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Thursday, 7 November 1985
Page: 1739

Senator CHANEY —My question, which is addressed to the Minister for Education, follows the answer which she has just given. I note that the Minister has confirmed that the Government proposes to allow overseas or foreign students to purchase additional places in Australian tertiary institutions. I take it from her answer that she and the Government are not prepared to extend the same privilege to Australian students. On what basis does she discriminate against Australian students, preventing them from purchasing additional places in the way she is about to permit foreign students to purchase places?

Senator RYAN —We run in this country a higher education system which is merit-based. It is not the Government's intention to undermine that. There are a number of places available. In fact, since our Government has been in office we have created in excess of 20,000 extra places. There is growth in the system. There may still be some unmet demand. But there is no doubt that there has been enormous growth in the system under our Government. An enormous number of new places have been created. Students get access to those places on the basis of merit. They get allocated a place if their tertiary entrance score or its equivalent is high enough. They then may qualify for assistance for their living and studying expenses under the tertiary education assistance scheme which, as honourable senators will know, is strictly means tested. We believe that that system has served education in this country well, has served students well and fits in very well with the principles of equity to which our Government is totally committed.

Senator Chaney —It is miserable discrimination.

Senator RYAN —Some overseas students may negotiate with some institutions for extra courses. If Senator Chaney wants to promote policies whereby Australian students can pay $14,000 a year to undertake an engineering course, he is welcome to put up those policies and just see how much electoral support there will be for them. There is not general support in our community for the idea that a university place is something that one buys. There is extensive support for the existing system and there is to be some development in relation to overseas students. However, I should say in conclusion that it is our Government's expectation that the majority of overseas students studying in this country will continue to be under the subsidised program which we administer.

Senator Chaney —That is discriminating in favour of Australians.

Senator RYAN —Senator Chaney likes to suggest that there is some sort of discrimination; yet it was his Government which brought in the overseas student charge, thus already discriminating between local and overseas students. We have maintained that charge. We think that it is not unfair. Senator Chaney on the one hand in government brought in a system of charging overseas students and on the other hand is now trying to suggest that there is some inconsistency.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! There are too many interjections.

Senator RYAN —I do not think I will continue on this train. I simply say that if Senator Chaney thinks it is going to attract young people and their parents to support him and his policies by advocating that they should get places only if they can pay for them, let him try it.

Senator CHANEY —I ask a supplementary question. I point out to the Minister that it was never advocated in my question that that should be a substitute for the existing university places. I ask the Minister why she should extend to overseas students a privilege that is not available to Australian students who are not able to get an education within the places provided by her Government?

Senator RYAN —I do not know how often I have to say this: First of all, I do not believe that it is a privilege to have to buy your way into higher education. I think the privilege is to get on the basis of merit a place which requires no tuition fees. They are the policies that our Government has pursued. We will continue to pursue them and I am totally convinced that they are electorally popular.