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Tuesday, 5 November 1985
Page: 1533


Senator TEAGUE(3.49) —The Minister for Education (Senator Ryan) has tabled in the Parliament the annual statement on financial provision for the next calendar year for higher education and technical and further education. Universities, colleges of advanced education and institutes of technology expect at this time of the year the Minister to put down in the Parliament a report. It happens to be about 250 pages of detailed advice from the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission as to how the $2.5 billion involved in tertiary education in Australia should be allocated between institutions throughout the 1986 calendar year.

The statement put down by the Minister today contains nothing of significance. It is entirely a machinery measure with no shifts of real moment, except some relatively minor matters which amount to cuts in TAFE funding of some $30m for next year. The area to which my colleague Senator Peter Baume has already drawn attention, the area to which we gave greatest attention in the period of office of the Fraser Government, resulted in real increases in financial provision year by year throughout that period much wider than for universities and colleges because we sought to provide technical education and skills that we believed were of the greatest importance to Australia. In today's statement we see a $30m cut in TAFE funding across Australia in the next year. The reason that I am not getting more excited in complaining about that cut is that we already knew it was coming. The guidelines were put down in August and the TAFE provision is part of the Commonwealth tertiary education triennial review which we had more than a year ago. This Government was committed more than a year ago to giving decreased amounts of support to this important area of education, that is, technical and further education.

One sees in this report the detailed allocation of funds for the middle year of a triennium, for which we already had the guidelines. The supplementary amounts which have been added by the Government relate to only one per cent of the moneys that are being distributed. For all the song and dance and inflated rhetoric that came from the Minister for Education (Senator Ryan) a few moments ago, it is a one per cent additional allocation of moneys for our universities, colleges of advanced education and technical colleges. In that sense it is business as usual. There are some small advances in sensible areas. For example the planning process that has now begun for a tertiary college in the western suburbs of Melbourne is a correct priority. I believe that it is right to make sure that higher education and technical education are available for students living in outer metropolitan areas. As I have said every year for the last three or four years, even in the period the Liberals were in government, there is still a need to apply that same diligence to the western suburbs of Sydney. The needs of Milperra college down in Campbelltown, the Nepean college and the Hawkes- bury college should be receiving the same urgency as are western suburbs of Melbourne.

For all the inflated rhetoric of the Minister about access or participation, there is no mention of this important area of unmet need anywhere in anything she said today or has said for a considerable period. She has talked in general terms about participation and equity and, as we all know, the Government has cut that program in half. It amounts to less than the moneys that were available in earlier years for a program that has been renamed by this Government as the participation and equity program. There has been some growth in new enrolments; there is scope for universities and colleges of advanced education to enrol in 1986 and 1987 about 2,500 students a year extra-that is an increase of one per cent in students in Australia in higher education.

All those families in Australia who are seeing their children in high schools, looking foward to their going on to a college of advanced education, an institute of technology or a university, should take note that for all the words this Government puts forward about increased participation, it amounts in this 1986-87 year to a one per cent increase in the capacity of universities and colleges to respond. That is not good enough. That lack of room for growth, for new enrolment, does not provide for the tens of thousands of young people in Australia, let alone mature aged would-be entrants to education, who will not be able to be enrolled in universities and colleges. So this insignificant statement put down by the Minister today, this business-as-usual statement, this machinery item, is not coping with the major question before us-namely, how we from this Parliament can free up universities, and colleges and institutes of technology to make room responsibly for very substantially increased enrolments to meet the needs of Australia's young people and indeed of adults generally.

I believe that this calls for a new approach. The first reports or statements by one of my colleagues looking toward some new horizons were in Question Time today castigated by the Minister for Education. She chose her own rhetoric to imply that Opposition members want to treat education as a consumer item, as soap or as a cool drink, and to apply some purely market force to items such as can be purchased in a grocer's shop. We do not have that simplistic approach to education. In view of the complexity of the whole range of tertiary education-universities, institutes and colleges-we want to see a quite new approach that will give the freedom to institutions to enrol increased numbers of students. For example, I refer to one practical proposition, and that is the present unused hours of the day in our great universities and colleges. Although there are evening lectures and tutorials, and indeed even some weekend activities in our universities, by and large they operate for about 10 hours a day, yet in evening hours there are many students, even 18- and 19-year-old students, as well as adults, who could combine higher education studies with work during the day time-part-time work or even full-time work-to achieve an educational goal that they would set for themselves. Given there is that capacity in our already established institutions, why cannot we allow the universities and colleges of Australia to apply a little flexibility and to have some incentive in which they can see some financial rewards to enrol students in this more flexible way? Why can they not use the capacity of their institutions to achieve a greater goal for Australia? It is goals of this kind that we are addressing in the Opposition and which, rather belatedly, the Government is turning its attention to.

I remind the Senate that early last year the Liberal Party, aware of the huge unmet demand in the would-be students who are failing to be enrolled in our universities and colleges, called for a comprehensive review of higher education, encompassing universities, colleges and institutes of technology. This was announced in the centrepiece of our education policy in this area prior to the last election. We have held seminars, published papers, evoked considerable participation and called for expert views from students, staff and community representatives. I am glad that the Government has followed our lead and appointed a review committee to be chaired by Mr Hugh Hudson, the Chairman of the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission, that is currently reviewing higher education, its effectiveness and efficiency. I believe that the Government is on the right pathway. It has followed the request of the Opposition. It has taken some pages out of our book in carrying out such a review. I hope that the matter of urgency and the practical ideas that I have referred to even today will be taken up by the Government. I hope that the Government will not be misled by its own caricaturing of some ideas on the Opposition benches that it has chosen with such apparent delight to describe as the Opposition's tendency to treat education as a consumer item in any grocer's shop, and I hope that it will not treat our references to the market-place in those terms.

I note with enormous surprise the remarks of the Minister for Education about Armidale and Newcastle-two important education centres in New South Wales. For years we sought, with Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission advice, to gain a more rational use of resource for the betterment of Australian students, not least in those two cities, with full discussion and consultation with the University of New England, the University of Newcastle and, alongside these two universities, two other institutions, the former teachers' colleges and the colleges of advanced education. While for years we sought consultation as to how we should use those resources more effectively Senator Ryan castigated us month after month, saying that she would never go down the pathway of seeing these great independent institutions amalgamated. In Senator Ryan's announcement this afternoon we are seeing a complete reversal and capital `A' amalgamation is the tune that the Minister is now playing. I can only note that the Government has again followed the lead from the Liberal Party of Australia to look sensibly at how best to use resources.

In referring to the review of higher education that will be chaired by Mr Hudson, which will also involve, very wisely, the Vice-Chancellor of the Australian National University, Professor Karmel, and a number of other very experienced and talented people, I make two brief references. Firstly, I request the Government to keep Opposition members informed as to how that review proceeds from week to week and month to month. I understand that the review is due to report by April next year. I ask the Minister for Education to distribute in a regular way to interested senators and members of the House of Representatives the submissions that are put to that review that ought to be publicly available. Secondly, one of the reasons that the statement put down today is of such little significance is that the Government is now back in the situation of waiting not for the Williams report but for the Hudson report. To see changes that may make for greater effectiveness in tertiary education we will all be waiting over the coming months for the Hudson report for the completion of the effectiveness and efficiency review.

Finally, I refer to the TAFE inquiry. It is natural that, at this stage, the Government takes the cue from the Liberal Party in assessing from a foundation base, what will be, in the next 10 years, the appropriate roles for the States and the Commonwealth, in providing for technical and further education. While the Government is waiting for that report, which goes back to that foundation, the provision for TAFE is not standing still but is drastically going backwards because of the cuts that I have mentioned. It should be noted from the major guidelines that TAFE triennial expectations in 1986 had a $30m cut. But with the supplementary funding of $3.7m, which was discussed by the Minister today as if it were a brave new advantage for TAFE, that $30m cut has become a $26m cut. I am entirely critical of the Government, not only for bringing such a cut in to a vital area of education provision in Australia, but also for having the gall to say, as the Minister did in the last paragraph of her statement:

Continued growth is being attained in all sectors with concentration in the areas of greatest need.

Both statements in that sentence are false. There is not growth in all sectors. As is demonstrated on page 29 of the report that the Minister tabled, there are real cuts of $26m in the TAFE area. I contest also the statement that this is an area of great need. Clearly, it is not an area that has been concentrated upon. This is an insignificant statement by the Minister in tabling a report from the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission-a report which is commendable, businesslike, rational, well argued and put together in a careful way. My only plea is that the Government gives attention to the several requests I have made in my speech today and that we in Australia look to a new dimension of freedom for our universities and colleges so that they can responsibly leap a whole year ahead towards solving the unmet demand for new enrolments.

Question resolved in the affirmative.