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Tuesday, 5 November 1985
Page: 1530

Senator MACKLIN(3.30) —The Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission's report is fairly comprehensive and deals with a very large number of items. I wish to raise what I consider to be a fundamental item with regard to tertiary institutions in Australia; that is, unmet demand. Essentially, the problem lies in attempting to estimate in a fair and reasonable way what might be the unmet demand, and what capacity Australia may have to increase participation by younger people in tertiary institutions. Last year the University of Queensland, in response to this, carried out a fairly comprehensive study into what might be the unmet demand within that institution. I am sure that the Minister for Education (Senator Ryan) has read that report. The report came up with what the university acknowledged to be an extremely conservative figure. The figure it put in regard to unmet demand in that tertiary institution was 5,000 places. In the overall situation in Queensland-of course, this takes in Griffith University, the University of Queensland, Capricornia Institute of Advanced Education, James Cook University, Brisbane College of Advanced Education, Darling Downs Institute of Advanced Education and the like-there will be 390 additional places. Of course, the situation in other States is worse.

I think it is a fair judgment to make in regard to the report and the Government's response to the report that what we are seeing in Australia is a gradual but effective lessening of participation opportunities for the people who wish to take them up. We know, for example, that with regard to the numbers entering tertiary institutions as a percentage of the population, every year for the past eight years there has been a drop. Effectively, we are allowing fewer of our population to take up opportunities for further or higher education. Whether that is a good or bad thing, of course, will depend very much on the educational philosophy of the government in office. The previous Government did not seem to offer very much resistance, but Senator Ryan, when in opposition, certainly did. It has certainly not been illustrated in these documents, or the documents that appeared last year, that a reversal of the trend in Australia is under way.

The numbers that have been suggested in this report and the numbers which the Government made public last year are leading Australia to a position at the bottom of the scale. Of course, we know that in terms of participation rates in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, Australia ranks very low. We are below countries such as the United States. But it may come as a surprise to many people in Australia that we rank below the United Kingdom, Canada, Norway, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, and even Italy. We are moving down the scale, and we are moving down it more rapidly year by year. I believe that because of our type of economy it can be shown that there is a very effective link between education, educational expenditure and the type of economic structures that we have. I think it is very interesting to note that the countries around the world which have consistently put large percentages of money into education at the school and tertiary level are now reaping the benefit. The country at the top of the scale, of course, is Switzerland, which has had on average the highest expenditure on education of any country in the world in the last 30 years. It also now has the highest standard of living.

Depending on the type of priorities that are placed on education, one can see this report as continuing a trend which on my estimation is unhealthy and a trend which will not provide this country with the type of people and the type of skills that it needs to maintain the type of new industries that this Government has talked about establishing in a range of areas, which it has been promoting the establishment of, and for which it has been devising legislation to assist. I would perfer our students, our people, to be the ones who will populate those new industries and that we do not forever tie ourselves into seeking skilled labour from other countries to maintain our industries, and our new industries. I wish to focus on this point because another part of the report-a part that has already been referred to by Senator Peter Baume-refers to the cut in the participation and equity program. Paragraph 1.7 of the Commission's report states:

The Commission believes that, in addition to having an impact on the availability of opportunities for young people, especially those from disadvantaged groups, a reduction in funding for the Participation and Equity Program at such an early stage in its life disrupts the planning process and brings into question the extent of the Commonwealth's commitment to the Program.

Honourable senators who have had an opportunity to speak to people who have operated, and are operating, in a participation and equity program will know that that quote was probably taken directly from the people who have operated in it. They say that this is about the fourth time, after they have been urged to get off their backsides, to get programs under way, that they have had the rug pulled out from underneath them. The likelihood of those people actually generating those programs in the near future, on the next occasion that a government wishes to proclaim one of these programs as being the corner-stone--

Senator Peter Baume —The centrepiece.

Senator MACKLIN —It is the centrepiece of this Government's educational program, for which it has decided to cut funding by 50 per cent. Some type of centrepiece! If this Government or any future government attempts to coerce, co-opt or induce educators to spend their time, energy and effort in generating programs for disadvantaged groups, it is likely to be met with a very cynical response on behalf of the practitioners. A government cannot repeat that type of exercise and expect people to believe, having called wolf three, four or five times, that next time a wolf will not appear.

I have concentrated on unmet demand because if we cut down the participation and equity program in this area a very interesting dichotomy arises. We know that more people are staying on in secondary schools. Since the program was launched I have questioned constantly whether that is necessarily participation. Certainly people are staying in schools, but whether they are participating in education is another matter. Many teachers, of course, are of the opinion that, whilst the people are there, they are not necessarily participating. But given the very dramatic growth that the Government has achieved by its policies in keeping people at school-at least retaining them-a fair percentage of those people could be considered to be participating and a reasonable percentage of those people, probably the same percentage as is normal in the rest of the group, would be looking at undertaking higher or further education of one kind or another.

Senator Peter Baume —Your point is valid even if it is a smaller percentage.

Senator MACKLIN —Even if it is small, but I think it is a significant percentage. We have put in place a whole series of programs that have been successful. We have said to people: `Come and stay on. Do what we are asking you to do. You can go on to further or higher education and then undertake the career of your choice'. We have held that out to them and, in terms of our tertiary funding operations, proceeded to deny them that opportunity, again building cynicism into the system. We have built in cynicism in terms of the educational practitioners who we have asked to undertake these tasks. We are now building it into the students by holding out to them something which we refuse to deliver. It seems to me that it would be far better for the Government not to engage in that type of cynical exercise but to say quite clearly: `We don't want you to go on, but we prefer you to stay out of the work force'. If that is what the Government is about there are cheaper ways of doing that than having people in educational institutions.

If our aim is, in fact, to increase the educational standards of our Australian citizens and to give our young people the opportunity via our educational institutions to undertake a number of those skills for which we are currently importing people, that is fine, but if we are to do that we also have to be able to provide the funds. If the Government says that it cannot provide the funds it should not have raised the expectations. So on either hand I think the Government must stand condemned with regard to this. It should not have raised the expectations or it should have provided the funds.

The disadvantaged groups have suffered along the line Senator Baume has already referred to at the schooling level. Those programs which were specifically pointed up by the Schools Commission as being in urgent need and which Senator Ryan, as Minister for Education, in a speech overseas last year pointed out as ones which were top government priorities, were the very ones which ended up being cut. I am not sure what is going on. The Government picked three programs which were mentioned overseas, the Commission picked three programs, and they were the only programs to be significantly cut. It is a most extraordinary operation. It seems that if one raises a profile suggesting that some programs need money, those programs get a cut. I think the people in Aboriginal and multicultural education would have preferred to remain with a lower profile and keep the funding they had before instead of getting mentions overseas and getting cuts.

There is another area where we have not had any movement, and that is student accommodation. It is not necessarily a matter for the education budget, but one which I have mentioned on many occasions. I think it is matter for the education budget but probably also for our capital works program. Student accommodation is now reaching a crisis point, particularly in our major cities. In Sydney and Melbourne it has gone beyond a crisis point. If one looks at the recent studies that have been done in Australia with regard to people who have made use of the accommodation which is provided, one finds that they have tended to be people from rural areas. We know that on a rural-urban dichotomy the rural people are disadvantaged and that the women are disadvantaged more than men. In looking at people from private and state schools, the accommodation actually tends to be populated by people from state schools. We know on that dichotomy that people from state schools tend to be more disadvantaged, on average.

On each of the levels of disadvantage the studies recently have shown that those people tend to use what student accommodation is around more than the others. Yet, in terms of what has happened in those areas we have cut the subsidies which were available to them. That happened previously. The amounts of money which are now going back there are tied in such a way that there must be no capital reduction by the institution of the money which is being provided. Let me repeat that: There must be no capital reduction. Effectively, that means that the institutions have to lend that money at current rates. They may as well go along to a bank to get that type of money. The only effective use of that money by people at a disadvantaged level would be, in fact, by having lower interest rates, not the higher interest rates.

Senator Zakharov —That is up to the tertiary institutions.

Senator MACKLIN —But that is the guideline that has been set down for them by the Government for the new moneys which are available. I believe that in this area more money needs to be provided through the capital works program. I will give an example in my State of Queensland. In the town of Longreach, which is in the mid-west of Queensland, a program has just been completed. Through the use of Commonwealth Government funds brick footpaths have been put down. The asphalt has been torn up and brick footpaths have been put down. They look nice and they are nice. But I believe that if anybody asks the people of Longreach whether they would prefer to have those bricks on their footpaths or stacked one on the other to build residential accommodation in Toowoomba at the Darling Downs Institute so that they could have cheap accommodation for their children, I know what the people of Longreach would opt for. They would obviously opt to have that reasonable accommodation provided in Toowoomba where many of the younger people from Longreach go for any further or higher education.

I am saying that when we provide expenditure and create work programs around Australia I believe that it would be better to look not so much at simply creating those programs but at what long term benefits there will be for the country in the expenditure of those moneys. I believe that it is far better to spend money in providing student accommodation than in putting down bricks to make nicer looking footpaths. The country would be better served, our younger people would be better served and it would be an asset for the country not just for this year, next year or the year after but for 10, 20, 30 or 40 years-well beyond the year 2000-if we provided that cheaper accommodation for our young people to be able to undertake tertiary studies.

The last point I want to raise briefly is privatisation. We see that the Government is attempting to move the load of funding of tertiary education onto the private sector. I believe that the co-operation between the tertiary institutions and industry, as envisaged by the proposed standing committee on tertiary education and industry, is a useful development. It is one which the Australian Democrats have supported in the past and which we will continue to support. I believe many useful developments have taken place in Australia in recent times. However, disturbing reports are emerging. I refer, for example, to the report appearing in the Age today about the Melbourne University Council making a decision last night about the appointment of a professor. That professor is to be paid for totally by an institution. That is fine, but the fact that the professor is being nominated by that outside institution I think raises very disturbing questions indeed. I think that matter has to be looked at. We must be concerned that what is going on is not simply a co-operative venture but privatising professors and lecturers as well. That movement, I believe, ought not to continue without considerable investigation as to what the long term effects will be of that operation which we saw happening for the first time last night at Melbourne University.