Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 11 November 1976
Page: 2622

Mr MacKENZIE (Calare) -The honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) made some play of the fact that he was not given sufficient opportunity to address the House on these education Bills. I would point out to the House and to those persons listening that the Opposition was given a very clear opportunity to object to these 8 Bills being debated cognately. There was not a murmur from them. I should also point out to the House and to those listening that when the speakers' list was drawn up the Opposition could find only 2 speakers. Since then it has found the honourable for Wills, and I understand that it is now trying to find yet another speaker to take part in this debate. So much for the claim that the Opposition is being denied the opportunity to debate these Bills.

The 8 Bills are most significant and indicate clearly the support that the Commonwealth Government is providing for secondary and post-secondary education. Within that context of post-secondary education I include apprenticeship education, to which my friend the honourable member for Franklin (Mr Goodluck) referred. At the outset I want to say that I think there are enormous problems in apprenticeship training when one considers the situation that has occurred with the wages explosion and the level of wages being paid to young people. I have found it very difficult to persuade an 18V4 year old to take up an apprenticeship, to be indentured for a long period of time, when that 18 'A year old can go and work in an abattoir in my electorate for a base wage of $196 a week, with an additional $20 to $30 a week in overtime, and effectively doing some 32 hours work in that week. That is a sad reflection on the state of the economy and on the situation in which we found ourselves when we took office last December.

This Government is committed to education and these Bills amply demonstrate that commitment. Contrary to the criticism- criticism often ill informed or in some cases purposefully orchestrated, I believe- there has been no cutback in education funding by this Government compared to the previous Government's funding. The cutback occurred in 1976, and I point out very clearly that this current year's funding resulted from the previous Labor Government's Budget, the 1975-76 Hayden Budget, when the Labor Government suddenly realised that its extravagant education programs, its multifarious programs, its wasteful programs, could no longer e financed. The cutbacks came between 1975 and 1976, and in fact this Government has restored and increased the level of education expenditure over and above that of last year. Previously we had the luxurious, wanton and wasteful programs which were instituted by the previous Government. I find it quite remarkable that a small country school can be battling to survive because it has perhaps 14 children, and if it drops below that number it will be closed. It has one teacher, it has very poor toilets, playing fields and recreational facilities, and yet it has a multitude of electronic equipment, closed circuit television and the like. This sort of thing has done untold damage to parents and friends associations which were working for the smaller schools. It destroyed any incentive they had to raise funds for the benefit of the school, and I believe that that sort of thing is an example of the wasteful programs which were set up.

In relation to the post-secondary education sector, I have had some first hand experience with some of the difficulties involved in trying to plan, to budget and to administer within the rigid programs established by the previous Government. There was a situation, which has now been rectified, where it was almost impossible to substitute between recurrent funding and capital funding. For example, if one could make savings in the current funded areas through salaries or through the employment of part time staff and one wished to use that saving for a capital purpose, it could not be done. The matter had to be referred to Canberra for decision because of the rigidity with which the programs were implemented. For example, there was no prospect of being able to carry over finance from one triennium to the next, or in some cases within years of triennia, and there was in fact no incentive for good housekeeping within the education system.

What was the situation when this Government took office? Inflation was running at record levels which threatened the real values of recurrent and capital programs in the education sector. Unemployment was at a level of 300 000 people, 40 per cent of whom were young people under the age of 21 years. A decision was made in August 1975 by the Whitlam Government to cut the programs of the 4 education commissions for the calendar year 1976 by a total of $ 105m compared with the allocation for the 1975 calendar year. That is where the cutback came. The Whitlam Government set aside the principle of triennial funding' and planning, and that was disastrous from the point of view of any logical and well designed program for educational development, both in terms of physical facilities and in terms of course-planning and programming. We did not know if we could appoint staff. In relation to staff appointments, anybody who has been involved in this area will know that there is a long lead time between the first indication that additional staff are needed, through the process of advertising, selection and appointment, to the time when the member of staff first takes up the appointment as an effective member of the operation.

The Australian Universities Commission and the Australian Commission on Advanced Education were amalgamated, and I sympathise with the honourable member for Fremantle (Mr Beazley) who was at that time the Minister for Education. He is a man for whom I have some regard, and a man who was genuine in his efforts to provide a high level of quality education for this country. But he was so often thwarted in his efforts to do that by his own Prime Minister. The classic example of that is when the Prime Minister declared that the 2 tertiary commissions would be amalgamated. I doubt if the Minister for Education was properly consulted on that decision. We also saw the freezing of students' allowances by the Whitlam Government even though no changes had been made since 1 January 1975 and the allowances at that time were based on June 1 974 values.

I think that we also saw a substantial change in attitudes of young people towards work, towards examinations, towards pass rates and towards the whole education system. There seemed to be an attitude developing that as long as they attended or in fact were enrolled there was no real necessity for them to perform in order to take a qualification, in order to have some right to bear that qualification and to use it. We saw extraordinary attitudes developing, where in the free hand-out society students believed that they should have their student representative council fees paid for them by the government. They even believed that their Australian Union of Students' subscriptions should be paid by the government. Everything had to be free. They thought that they deserved it, that it was their right and entitlement and that they did not have to contribute for anything.

I should like to refer to the accusations of the cutback in the expenditure programs of the 4 major educational areas. Reference can be made to the recent speech of the Minister for Education (Senator Carrick) in the Senate in which he made it quite clear that compared to allocations made in 1976 as a result of the Hayden Budget the allocations for education programs in 1977 in all cases have increased giving a total of $ 1,537m for 1977 compared to $l,490m for the 1976 program and honourable members will recall that that was a cutback of $ 105m on 1975, the previous year.

What has been done since this Government took office besides making increased allocations to the 4 education areas? Firstly I applaud the inquiry that has been instituted by this Government into the whole sector of post-secondary education, and secondary education for that matter, as it relates to the needs and demands of the workforce. I believe that we have tended to become too academic, too out of touch and too unrealistic as to what the workplace demands. I think that we have been in danger of overeducation too many and leaving a great hiatus at the lower levels of post-secondary education, particularly as my colleague the honourable member for Franklin mentioned, at the apprenticeship levels and at the technical and further education levels. I think that as a result of this many people who graduated with postgraduate degrees or undertook research have found it very difficult to find meaningful employment and, in some cases, any employment, within the workforce. I recall some of my colleagues at university who were not game to face visits by people representing the industrial organisations that financed their post-graduate scholarships. They in fact found an excuse to not be there because they were not prepared to be publicly scrutinised as to the value of the scholarships they held in relation to the work that they were meant to be doing and the contribution they were meant to be making to industry or the university.

What else has been done? This Government, as I mentioned before, has restored education funding. It has provided for an increase in real moneys to universities by 2 per cent, to colleges by 5 per cent and to the technical and further education area by 7½ per cent. This is very commendable at a time of such extreme economic difficulties and the need for severe economic restraint. The principle of a rolling triennium has been reintroduced. This will allow institutions and States effectively to forward plan and effectively to administer their programs. Only recently in October this year the Government announced substantial increases in all 10 different categories of students' allowances amounting in total to an additional $50m a year in expenditure. This was an issue that was mooted far and wide in the Press as indicative of how much this Government had cut back education funding. In fact it is this Government, rather than the previous Government, that has restored student allowances.

In addition, the Government is committed to undertaking an investigation into the coordination and rationalisation of a number of our institutions. I think that these matters need some examination. I make reference to the college sector where there has been an escalation of what I would call 'academic respectability'. There has been great pressure to increase the length of courses, to upgrade courses, to go for higher and higher degress, to push associate diploma courses to diploma and degree course levels, and to make application for more postgraduate and graduate diploma courses. Staff believe that they are entitled to be called 'professor', make substantial demands for sabbatical leave entitlements, and increase the basic theoretical content of many of their courses. In so doing I believe they lose sight of the original function, purpose and role for which colleges of advanced education were originally established.

I think that examination needs to be conducted of the college and technical education sectors of education. There needs to be a clear definition of the roles of colleges vis-a-vis the roles of technical and further education institutions. If there cannot be a clear definition of these roles let us accept the fact that there may need to be some overlap at the interface between the two. Why is it necessary to compartmentalise institutions into tertiary versus non-tertiary or tertiary versus sub-tertiary? One of the results of doing this is that we have in this country probably the most inadequate provisions for the transferability of students between one sector and another of the post-secondary education system. I think that through doing this we also basically deny opportunities to so many young school leavers who may have left school for a variety of circumstances which in many cases are beyond their control and who have not gained their higher school certificate. In many other countries there are ways and means and opportunities for people such as those who do not have full secondary qualifications, to acquire those qualifications in later life and to follow through to achieve the level of post-secondary education that they desire or that suits them best.

I think that also has implications for the way in which we select applicants for our institutions. Personally I believe strongly that we should insist that students who seek to attend universities and colleges should do so only after waiting for a period after leaving school. They should have a period of life and work experience so that they can enter the institutions as more motivated students and probably more able to undertake and succeed in their courses.

There would be many members of this House who would recall how successful returned servicemen from World War II were in completing university courses. Those servicemen were described by one professor at Sydney University, with whom I remember discussing this subject, as by far the best students, the most motivated students and the most contributing students of whom he had ever taught. Look at the record of some of our adult students who have entered institutions such as the University of New England through external studies programs. They have entered the university with provisional matriculation and have graduated as university medallists. I can think of one extraordinary case in which a husband and wife were both university medallists in the one year. So let us look not only at the selection of our students with a view possibly to getting more motivated students and with a view to reducing first year wastages and the like but let us look also at some of our learning processes. I think that these are the sorts of things we can do with more motivated and more experienced students. Let us try to accept that the learning process is not simply one of communication from staff to students. Let us look at the situation where students might be able to learn from each other. Let us look at the situation where staff might learn from students. Let us look at the situation where students might learn from the practitioners of arts, crafts or professions, the people who have to survive or die by their ability to conduct their profession or their craft.

I mentioned earlier the rationalisation that is necessary, I believe, in some areas. We see, for example, a university, a college of advanced education and one or more technical and further education institutions in the one centre. This may or may not be a regional centre. I think there is a great need to look at this dispassionately and intelligently to see whether there cannot be a much greater degree of co-operation and interrelationship amongst the 3 sectors. At the same time I think there are dangers in assuming that because an institution is bigger it is better or because an institution is bigger it is cheaper to operate. Each institution has to be regarded on the basis of its own merits, the particular philosophy that it might have developed, its reputation or its particular specialty.

I make mention of the Katherine Rural Training College to which the honourable member for Fremantle (Mr Beazley) referred. How on earth could one apply a criteria of this sort to the establishment of that type of institution. Katherine is a relatively small settlement. The student draw in the whole of the Northern Territory is relatively small. At the same time there is a necessity to provide that type of post-secondary educational facility. Since I have had some association with that rural training college I make a plea to this Government that before it proceeds to establish the college there is an examination of the role, function and purpose for which this college should be established. In the initial stages of planning it was considered that this college might provide training facilities for people to work in the pastoral zone and in the rural industries as rural labour or as rural managers. Of course it then became clear that this college might become basically a training college for Aborigines. I think that also is a worthy motive. But let us be quite clear on its purpose before we embark on it.

Suggest corrections