.

Senator Peter Baume —Is that the $24m ADAB component?

Senator RYAN —Yes, that is right.

Senator Peter Baume —That still leaves $70m.

Senator RYAN —Yes, so there still will be fully paid places for students from poor countries in our region. That will not be affected by the new arrangements. The possibility of institutions offering courses specifically designed for overseas students is provided for in the new policy and those courses will operate at full cost recovery.

Senator Macklin —They could be engineering courses.

Senator RYAN —For example, at the Australian National University there is a special Master of Arts course in development economics for overseas students. Those courses will be able to operate at full cost recovery. We are trying to balance the demands of overseas students for our mainstream courses with the demands of Australian students. As we all agree, at this stage there is an excess of demand and an undersupply of places. It is in regard to that demand for the mainstream courses that we are continuing to subsidise places, but at a lower subsidy rate than previously.

Senator Macklin —If it is a full cost recovery you can add them on to ordinary courses.

Senator RYAN —That possibility also is provided for. There are two possibilities outside the subsidised places which are part of the new policy. One is the possibility for courses specifically designed for overseas students, which is referred to in the third last paragraph of the statement. They will operate on a full cost recovery basis. In that paragraph we also point out that we will set up a steering committee to recommend guidelines under which institutions may be permitted to offer places at full cost in normal degree courses. These places would be over and above the normal subsidised places.

Whether mainstream courses offered at completely full cost would attract students is yet to be established. I do not want to take up a lot of the time of the Senate because the full reports are available for honourable senators to read; but had we gone the Jackson route and established full cost recovery those costs would have been very high. The cost of tertiary places in Australia is high; we have a high salary structure and many other benefits go to academics. We are not in the situation, given that all our institutions are virtually full, of having to build to provide any of the extra places that are necessary. It is not the situation that prevailed in the 1970s, when the number of overseas students built up while there were empty places in institutions and consequently only the recurrent costs had to be taken into account; we now have to take into account the capital costs. Given that the full cost would be very high in relative international terms, it is not at all clear that Australian places offered in that way would be competitive. In fact, in my judgment they would not be.

However, we are not denying institutions the possibility of trying to offer on a totally self-funding basis places above and beyond the subsidised places. The guidelines are yet to be drawn up, and I make it clear that those guidelines will have as one of their strongest elements the requirement that any extra places be self-funding. When those guidelines are drawn up we will see whether institutions are able to offer on a full cost basis mainstream courses for overseas students. My prediction is that that is unlikely, but we have an open mind on the matter. The ceiling we have had to establish, given the competing demands of local and overseas students, applies to the subsidised places. If institutions are able, on a self-funding basis, to offer places outside of the subsidised places, we would not at this stage envisage putting a ceiling on those numbers.

So, at this stage we can say that we are maintaining the position which has developed over the years with regard to overseas students. We do recognise that Australia is an important educational resource for our region and we recognise the benefits of offering subsidised places to overseas students. The report of Professor Goldring's Committee of Review of Private Overseas Student Policy sets out in very persuasive detail the benefits that accrue to the Australian community and the Australian economy from having overseas students here even if they are here on a subsidised basis. We do wish that mutual benefit to continue. But we have had to balance the increasing demands by overseas students for subsidised places with the demands by local students, the pressure which is on our institutions currently, and which is likely to be on them in the next few years, and the budgetary difficulties that the Government is facing. Taking all those things into account, the new policy is a fair one. No country will be in a worse position than it was in previously.

By the way, I think all students will have a better experience in Australia because of other aspects of the policy which have not been touched upon in the debate this morning, such as the centralising of information for students, advice and counselling. An overseas students council will advise the Government on the needs of students and improved and better co-ordinated services will be available to students. I should point out, too, that students will have a much wider range of institutions in which to study than they have had up till now.

Some of the problems that both Senator Peter Baume and Senator Macklin referred to, some of the examples of racism that we have most regrettably seen on our campuses, arose partly from the fact-I do not wish to excuse it in any way-that there have been very large concentrations of overseas students, much in excess of 20 per cent, in particular faculties of institutions. Because all institutions now will be invited to participate-it will be voluntary, but they will be invited to participate-in the overseas students program and because through our central office we will make available to overseas students information about all of our tertiary institutions, we believe that we will get a much more balanced distribution of students among institutions. For example, there are universities which overseas students at this stage know very little about which may very well offer courses that are much more appropriate to those students than the ones that they typically pursue.

Similarly, our colleges of advanced education, which operate at a very high academic standard-in many cases at a standard equal to universities-have courses which may suit some overseas students better than university courses would suit them. We are all conscious of the problems that have arisen because of a very heavy concentration of overseas students in particular faculties and institutions. This will be addressed by the new policy because there will be limits on particular faculties and particular institutions, and also because the information will be available to students which will encourage them and I believe result in their entering a much wider range of institutions.

In conclusion, I appreciate the constructive comments made by the Opposition spokesman, Senator Peter Baume, and the spokesman for the Australian Democrats, Senator Macklin. I think it is a subject that requires a bipartisan approach. I think we are all conscious of the importance of maintaining this program and the benefits it brings to our region and to our society. I hope that the constructive tone of the comments this morning indicates that there will be a general acceptance of the program and that it will operate in the future to an even greater mutual benefit.