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Tuesday, 24 February 1987
Page: 606

Mr BARRY JONES (Minister for Science)(4.51) —I appreciated the tone in which the honourable member for Tangney (Mr Shack) made his points. I will try to deal, if I can, with the issues that he raised before going on to respond with the very strong and impressive record of the Hawke Government in education. The honourable member began by talking about the numbers who are excluded from tertiary education-they who have finished secondary education and who would, under normal circumstances, have qualified. It is true that many qualified students are unable to find entry into higher education. But it is very difficult to be precise about numbers. There is a good deal of doubling or trebling up because applicants habitually apply for more courses than they can actually take. For example, in 1986 there appeared to be a shortfall of some 30,000 places. In fact, the final figure was about 10,000. That is not a matter for congratulation. But what appeared to be a large figure of 30,000 or so finished up at about one-third of that. There will be a similar situation in 1987-perhaps the number will be a little higher, up to 12,000.

The honourable member also raised what he regarded as the non-response by the Prime Minister to a question he asked during Question Time today. I thought that he had a very good response from the Prime Minister who made the general point that the Government's record in education is good. But the honourable member is concerned that there is a discrepancy between excluding some Australian students and welcoming full fee paying overseas students. The full fee paying policy for overseas students in higher education was announced in 1985. The full fee policy guidelines announced by the Government make explicit the requirement on universities and colleges that full fee activities should not displace or in any way disadvantage Australian students.

Mr Shack —That is not my point.

Mr BARRY JONES —I just want to put the context. In other words, the overseas students will occupy only physical space that is not in demand for places for Australian students or additional places created by institutions for the purpose of taking in full fee students. Because the full fee guidelines require institutions to set fees at a minimum of full average costs, including a capital element, and because most institutions are adding a margin of profit to their fees, it is clear that institutions must increase their private income sources. Revenue, including the capital element of fees, will be applied by institutions to the benefit of all students, including Australian students-this is very similar to the third point that the honourable member made later in his speech about expanding capacity and improving equipment or the capital fabric. In addition to the educational benefits, the economic benefits of the increased trade in services to be generated by full fee overseas students ought to be obvious to all.

The honourable member made four proposals. First, he accused the Government of throwing away the right of potential students to enter institutions on a private basis. He argued that they ought to be in a position to take loans and enter institutions on a fee paying basis. He emphasised that this was in sharp contrast with our encouragement of full fee paying overseas students. One of the pre-conditions to this proposal-and I would not regard myself as being violently opposed to it-would be a reorganisation of the structure of the way in which universities and CAEs operate and particularly the extent to which universities are able to operate right around the clock. There are difficulties ensuring that lecture facilities, classrooms, laboratories and so on are fully available. I always get a bit of a buzz when I go to the United States of America and see universities that seem to be operating 24 hours a day, pretty well seven days a week. That does not mean that the same people are working in those institutions all the time. It means that there is a very imaginative multiple use of facilities. We ought to be prepared to think of the benefits that could result from such a system. I think this country suffers from having inherited the British tradition in education because universities in the off season are almost like sanctuaries.

I was in New Zealand for the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science Congress and I went to the University of Auckland during a weekend. The university was like a country cemetery. There was absolutely nobody around. There was no sign of life. That is very different from the situation in the United States, Canada and much of western Europe. The two things really have to be looked at together. One cannot have one without the other.

The second suggestion of the honourable member for Tangney was that we retain the present financial base of Commonwealth funding but add to it high levels of funding contributed directly by the community. I do not think that is a bad idea either. The realities are: When does it start and where does the money come from? Australia has an astonishingly bad record of contributions from private sources into the university system, let alone colleges of advanced education. I cannot recall the precise figure, but I remember working it out for the Masson Lecture in 1985. Barely 2 per cent of the total contribution to universities in Australia comes from the private sector as opposed to between 40 and 50 per cent in the United States. That is an astonishingly bad figure.

I think I am also correct in saying that in all of our universities there are only seven or eight privately funded chairs. I am not talking about faculties; I am talking about chairs. A couple of years ago there was a big campaign at the Uni- versity of Melbourne to get funding from the engineering community for expansion of Melbourne University's engineering school. That was reasonably successful. However, that example stands out like granny's tooth because it happens so rarely. I think it would be a fine thing if we could get the private sector seriously interested in higher education. In exactly the same way, Senator Button and I have been saying that it would be a fine thing if we could only get the private sector seriously interested in research and development. The fact is that it has been light years behind the business community in other countries, particularly in other Pacific Rim countries. We have a lot of catching up to do. If the honourable member for Tangney and some of his associates can do something to gee up support from the private sector that will be very good. We have a long way to go.

The third point raised by the honourable member was the need to have elements of competition in higher education. He referred, of course, to the prospect of setting up private universities. Again, this matter seems to relate to the difference between the Australian academic tradition, coming as it did from the British model, and the American model. The one private university in Great Britain, the University of Buckingham, has sometimes been trumpeted as being a model for the way the Bond University would operate here. The total student population of the University of Buckingham is certainly less than 1,000. A very high proportion are students from the old British Commonwealth. Indigenes of Great Britain who have come into the university are of the order of 300 or 400. That number is not far out. The honourable member for Tangney should not delude himself into thinking that by saying: `Oh well, we are going to introduce a new element into tertiary education, namely private university funding' we will necessarily get this fundamental shift. The University of Buckingham has been going since 1976.

Mr Reith —Is the concept right?

Mr BARRY JONES —I am not worried about the concept; I am simply saying that things won't happen overnight, and we have to be careful. To hear the assertion made that simply because Chicago University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University-

Mr Shack —Not made by me.

Mr BARRY JONES —No, I am not saying that the honourable member for Tangney has made that assertion; he has been much too cautious to say that because they are all private institutions-bingo! Some honourable members opposite think that if they create a private university that makes it the equivalent of an MIT.

I have listened with great attention to some of the subjects to be offered at the Bond University, including the offer, made in a broadcast, of courses in remedial English and letter writing for businessmen. That really sounds a bit more like TAFE-that is, technical and further education-in scope. It does not sound like a university. But honourable members opposite might be relieved that I am not the responsible Minister. I have no doctrinal hang-up.

Mr Shack —I regret that.

Mr BARRY JONES —Is that so? All right. The fourth point that was suggested was the winding back of stifling bureaucratic control. I would have thought that, compared to certain other elements of the bureaucracy, the people in the Department of Education were amazingly enlightened. But remember, too, that this is an area where the Commonwealth has essentially only a funding authority-perhaps also a moral authority. The real difficulties down at the coalface occur at the State level. After all, we have six States and a Territory-quite apart from the Australian Capital Territory-involved in it. One issue that we have to look at very seriously is whether the Commonwealth ought to be more directly involved, not just at a funding level, in the actual administration of universities.

In some ways I think the Opposition had a nerve to raise the word `vision' in a matter of public importance on education because vision requires imagination, courage, and a willingness to take on tough issues and to look towards the future. That is something which I think this Opposition has been conspicuously lacking in. Because the honourable member for Tangney has been generous to me I will reciprocate. I do not put him altogether in the same category but, looking at the stony-faced men behind him, we see that they are a bit light in the vision department.

It is notorious that this Opposition, at least in its public face, has been consistently hostile to the Government's establishment of the Commission for the Future, an attempt to create a higher level of awareness in this community, especially within areas of community leadership, such as politicians, teachers, school councils and others associated with education. Looking back at the record of the Fraser Government and its conservative predecessor, one has to ask: What have honourable members opposite been doing, what have they ever done, and what are they trying to do in their policy now, to encourage working class participation in higher education? They maintain this split level view of education-a strictly hierarchical and discriminatory model in education. They offer encouragement for the affluent and disincentives for the poor. There is not one word in the Opposition's education policy-if it can be dignified with such a description-about how to redistribute opportunities for participation. Under the Fraser Government, only 36 per cent of students in secondary education were completing year 12 in 1982. In 1986 the figure shot up to nearly 50 per cent and we are working towards 65 per cent by the early 1990s. Under the Fraser Government, with the present Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard) as its Treasurer, capital funds for higher education plummeted by 73 per cent. Under Labor they have risen by 43 per cent. During the period of the Fraser Government, universities and colleges of advanced education suffered a real decline in capital and in recurrent funding, a real negative growth in higher education, and they underwent a massive restructuring through forced mergers.

What are the Howard promises? The honour- able member for Tangney purports to uphold education standards while his Party advocates policies which will lower quality and erode standards of achievement. I have already dealt with the question of the numbers of people excluded from tertiary education. It is irresponsible to exaggerate the number who are missing out.

The Opposition is hypocritical in raising the matter of higher education places. The Fraser Government managed to create only 8,100 places in the same time that the Hawke Government has created 36,800 places. Some of the pressure now reflects our success at encouraging students to complete a full secondary education and then go on further. The Opposition does not have a plan or any rationale for co-ordinated expansion of higher education. Indeed, members of the Opposition have said that they will give State governments as much control as possible over the planning and development of higher education in each State, including the size and location of any new institutions.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The Minister's time has expired.