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Wednesday, 21 April 1999
Page: 4024

Senator TIERNEY —My question is to Senator Ellison, the Minister representing the Minister for Education, Training and Youth Affairs. Minister, the Howard government has a very strong commitment to ensuring access, diversity and choice in the higher education system. Will the minister advise the Senate on how the government's improvements in higher education have created more opportunities both for local and overseas students?

Senator ELLISON (Special Minister of State) —I acknowledge Senator Tierney's longstanding interest in education, particularly higher education, and I thank him for that very good question. The Howard government has increased accessibility to the higher education sector more than ever before. In fact, in 1999 we have increased fully funded undergraduate positions by 13,000 compared with the last year of funding under Labor in 1996. What this means is that we have increased accessibility to higher education for all Australians.

In addition to that, the fee paying options that we have offered to young Australians have resulted in an increase in the number of fee paying students from 787 in 1998 to 1,706 in 1999. This is an increase of 117 per cent. It is clear that Australians are taking up this fee paying option to further their education. But this also makes more funding available to the higher education sector, and when you combine this with the full fee paying domestic postgraduate students—which have increased from just over 20,000 to just under 23,000; some 15 per cent increase—that makes available to the higher education sector some extra $500 million in revenue. That spells only good news for higher education in this country and comes as a result of the Howard government's policies.

There are other things too that this government is bringing to the higher education sector. I refer to the voluntary student fees whereby, for the first time, students across Australia will have the opportunity to have freedom of association—freedom to choose whether they pay fees which previously have gone compulsorily to student bodies. These policies are good for Australia and good for the higher education sector.

Senator Alston —Madam President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper .