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Thursday, 12 September 1985
Page: 507

Senator BOLKUS —I direct my question to the Minister for Education. I refer the Minister to an article in the Australian of 11 September by Dr Smart and Professor Scott wherein the Government's record in the field of education and particularly its commitment to widening access to education was criticised. Can the Minister indicate whether the article is accurate and, if so, what action will the Government take to respond to the criticisms of these two people?

Senator RYAN —I welcome the fact that academics are taking an interest in government policy in writing articles about the effects of government funding policies and other policies in education. However, it is unfortunate when academics embark on exercises such as this that they involve themselves in quite serious inaccuracies and misinterpretations of funding. There are a number of errors in that article as it was reported, one of which attempted to perpetuate the myth that somehow the schools' funding increases which were legislated for last year for a 4-year period were at the expense of higher education. I have heard this criticism from several quarters and, of course, it is quite wrong. The effect of the schools' funding increases, which were legislated for last year, in this year's Budget will be an increase of about $29m going to government and non-government schools. We have been very pleased to have been able to make this increase which will be distributed on the basis of need and which will assist in our objective of raising all schools in Australia to the community standard over the funding period.

At the same time, I have announced guidelines in this year's Budget which will involve much greater increases than that for the tertiary sector. For example, there will be an increase in recurrent funding of over $39m. Of course, in excess of 25,000 places will be created over the triennium by our Government's funding policies. So, it is a misinterpretation to look at schools' funding as if it were undermining our efforts in higher education. Any reasonably careful examination of Budget documents would reveal to the authors of that article that this was the case.

Another general criticism that apparently was made in that article is that our policies of improving access to higher education by the disadvantaged have not been realised. Again, if the authors of that article were to look at the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission annual reports they would see that not only have we greatly increased the numbers in post-secondary education overall-in fact, I think there are now 57,000 more students in full time post-secondary education than there were when we came into government-but also the location of those increases is very clearly in those areas which had been neglected previously. For example, there has been a great increase in higher education places in institutions serving the outer western suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne, areas which were quite grossly neglected during the period of the Fraser Administration. There have been more than proportionate increases in the State of Queensland. As I have said many times in the Senate, Queensland had been very badly neglected, first of all by Queensland governments and then during the period of the Fraser Government.

If one looks at the participation rates of women in higher education, and there has been some media coverage given this week to a statement I released on that subject, one will find that there have been increases in the number of women students enrolled in all areas of higher education. This is a most satisfactory development. In terms of Aboriginal students who have, of course, the lowest participation rates, over 600 Aboriginal students are now involved in higher education courses. I think when we came to office there were little more than 200.

All these things have come about not simply, naturally or by coincidence but because the Government has been seeking to achieve these improvements and increases through the negotiations of the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission with individual institutions and with higher education co-ordinating authorities in the States. The overall picture, although far from the ideal that we intend to achieve after a few more years in office, is certainly one where our policies of increased participation and equity must be fairly and objectively assessed if they are to be very substantially realised. I hope that the authors of that article pay attention to the corrections that I will certainly make to them. I think it would be encouraging if future publications from academics on this subject paid closer regard to the actual facts of government funding and the effects of government policy.