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Tuesday, 6 December 1960

Mr DRUMMOND (New England) (1:23 AM) . - I am extremely sorry that a subject as important as this has to be discussed at such a late hour. I shall proceed as quickly as possible to the essential points that I wish to make in discussing this measure, which, in the main, I wholeheartedly support. I pay tribute to the continued interest that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and the Government have shown in the task of bringing our universities up to a standard comparable with that of universities in other countries.

I have noted that considerable emphasis is laid on the development of higher education in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. It is important that we should realize that a great deal of energy and money is being spent in training professional and technological men in that country. But although, by adopting similar methods, we might achieve satisfactory superficial results, I personally would be appalled to see those methods adopted in the higher education of our students.

I congratulate the honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Jones) on a very clear statement of his views. While I do not, perhaps, agree with some of his propositions, I have a great deal of sympathy with some of the sentiments he expressed. The college at Newcastle was for a time an annexe of the University of New England. As a councillor of that university I attended the first conferring of degrees at the present university college in Newcastle. It seems an extraordinary thing that a city as large as Newcastle has not had, long before this, a well-established university institution, notwithstanding the fact that that city is only 100 miles from Sydney.

Let me refer to one or two aspects of this legislation. On page 69 of the commission's report we read a comment on the large increase in the number of enrolments and on the critical lack of experienced staff. These remarks make me inclined to agree with the suggestion put forward that there should be a comprehensive survey of our secondary schools system in Australia. If we are to have experienced staff we must use the material available to the fullest advantage. I personally am far from satisfied that the present system is giving us a sufficient number of properly trained secondary school graduates to achieve a balanced system.

The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Howson) made the interesting suggestion that the age of admission to universities should be raised from sixteen to eighteen years. There are two objections to that proposition. The first is that it would exclude in some cases students who are extremely brilliant and who would be wasted outside the universities. There sits alongside me at times in this House the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page), a man who has made an important contribution to the welfare of Australia. He attended the University of Sydney at the age of fifteen years. He graduated in medicine at such an early age that he had to continue at the university until he turned 21 because a medical practitioner cannot be registered until he has reached that age. I point out those facts because I am sure that if you fixed a hard and fast rule you would exclude from the universities persons who would benefit both themselves and their country.

Nevertheless, I do agree with the suggestion that there is ample room for an improvement, at least in my own State of New South Wales, in the preparation of students for entrance to universities. In 1937-38, when I was Minister for Education in the New South Wales Government, I had consultations with forward-looking members of my own department, with men like Sir Robert Wallace, Vice-chancellor of the University of Sydney, who is now living in Canberra, and with Mr. Len Robson, the headmaster of the North Shore Grammar School. As a result, I decided to bring down a measure which was intended to provide for what I might call higher and lower Leaving Certificates. My own experience, extending then over a number of years, convinced me that there was a large number of young people who, under the system then in force, which provided for an Intermediate Certificate after three years of education and a Leaving Certificate after a total of five years, were entering universities when they were still immature. My idea was to abandon the Intermediate Certificate, except in the case of so-called commercial and domestic science schools. For those who wanted to fit themselves for university education, provision was made for a lower leaving certificate which could be obtained after four years' secondary education. They could then leave to undertake other training or go on to take honours courses for another one or two years, and so be more mature and more properly trained for university work. Unfortunately, implementation of the scheme was delayed. A very important committee came to me at the outbreak of war and begged me not to proclaim the scheme because it thought that the war might cause a disruption of staff and that the scheme would fail due to a lack of trained staff. The time is long overdue for that scheme to be introduced into the education system of those States where there is an extension of the academic section of secondary school training for those students who are capable of benefiting by a university course. It would give them at least one year's training along the road to their degree course without loading the university.

During the debate one honorable member stated that he believed there should be more institutes of technology. The thought behind that suggestion rather perturbs me because it has been suggested that it would be a satisfactory alternative to university education to divert almost forcibly, as it were, a large number of our young people into institutes of technonogy or technical institutions. However there is also a fairly good idea behind the suggestion provided you observe one fact which experience, in the English-speaking world at any rate, has shown to be absolutely necessary. You have great institutes like the one at Massachusetts which for years had a certain amount of arts work carried for it by Harvard University. To-day, Massachusetts has developed fully a course in the humanities alongside its technological courses. The same position applied to the California Institute of Technology which, while it admitted only a very limited number a few years ago - 160 undergraduates a year - also provided that graduates must read in the humanities, not necessarily to the degree stage but sufficient to satisfy the examiners that they had read beyond the mere science in which they were engaged.

The University of New South Wales, which was formerly the University of Technology, has lately broadened into a full university providing a wider range of training. It is all very well for people to emphasize what is being done in Russia and and other countries, but if you train men solely in the material application of scientific knowledge and you do not give them a basis of human understanding and human thought, and an understanding of human relationships, you will train, according to one very brilliant commentator, a race of clever devils who will destroy themselves and the world because they will not use their abilities for the broad purposes of humanity as well as for their own evil.

The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) made some criticism which I thought was unnecessarily destructive because, after all, the measure now before us will be of tremendous help in the development of universities in Australia. One of his criticisms was that the commission need not have been so long in preparing its report because the information on which the report was based was available. What information was available? I am a councillor of a university which went to a very good deal of trouble to provide the necessary information. When considering the report of the Murray committee we were rather astonished to find that it was estimated that we would have a certain number of enrolments in the University of New England by 1963. In fact, we have exceeded that number this year. However, the estimates were made upon known information at the time. I can assure honorable members that there was no lack of speed in preparing the estimates and other information and in keeping everything up to date for the benefit of the Martin commission. In my opinion the university could not have prepared the information any earlier than it did, and the commission could not have used it any earlier than it did. The commission has been very helpful to the University of New England, but if I have conveyed the impression that we obtained all that we hoped to obtain I would be misleading the House.

I shall move now from the general to the particular. Table 14 on page 19 of the report indicates that in the University of New England 64.1 per cent, of total enrolments were external students. That statement might be misleading if honorable members did not read the whole report which balancies it to some extent. From the beginning the University of New England determined that external students would have to spend a certain amount of time during vacations at the university and would have to contact profesors and lecturers and, as far as possible, become part of the organic life of the university. Those students also would be helped in their studies. This proposal was apart altogether from the fact that the director of external studies would visit the principal centres where external students were enrolled, meet them and discuss their problems with them. Proof of the benefit of this system is found in the fact that one of, if not the most brilliant students to have taken his course in New South Wales was an external student of the University of New England.

I want to pass now to a matter that I regard as of first-class importance. The commission has estimated that by 1966 student enrolments will have risen to 95,000, and the universities have estimated that by that year enrolments will have risen to 96,000. The suggestion has been made that those estimates are excessive. I do not agree. In 1960 the University of New England had 2,225 students. It is estimated that by 1963 we shall have 3,456 students and that by 1966 we shall have 4,250 students. Those figures indicate an increase of over 90 per cent, in enrolments in the six-year period. That estimate is not exaggerated. On the contrary, if we had greater faculty development we certainly would have a higher number of enrolments than that.

When we analyse the figures of university enrolments and the results obtained from the dissection on page 28 of the commission's report, a very interesting fact emerges. Figures are given for the various Australian universities, including the University of New England which is developing from being a very small institution into one which is growing very rapidly. The interesting fact to which I want to refer is that 6.1 per cent, of the students enrolled are in the so-called category of agricultural science. For convenience, the commission has placed them in that category. Actually at the University of New England there is an entirely different faculty, the faculty of rural science. Rural science is as different from agricultural science as it is from veterinary science. Agricultural science deals mainly with the production of feed for the animal. Veterinary science deals principally with the curing of animal diseases. Rural science deals with the living animal, the best use of feed and the prevention of disease, in which the experience, training and knowledge gained elsewhere can assist.

Another aspect which is of extraordinary importance to Australia is that the University of New England has a faculty of agricultural economics. It is significant that no other Australian university has such a faculty. That is an appalling disgrace to Australia, which has had to depend so much on the products of the land for its very existence and advancement. We in Australia to-day depend very much upon what we receive for wool and our agricultural products to pay off loans and to pay for the imports that we need. Yet the University of New England is the only university which has a faculty of agricultural economics. Surely we should have one in every Australian university. Indeed, we should have had them years ago.

I do not know whether my distinguished friend the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) agrees with me when I say that in the past economics have been determined by the industrial and commercial experience of the great cities. In the application of economics to agricultural and pastoral pursuits, it is to our credit that at least there is one faculty of agricultural economics in Australia, although in my opinion there should be at least a dozen such faculties to look after the interests of so important a section of the community. We would have far fewer failures on the land, far fewer bungled land settlement schemes, far fewer bungled marketing schemes and far fewer imperfections in transport and overseas marketing if we had had faculties which devoted their activities particularly to this section of the community.

Only in the University of Queensland is there anywhere near the same proportion of students studying agricultural science as at the University of New England. At the University of Queensland, 3.4 per cent, of the students are studying agricultural science, compared with 6.1 per cent, at the university in which I am interested, which is perhaps a smaller university. I have only one further comment to make. I would have much more to say on this subject if the hour were not so late. There are people who criticize what the Government is doing or is attempting to do, while others criticize the fact that things have been left undone which they think should have been done.

In conclusion, I say that Australia is like a man who is developing an estate or a business. Every penny that he receives is ploughed back into that development. He has to put up with inconveniences and to make scarifices if he is gradually to build up his business or develop his property to the point where it is fully productive. In the field of education, and particularly in university education which we are discussing to-night, Australia is precisely in that position, just as it is in many other community activities. It is reaching forward and trying to make up some of the leeway of the past as a result of poor equipment, poor provision for training and the neglect of universities in particular. It is trying to do that as well as many other things.

I congratulate the Government on the fact that, notwithstanding that the States have to find a considerable proportion of the money for universities, £103,000,000 will be spent in the next three years in meeting requirements and perhaps in laying a firm foundation for a great growth in the next triennium. Further strains will be placed upon the resources of the nation if it is to compete successfully with other nations. Australia cannot afford to let one child with natural ability and natural brilliance fall by the way-side due to an inadequacy of the means to bring it to the full use of its powers. Unless rich soil is cultivated and looked after, it produces bad weeds. The richer the soil, the more vicious and the more uncontrollable are the weeds. Human nature does not differ very greatly from soil in that respect. We must train our youth to equip them to become a stable element in the agricultural and business communities of this nation. We will then have a much more wholesome community, provided we always remember that it is not sufficient for a man to know how to do things; it is as important that he knows why he does certain things. At all times, his objectives should take account of his debt to the whole human race.

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