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Tuesday, 3 December 1985
Page: 2771

Senator PARER(12.40) — Today, the Senate is debating cognately a package of education Bills. I wish to confine my remarks to the States Grants (Tertiary Education Assistance) Amendment Bill (No. 3) 1985. Among other things, this Bill gives effect to the Government's decision announced on 22 March to permit higher education institutions to charge full cost fees for overseas students over and above those subsidised overseas students who are subject to the overseas student charge. The latter charge has recently been amended by the Government in the Overseas Students Charge Amendment Bill.

The Opposition supports the introduction of full fee courses for overseas students, just as it supported the general thrust of the Government's decision to increase the overseas student charge. The two arms of policy relating to the position of overseas students at our tertiary institutions were developed by the Government in response to the reports of two committees-the Goldring Committee of Review of Private Overseas Student Policy and the Jackson Committee to Review the Australian Overseas Aid Program. It is disappointing, though perhaps not surprising, that the Government has chosen largely to adopt the recommendations of the Goldring report and to ignore the findings of the Jackson report. I say `not surprising' since, unlike the Jackson report, the Goldring report is unwilling to allow tertiary institutions to break free from their rigid bureaucratic chains and costly taxpayer-funded subsidies.

The Government's credentials in the area of overregulation in education are well known. Australia has an opportunity in the tertiary education area to establish a viable export industry that would not cost Australian taxpayers a cent. It would help developing countries overcome problems that are caused by lack of education and training. It would have important economic spin-offs for Australia and would encourage friendly links between Australia and the countries in the fastest growing region in the world.

Only a Labor Government could throw away all these opportunities by burdening tertiary institutions with unnecessary restrictions which will serve only to slow the development of this potential export industry. Some of the restrictions to which I refer are mentioned in the March statement of the Minister for Education (Senator Ryan). For example, the Government proposes, firstly, an annual overall ceiling on overseas students. Secondly, institutions will have flexibility-this is the Minister's expression, not mine-to enrol up to 10 per cent of their total number, and up to 20 per cent in any course. Thirdly, an overseas student office will be established within the education bureaucracy to do a job that tertiary institutions could do better themselves. The Minister said that this office would have the responsibility for policy development and co-ordination. Those are simply bureaucratic terms normally reserved for functions which are not needed. Fourthly, there will be a separate student quota for individual countries. In addition, the Minister's guidelines lay down some ground rules for institutions seeking to charge full fees for overseas students. I understand that institutions will not be allowed to retain any of the capital component of fees paid by overseas students nor will they be allowed to use recurrent funds for the purpose of attracting fee paying overseas students.

These absurd restrictions, endorsed by Goldring but rejected by Jackson, will deny freedom of choice to incoming students and will tie the hands of teritary institutions which may have a comparative advantage in a specific field or may be able to offer courses of great interest to particular countries or regions. Needless to say-again this is not surprising-the restrictions will serve simply to maintain the stranglehold of the bureaucracy and the Government on Australia's tertiary institutions and to prevent the development of independence and entrepreneurship in the more innovative and enterprising of our institutions.

But, the Minister and the Government are not in the business of allowing our tertiary institutions to become independent of government and to compete with one another in order to better serve the students, parents and employers either in Australia or elsewhere. The Minister, like the Goldring Committee, adopts the defensive approach that to make educational institutions accountable to their clients is somehow to debase education or to treat it like any other commodity. Such statements about marketising education show ignorance of both education and markets.

Debate interrupted.

Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2 p.m.