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Wednesday, 19 May 1993
Page: 838

Senator JONES —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Employment, Education and Training. I refer to the establishment last week of the Open Learning Technology Corporation which will expand open learning education in Australia. I ask: can the Minister inform the House of the success of the current open learning initiatives and the scope for future expansion of the scheme?

Senator ROBERT RAY —This is a question from Senator Jones—it was not originated in my office, I will have honourable senators know—but Senator Jones was very kind to give me some notice of it.

  The Open Learning Technology Corporation was established to provide services related to open learning delivery for educational and training providers throughout Australia. Its responsibilities include the management of the national clearing house and database to provide information services to support open learning delivery, and project management services to State and Federal educational agencies and other users. The corporation will provide services to all sectors of education and training.

  The open learning initiative is a Commonwealth Government program for the next three years from 1993 to 1995 which has financially supported the establishment of an independent open learning organisation—the Open Learning Agency of Australia, known as the OLAA. The OLAA acts as a broker between educational providers and individuals wishing to undertake tertiary studies through open learning. Initially, all study units will be at university level, but TAFE units are also planned. The OLAA began offering university study units in March 1993.

Senator Tierney —How are the enrolments going?

Senator ROBERT RAY —The honourable senator will be interested to know that there are almost 4,000 registrations in more than 20 units of study.

Senator Tierney —How does that match the projections?

Senator ROBERT RAY —Let me tell the honourable senator that the number of registrations was 50 per cent more than the target figure anticipated by the OLAA for the first study period. There are four study periods per year. As the range of subjects available expands and the open learning option becomes more widely known and understood, it is expected that the number of people participating will grow quite significantly.

  There will be 25 subjects for the second study period—which is due to begin on 7 June, in case Senator Kemp was about to ask—with a minimum of 75 different undergraduate units by the end of 1993 and 150 by 1995. Open learning participants currently pay a charge of $300 for each semester unit, which is broadly equivalent to the HECS payment. The Government has committed itself to a HECS type loan scheme for some participants. The details of the scheme and who will be eligible will be announced in the Budget context. We have also indicated that there will be a year 13 pilot program, that these courses will extend into the TAFE area, and that we are also supporting and recognising what Wollongong University is doing in an independent way in developing its own postgraduate learning units.