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Tuesday, 6 December 1960

Mr DRURY (Ryan) .-! do not propose to attempt to follow the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant) through all the difficulties of first-year students at universities, nor do I propose to deal with the cost of individual subjects and courses at those institutions. However, I take issue with him on one or two of his statements. Like the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns), who led the debate for the Opposition, he trenchantly criticized the report of the Australian Universities Commission and described it as being too superficial. He claimed that the commissioners showed no sense of urgency and that they did not approach the problem on a national basis. All I can say is that the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant), like the honorable member for Yarra, must have got tired al page 68 when reading the report of Sir Leslie Martin and the four other very distinguished gentlemen who sat with him on this commission, because at page 69, if you will permit me, Sir, to quote them, there are three short paragraphs, which I think will be sufficient to indicate to the House the breadth of the approach of the commissioners to this very big subject.

These quotations will also show that the commission considered this matter from a national point of view; it has drawn a comparison of the problems faced by universities in Australia with those faced by universities in Great Britain, Canada, the United States of America and elsewhere. I feel that members of the Opposition who have already spoken in this debate have been less than fair to the members of this very distinguished commission. I hope the two honorable members to whom I have referred will read page 69 of the commissioner's report, because they have given no indication so far of having done so.

At page 69 of the Universities Commission's Report, under the heading "Present and Future. The Changing Scene", the commissioners say - lt is apparent that the recommendations of the Murray Committee have wrought many changes within Australian universities during the past three years. However, the Commission is obliged to report that in spite of the big advances made by universities during the 1958-1960 triennium, there still remains much to be done in making good the damage caused by years of comparative neglect.

My friend, the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Howson), has pointed out to members opposite that the Labour Government in post-war years did very little indeed to assist tertiary education. Yet members of the Opposition have the hide to stand up in this Parliament and criticize the Prime

Minister (Mr. Menzies) and the present

Government for not having done and for not doing enough, and for not being farseeing enough or active enough in the field of university education.

The second paragraph which I wish to quote from page 69 of the commission's report reads as follows: -

The new emergency which confronts Australia rises from the conjunction of a large bulge in enrolments and a critical lack of experienced staff of quality. Unfortunately, it is not possible to consider the new educational emergency in terms of a university organization which is wholly restored and running smoothly.

It is clear to the Commission that restoration must proceed simultaneously with expansion.

Does that paragraph suggest any lack of critical analysis or a superficial approach to this problem? The third paragraph to which I desire to refer reads as follows: -

The extent of the present task can be realized by considering the enrolments predicted for the next six years in terms of the optimum size of a single university. Most university authorities in Australia would place this at no more than 8,000 students. If the enrolment demand is to be met in terms of the existing university pattern, the Australian community must create every two years the equivalent of at least one new university of 8.000 students.

And yet we are told already by two members of the Opposition that this commission has been superficial in its approach, that it has no sense of urgency, that it is unimaginative and that it is too conservative to have any notice taken of it. I repeat that although those allegations are shallow in themselves, they are unfair; and they demonstrate the fact that the two honorable members whom I have mentioned, despite the number of words they have spoken, have not given this report the study it deserves. It might be pointed out that the five distinguished gentlemen who have served the nation by preparing this valuable report have done so on a part-time basis. I understand that they are engaged on fulltime duties otherwise and that this job has had to be done when and how they could fit it in. They are clearly men of great mental ability and vision. They are men who see the need for action in relation to university extension and development.

Mr Menzies - The chairman is a fulltime chairman.

Mr DRURY - I am reminded by the Prime Minister that the chairman is a fulltime member of the commission, but the other members, I understand, are not.

Mr Menzies - That is right.

Mr DRURY - There was some criticism, particularly by the honorable member for Yarra, about delay. If he has a look at the beginning of this report, particularly the letter to the Prime Minister, signed by Sir Leslie Martin and the four other gentlemen concerned, he will see that it is dated 25th October, 1960; and the Prime Minister had had his bill prepared, based on the recommendations of the commission, and introduced into this House within a remarkably short period of time. Rather than be carping critics, if members of the Opposition are really interested in the development of our universities, I think they might try to be big enough to give credit where credit is due, both to the commission and the Government, and particularly to the Prime Minister for his very special interest in this field.

As members of the commission have pointed out, Australia like other advanced countries in the world to-day faces an unprecedented demand for higher learning. Far from this demand decreasing as it has been suggested it should, there is no doubt in my mind that it will increase on an everlarger scale in the years ahead. Of course this prospect poses very great difficulties and problems. There are staff problems which have already been referred to, and there are also acute problems in relation to accommodation, equipment and other facilities. These problems were referred to by the Chancellor and the Registrar of the University of Queensland, in a report tabled in the Queensland Parliament on 23rd November. These problems are not peculiar to any one university in this country but are common to all universities in Australia.

I believe the financial problem will be largely overcome by this legislation. Far from sitting back and taking things easily, the Australian Universities Commission has done a very good job indeed and should be warmly congratulated by this Parliament, which was responsible for establishing the commission in 1959. The recommendations from the commission have clearly been made only after the closest research into all aspects of tertiary education and after close consultation with all the authorities concerned - the Commonwealth authorities, the State authorities and the university authorities. As the House knows, the commission has recommended a total grant of £103,000,000 to the State universities for the period 1961-63, an increase of £48,000,000 over the grant for the years 1958-60. The initial grant is to provide mainly for the establishment of the Monash University, the extension of the universities in New South Wales and the establishment of university colleges at Townsville and Wollongong, as well as greater facilities at existing universities.

It is also to be used to cope with the tremendous influx of new students which must be provided for during the three years under review. As I hinted by quoting from the report of the commission, other countries are faced with these problems in their universities. These problems must be tackled in a practical way, if they are to be tackled successfully. One cannot emphasize too greatly the increasingly important role that our universities are destined to play in this scientific and technological age. I think it is safe to say that many of our future leaders in various fields will come from our universities. What we do to-day and over the years that lie ahead to help tertiary education will help to strengthen the fabric of this nation in the years that lie still further ahead.

The bill makes provision for £1 for £1 contributions to the States in accordance with the advice of the commission. I am very interested to note that according to pages 48 and 49 of the commission's report, in the case of the University of Queensland - which is within my electorate - several major projects are envisaged during the 1961 to 1963 triennium. I am very glad also to note that the commission supports the present policy of centralizing the facilities on the St. Lucia site. Plans for the establishment of a university college at Townsville in north Queensland are now, I have been informed, well under way. This will relieve the pressure on the University of Queensland, to some extent at any rate.

I read only a few days ago, with much interest, a report that the Toowoomba City Council is planning to set aside an area of 200 acres for the establishment, at some future time, of a university college on the Darling Downs. lt is evident, from reading this report - as many of us have done carefully - that in planning for the future development of our universities, building programmes and extensions and the provision of greater facilities, very careful supervision indeed will have to be exercised in order that the community generally will be able to derive the maximum advantage to which it is entitled from the very important institutions which we are helping to finance. I believe that we can have every faith in the ability of the Australian Universities Commission to get on with this task which lies ahead of it. I have the greatest pleasure in supporting the bill to give effect to the current recommendations of the commission.

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