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Tuesday, 26 November 1985
Page: 2229

Senator BLACK —Has the Minister for Education seen the article entitled `Allegations fly over expulsion of student', which appeared in the Australian on 20 November 1985? The article refers to the recent departure of an overseas student who was studying at the University of New England. Can the Minister inform the Senate whether a member of her staff has lied about the reasons for the student's departure, as claimed by the Opposition? Can the Minister explain the reasons and the circumstances concerning the student's departure from this country?

Senator RYAN —I am indebted to the honourable senator for his question because some very serious allegations were reported in the article in the Australian about the circumstances in which this student, Mr Ahmad Othman, terminated his studies and left Australia. The facts of the matter are these: The decision to terminate the student's studies as an overseas student was taken on the grounds of his poor academic progress and his failure to pay the overseas student charge for 1984 and 1985. Both of these factors were taken into account, although primarily the student's poor academic progress led to the decision to terminate his studies.

The student was enrolled at the University of New England for a Bachelor of Economics degree at the time his studies were terminated. He was originally enrolled at the University of New South Wales, where he was excluded on the basis of his poor results. He then enrolled at the University of New England for a Bachelor of Financial Administration degree. He failed his preliminary accounting subject and was excluded from that course. He was then accepted into the Bachelor of Economics course. The course was terminated in 1985 on academic grounds.

Government policy is that private overseas students, as with government supported Australian students, should maintain reasonable academic progress if they wish to retain government support. Because the student's poor record had been due to financial worries and because his most recent academic work in the Bachelor of Economics course had shown promise of improvement, his case was re-examined by my Department. My Department has taken up with the University the possibility of the student being allowed to sit for his end of year examinations in his own country. This matter is still being investigated.

Under the circumstances, given the facts that have been laid out to the Senate, it is quite clear that the member of my staff who answered the Press inquiries and other inquiries was being totally accurate and adhering to the truth. I say in conclusion that it is unfortunate when a student has to leave Australia without concluding his or her studies, and I believe that my Department goes to considerable lengths to counsel and advise students so that this will not happen. The Senate, having heard that this student had a very chequered academic career in Australia before he finally enrolled in the Bachelor of Economics course at Armidale, would agree that that record was not one which would be satisfactory. For example, if the student were an Australian, his or her eligibility for an allowance under the tertiary education assistance scheme would have been forgone with an academic record of that kind.

Senator Peter Baume —What about Dean Phillips's letter?

Senator RYAN —I will comment on Senator Baume's interjection, because Senator Baume's comments were reported in the Australian. He has referred to the dean's letter supporting the student. It is the case, as I have already told the Senate, that the most recent academic efforts of the student were better and he was able to secure a letter saying this from the dean of the economic, faculty, but that had to be taken into account along with the history of failed courses and exclusion on academic grounds from other courses and, of course, that he had failed twice to pay the overseas student charge-for 1984 and 1985.

In all the circumstances, I think the student made the right decision in voluntarily leaving Australia. I should add that, should he wish to return to Australia to resume his studies, he may apply to do so with no prejudice.