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Tuesday, 12 October 1971
Page: 2191


Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Last week the Parliament was alerted about the impending upward spiral in the cost of university fees. The Senate of the University of Sydney indicated that fees will increase by 16.6 per cent for the 1972 academic year. In addition there were other early predictions, namely, that the University of Western Australia will increase its fees by 26 per cent and that the University of Queensland will increase its fees by 25 per cent. I raised this matter in the Parliament last Wednesday by way of a question to the Minister for Education and Science (Mr Malcolm Fraser) believing that the University of Sydney incident would act as a catalyst for an Australiawide increase in university fees and, indeed, an increase in fees in the whole area of colleges of advanced education and institutes of technology. Of course, in respect of these various types of establishment some people are having difficulty already in meeting the fees involved.

Surprisingly, the Minister declined to concede that there was any rising economic barrier to higher education. In fact he denied that altogether, and his reply demonstrated that he was suffering from the illusion that the incidence of scholarships was such as to obviate any hardship arising from increased fees. I believe he has failed to take into account that fees are rising at a much more rapid rate than are average earnings. There are many examples to demonstrate this point. For instance, the University of Adelaide arts course fee was 2.5 per cent of average earnings back in 1952 and had risen to 9.7 per cent of average earnings by 1970. Currently, average earnings are rising at a rate of 5 per cent per annum while fees are to increase, as I have already said, by 16.6 per cent in New South Wales, 26 per cent in Western Australia and 25 per cent in Queensland, and other States will be affected to a similar measure. This will be additional to the 50 per cent rise which has taken place over the last 5 years.

The Australian Union of Students has completed an analysis of costs which revealed this startling fact: A family earning the average Australian income of $4,200 per annum will have to spend in 1972 30 per cent of its income to maintain one student at a university. I confidently and despairingly predict that this will have the effect of exluding thousands of students from universities next year. The economic crisis is now to hit the student campus and the casualties will be from the lower income families. They will be called the 'dollar drop outs' of the 1970s. But the Minister's indifferent attitude contrasts to the attitude of the Opposition which includes in its official policy the following declaration:

The Commonwealth to ensure the provision of tertiary education without fees and regularly to review and extend the payment of living allowances.

This is unequivocal and unabiguous. Let me say it is comparable with world trends and I would like to see Australians keep up with those trends.

The fact of the matter is that the Commonwealth has in its relationship with the States and the universities built in an incentive scheme to raise university fees. That is to say, for every $1.85 raised by universities from student fees the Commonwealth provides a matching $1 - a subsidy, if you like, of $1. In other words it pays the States and the universities to increase student fees. Sydney University was faced with this dilemma; if fees were not raised it would have collected from the State a and the Commonwealth $426,000. By raising the fees by 161 per cent it will be collecting $1.52m, an extra $l.lm. Much of this amount is made up by the Commonwealth subsidy for the amount of the fee increase. If the Commonwealth was properly concerned about economic barriers to higher education, the plight of many students and families and the crisis in universities finance, it would do precisely the opposite - it would subsidise universities that kept fees down. On an average, university fees have risen by 50 per cent, as I have said, over the last 5 years. Let me give the Committee just a couple of examples of this trend.

In 1952 a student paid $94 to the Faculty of Science at the University of Melbourne. By 1962 the fee had gone to $228. In 1971 it had risen to $528. I can assure the Committee that this is not any outstanding example. It is typical of the dozens which have been listed in answers to questions which I have placed on the notice paper. Let me give honourable members another example. This time I refer to the Faculty of Science at the University of Queensland. The fee in 1952 was $84; in 1962 it was $240; and in 1971 it was $456.

The Minister has given us the unmistakable impression that university fees were not a great burden because of what he feels is a proliferation of scholarships - that is, people are getting scholarships and do not have to worry about fees. I want to disabuse him of the conviction he apparently has in this regard. Let me refer to Commonwealth scholarships. In 1971 there were 59,326 applicants for Commonwealth scholarships, but there are only 12,752 acceptances. That is to say, 46,574 people who sought them did not get them, or only one in 5 of all the applicants were successful. In 1971 48,873 applied for Commonwealth advanced education scholarships and 2,831 were accepted. That is to say, over 46,000 applicants were unsuccessful. In 1970 only 10 per cent of all the students undertaking advanced education courses had scholarships. A summary of the situation is that the percentage of all students enrolled in all universities and holding Commonwealth university scholarships as they can be the 70 per cent without scholarships are called was 30 per cent. Of course, among many people who cannot afford to be there. There is no need for the Minister to raise his eyebrows, because the figures I have quoted are the official ones which he recently supplied in answer to questions. He ought to get the situation into perspective.

Let me have a look at the secondary education situation. Why, if ever there was a rat race it is the one in which unfortunate kids who have been swotting competitively for Commonwealth scholarships in the secondary education Reid find themselves. In 1971 there were 91,639 applications and there were 9,997 awards. That is, 81,642 were unsuccessful. Only one in 9 received a Commonwealth secondary scholarship. This is the process by which a student actually gets into university.


Mr Reynolds - There is no means test either.


Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - There is no means test. The National Union of Australian University Students says that 10 per cent of all university students struggled to pay fees. The South Australian Government, like some other State governments, has introduced arrangements to meet the cost of the more critical cases. But that State is only scratching the surface and ad hoc arrangements such as this are operating. Yet this Minister and this Government seem to be indifferent.

There are many other fees apart from university fees, which I do not have time to mention. My time is almost exhausted and all I can say is this: It is time to eliminate the barriers to higher education. It is true that if the Commonwealth makes money available for universities it will help people in the higher income group. But there are ways that can be contrived, as a previous speaker from the Government side has said, to ensure that people from low income families receive the opportunity to go on to higher education. I believe that the Government should set out to eliminate fees altogether or alternatively to introduce a scheme subject to a means test so that people who need assistance can receive it.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Hallett) - Order! The honourable member's time has expired.







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