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Friday, 30 March 1984
Page: 993

Senator CROWLEY —I address my question to the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs. Has the Minister seen the article in the Age of 7 March 1984 headed ' Too few students finish high school . . .' in which Professor Caro, Vice- Chancellor of Melbourne University, highlights the numbers of students not completing secondary education and the few going into tertiary institutions. Professor Caro said:

The present Government has stated its intention to increase participation in education, but has not yet done anything very dramatic about it.

Can the Minister put on record once again the reasons for the problems facing secondary and tertiary institutions, particularly the Fraser Government's contribution, or lack of it, to education and what this Government has done and is doing?

Senator RYAN —I am aware of Professor Caro's view about the failure of our institutions to attract an adequate number of young people into higher education and training. I am pleased that people with positions of high credibility in the education debate, such as Professor Caro, are speaking out on this matter. I think it does help the community to understand the defective situation we inherited from the Fraser Administration. I am sure Professor Caro, like any responsible administrator in higher education, will agree that the problems we are now tackling are problems that we inherited from the previous Administration , which presided over seven years of funding cuts to higher education. Those funding cuts not only reduced the places available but also reduced the capacity of universities and colleges to develop appropriate courses, to maintain standards in some cases, to replace obsolete equipment and indeed to house the number of students seeking places. There was a dramatic, scandalous run-down in funds available for capital and equipment and also a very serious decline in the funds available for recurrent expenditure in higher education. Of course this run-down of higher education by the Fraser Administration is the main reason we are now seeing in more optimistic times an excess of demand for higher education places.

However I cannot agree with the suggestion, if Professor Caro made it, that our Government is not acting to redress this situation. In our first Budget we provided $10m for an extra 3,000 places over and above what had been provided for the triennium by the previous Government. Those 3,000 places have been taken up very readily and I am particularly pleased to note that they have been taken up in areas where, in the past, access to higher education has been very difficult. They have been taken up by our newer universities and by our colleges of advanced education in outer metropolitan and regional areas. Access to higher education is not simply a matter of a place being available somewhere; it is a matter of places being available where people live or where they can easily travel to. This has happened under our participation program. Similarly our Cabinet, realising the urgency of the demand for places in higher education, by bringing forward about $14m worth of capital projects has facilitated the work of those institutions taking in extra students. I hope and expect that we will make a more significant contribution to providing more places and to providing for growth over the next triennium in our Budget deliberations. Obviously I cannot make any specific predictions now. It is important that the community realises that we have far too low a participation rate in higher education. It is important that university and college administrators realise this and be prepared publicly to debate the importance of the matter. I believe governments can act effectively only when there is community understanding and support for what we want to do. We want to regenerate higher education; we want to upgrade it; we want to improve the standards; we certainly want to upgrade research into it; and we want to increase access to it. In order to do all of those things we do need informed public debate so I welcome, in general, the contribution of distinguished administrators such as Professor Caro.