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Wednesday, 10 April 1957

Mr DRUMMOND (New England) . - During my parliamentary career, extending over almost 40 years, I have been constantly heartened by the realization that there is at least one subject upon which honorable members of all parties can almost always meet on common ground. That subject is the education of the people of Australia. I listened with considerable interest and pleasure to the thoughtful address that has just been delivered by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) on the legislation now being considered by the House, which has for its purpose the granting of Commonwealth assistance to the State universities. As the previous speaker has stated, legislation of this nature has been gravely needed.' Although, however, its provisions are more generous than those of previous legislation, I believe that the Government should show even greater liberality.

In approaching this subject I should like to emphasize a point that I have endeavoured to make previously in discussions in this House. Education is, in one sense, one and indivisible. In building a house or any other structure one takes care to ensure that the foundations are adequate and sound. If they are not, then the structure that is subsequently erected thereon will develop cracks, even through the edifice itself may not fall. In the provision of education we start with the nursery school and the kindergarten, and then we proceed to the primary school, which may be considered as the foundation. We pass then to the secondary stage, and later to the tertiary stage of the university or of the institutes of technology. If the system possesses a weakness at any one of those points, subsequent educational development will be hampered. If a sound primary education has not been provided, one cannot acquire a sound secondary education. If the secondary education has been neglected, or if it has been inadequate, the student will be hampered in his attempts to move into the higher ranges of education.

I have for a long time past advocated close co-operation between the Commonwealth and the States, in order to ascertain how the Commonwealth, without trespassing on the ground of State control, may assist in giving Australia a completely balanced and well-developed system of education. I am not suggesting for one moment that education should be controlled by the Commonwealth. We have had quite enough of regimentation of education, which by its very nature, should have the greatest possible freedom for development, within certain broad principles. If we trespass upon that freedom, we will inevitably develop a system of education that will be undesirably cramped and stereotyped. It is for this reason that I am opposed to Commonwealth control of education. I firmly believe, however, that the Commonwealth should grant financial assistance to the States for the purposes of education, especially since the Commonwealth is the major controller of the national purse. If our education system is in any way lacking, the whole nation suffers.

I am very gratified by two aspects of this legislation. The first is that an amount of £4,600,000 will be made available for the next two years, although, as the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has pointed out, that is not necessarily the maximum amount that the Commonwealth will provide. However, while the committee appointed to investigate university education is considering the facts and preparing its report, the universities, and the States themselves, will know what interim financial assistance they will be granted, and will be able to budget accordingly. I am pleased to know that the Commonwealth does not consider this amount as a maximum amount, because I agree with the honorable member for Yarra - and I do not frequently agree with him - that greater financial assistance will be required, for many reasons, in the not far distant future. The first reason is that, primarily because of the war, there has been a lag in the provision of proper buildings and proper facilities for staff in the universities. A perusal of the figures showing the natural increase in population from 1951 to 1955, which is the last year for which I have been able to obtain statistics, will convince honorable members, I am sure, of the need to provide new and adequate buildings in our universities. In my own State of New South Wales, births have exceeded deaths by an average of more than 40,000 a year during those five years. It is apparent, therefore, that more than 40,000 extra young people every year have to be accommodated in our schools and universities. While that increase may be offset by a certain number of students leaving, it also indicates the nature of the problem. If we take a ratio of 40 children to a classroom, which is at least ten too many, it means that the State has to find something like £2,000,000 a year for classrooms to accommodate all these young students who are coming forward. Looking at the figures for my own State of New South Wales, I recall that in the last three years that I was in office there I had a record expenditure of more than £5,000,000 a year on education. Speaking from memory, my successor, who is in office at the present time, has to meet expenditure on education of more thai £30,000,000 a year. Even allowing for the growth of population and the reduction of the value of money, that imposes a considerable strain upon those who have to deal with State finance.

I have mentioned these figures because I want to bring this whole matter into perspective. If we are thinking of assisting university education, then we have to think also about what is going on in the stages below - the primary and secondary stages. Except that we now have much better school building standards, primary education has not altered such a great deal in recent years; but once we move into the next stage, secondary education, we come up against a diversity which was not found 25 or 30 years ago. The quantity of scientific equipment that is required for the preparation of students for various science faculties is a symptom of the chancing economics of our country. The development of our agricultural high schools - very costly, but very necessary - and all these other things, are merely symptoms of changing methods and of the work that is required to make this nation efficient and capable in a modern age. When we move up to the university level we find that students, in greater numbers than ever, are going into the extremely cosily science faculties. 1 agree with the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) that whatever we do in the matter of technological education, the one thing that is essential is that those who take scientific courses should have at least an introduction to the humanities and to the broader thought that influences men not so much in how to make a living as in how to use the education that they acquire. The essential thing is not so much that men should know how to do things as what to do with their education, and that requires a broader training than merely to learn the purely scientific aspects in the narrow sense.

So, sir, this requires a costly change-over from the liberal faculties, as we call them, which are relatively inexpensive, to the increasingly costly courses in the various specialized branches of science. Take, for instance, the work of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in connexion with the land. Think back 30 years and consider how much emphasis was put on science, as applied to the land, 30 years ago. Then think of to-day and of the immense benefits that have come to Australia as a result of the application of scientific knowledge, and of the research that has taken place into the problems of the land. Think, for instance, of what the removal of the scourge of rabbits by myxomatosis has meant, of the removal of the scourge of the prickly pear by the cactoblastis insect, and so on. Now we have, within measurable reach, a means of removing perhaps one of the greatest scourges of the dry interior - the loss of our water storage by evaporation. These things have to be taken into account when people inquire into the cost of university education and what is to be done about expenditure in this respect.

I come now to one other factor which at present is materially increasing the cost of universities in this community. I refer to the influx of students from other countries, particularly from the countries of SouthEast Asia. They are coming here in increasing numbers, and I say with all the force and emphasis I can muster that Australia must strain every effort to provide these young people with the opportunity to learn all the modern techniques we can leach them. By so doing, we can help these communities, which have great cultures of the past, but which urgently need s knowledge of the techniques of a modern world, to overcome many of the problems of transition into what is rapidly becoming an atomic age. In support of that statement, let me refer to the Colombo plan, on which we are committed to expend, I think, between £32,000,000 and £33,000,000, whilst the United Slates is committed to expenditure of £2,000.000.000. 1 suggest, for iwo reasons, that it is essential that the quicker we can train the young people of these countries to a fuller scientific knowledge, the better it will be. The first reason is that 1 doubt whether the United States, with ils great wealth, can keep up expenditure at the rate at which it has engaged to spend; and secondly, it is, to a certain degree, always irritating to the self-esteem of people if they have to take gifts from somebody else.

The greatest gift that we can give, and the one that will be of the most value, is to train these young people to go back and teach their countrymen, and to help them to speed forward the good work on which they are engaged. We have said much and we have heard much about communism in this Parliament, but a constructive approach of this character, designed to remove the poverty forced upon these people by the circumstances of the past, will b> th, greatest 'and most potent weapon that we, the free world, can give to those who wish to be of the free world. But this all costs money. It costs money to provide accommodation and staff, and consequently. I feel that it is of the greatest importance that, in considering this question of what should be the final allocation from the Commonwealth to the States, we should consider the fact that, when we accept students, we have to provide not only staff but also buildings, equipment, and all the things which go to make up an efficiently developed university.

The honorable member for Yarra referred to the necessity to decentralize university education. I think we had, in New South Wales, the first decentralized university college, which was established in the heart of the New England tableland. That university college has now become the University of New England. I must thank the Commonwealth Government for the assistance that it has given and for the increased assistance that it proposes to give under this formula.I agree that there is room in other States for decentralized university education. When we decentralize, we bring into force new factors of generosity and assistance by way of private benefaction that do not apply always to the centralized institution. We have found that to be so with the University of New England. When we set out to develop a new university, then, like a man who begins to develop a raw property, we have to start from scratch. It is necessary to cope with the increased enrolment of students, to make provision for the housing of the staff and to cater for the scientific faculties. It is essential to go on doing that. It is not easy to decide how fast it is possible to go and still cope with the requirements of the university.

I believe that the number of students, both internal and external, enrolling with the University of New England will be of the order of 1,100. When there are external students, staff has to be provided to work in conjunction with the professors in the faculties, extra equipment has to be obtained, papers must be sent out to the external students and their work must be corrected when it is returned. In addition, there is the task of running the summer schools and the winter schools for the external students when they come into residence. When there is an adult education scheme, staff for that work has to be found also.

I am referring to the University of New England only as an example. Recently, I visited the University of Tasmania and saw some of the difficulties that the Tasmanian Government and the university authorities are facing there. It must be almost impossible to do effective work under the conditions which exist in the University of Tasmania, especially in the science faculties. It is true that the State Government is doing its best for the university, but that best is not good enough to meet the requirements of the situation.

We all welcome this measure, which we look upon as a means to hold the position until such time as the full facts can be ascertained. I believe that all of the uni versities are preparing their cases in respect of staff, equipment and buildings, in the light of reasonably complete knowledge of the degree to which the number of university students will increase as time goes on. It has been said, quite rightly, that the. number of students being trained in the universities of Soviet Russia has shocked, not only the United States of America, but also Great Britain - both of which countries are ahead of us in numbers of university students. If I remember rightly, the number of students attending universities in the United States of America and Great Britain, taken together, is less than the number in Soviet Russia.

As I said recently, it is useless merely to fulminate against something we do not like. It is not enough to try to meet the present situation by means which, no doubt, had their uses at certain times. The essential thing for us is to try to beat the Russians in this field by constructive and progressive action. If we want to hold our own, we must realize that it is essential to have a constant and adequate flow of finance throughout our education system, particularly theuniversity system. If we want this countrytobe inthe forefront of progress we must ensure that no young Australian who has the ability to benefit from higher education will be denied the opportunity to receive it. No nation has so many young people of ability that it can afford to waste the services of some of them. Certainly we have not in Australia so many young people who have the aptitude and the ability to benefit from higher education that we can afford to deny that opportunity to any of them. I stress the necessity for developing our system of education on proper lines.

One controversial matter was raised the other night to which I shall refer now. A member of the Opposition, who, unfortunately, is not present now, raised the question of the right of people serving in universities to have an appeals board. As I listened to him. I came to the conclusion that he was sincere but quite uninformed about what happens in universities. As a member of the Council of the University of New England, perhaps I have had more to do with making rapid appointments to a university staff than have most other people. We had to appoint in haste the professorial and the lecturing staff of the university.

Those who know anything about university practice know that it is usual to advertise vacant positions throughout the world, and sometimes to appoint committees in other countries from which applications have been received. The members of such committees are trusted people of high standing in universities. They prepare reports on trie applicants. Speaking from memory, 1 believe that those reports are submitted first, to a committee of the Vice-Chancellors of Australia. Subsequently, they are dealt with by special selection committees, and finally they are submitted to the council of the university concerned, which then has to decide whether to appoint the applicant or, if for some reason that is necessary, to ask for further information.

Those who have any knowledge of university practice know that in a university there is a system of appeals. An appeal can be made to the Board of Studies, in some cases, from there to the ViceChancellor or the Registrar, and finally to the council. No application is rejected and no man is discharged from his post except after the most thorough and complete working of the machinery of what is essentially a self-governing community and a democratic institution. Universities are democratic institutions, and they are becoming more and more so. Anything that impinges upon their right to decide whether applications for appointment to their staffs should be accepted or rejected, in the light of the academic qualifications of the applicants, is something inimical to the welfare of universities. Eventually. I believe, the good sense of the community would reject it.

After all, the traditions of universities are based, not upon the experience of a human lifetime, but upon centuries of experiments to find out how such self-governing institutions should be run, how their standards can be maintained and. above all. how freedom to search for the truth and to expound the truth as one sees it can be preserved at all times. There may be some deviations, but. in the main, the purpose for which universities exist is to strive objectively to get facts. You cannot get them from any other institution that I know of. You cannot get them from Parliament. You cannot get them from government. Yo i cannot set them from a government department B'lt you can get them fro-n a university which is untrammelled. And if the truth hurts .it times, as sometimes it does, and if sometimes a person is stupid, that is just too bad; because, after all, a university is a democratic institution and it should be preserved.

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