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Monday, 27 September 1993
Page: 1181

Senator TIERNEY (5.27 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the document.

The document before the Senate today is the preliminary advice of the National Board of Employment, Education and Training and its Higher Education Council on planning for the 1994-1996 triennium. Broadly, NBEET has agreed that growth in the higher education system should be carefully targeted to regions that are experiencing greater than average population increases for undergraduates and to areas of research strength for postgraduate research students.

  The advice states that while the Higher Education Council does not propose that there be substantial growth identified for the higher education sector, there are a number of factors which suggest that some growth is needed. I find that last statement—`some growth is needed'—rather amazing. This government obviously does not understand the extent of shortfall and unmet demand for places in our university system. It is planning small growth at a time when we are turning 50,000 people away from universities every year. That will not go away.

  The Senate Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training undertook a study into adult and community education and found that there is a tidal wave of demand from people who want to upgrade their skills and move into either TAFE or university education, but the places are not there. The government might think it is going to redirect post-secondary education in this country more towards the TAFE sector, but ANTA has just begun and the preference of Australians is still for the university system. These things will not be turned around overnight, so it is rather amazing that the advice being given to the government is for low growth.

  NBEET also states in this advice:

Growth in postgraduate student numbers is necessary to accommodate growth in undergraduate completions, to maintain an appropriate level of opportunity for graduates to achieve a high level of research skills.

There will not just be growth in undergraduate completions; there will be a massive growth in demand for people wanting to go on to further degrees. The fact that the government has suddenly brought in a doubling of the HECS fees for these people will really do nothing towards creating the clever country.

  I cannot remember any senators opposite suggesting, before the last election, that they would garrotte higher education postgraduate research and student completion of awards in this area by doubling fees. I challenge any of my colleagues to recall any statement by the government before the election that it was going to put up fees in this area. This is just another lie from this government. What will happen is that a lot of people who proposed to do a second degree and gain the skills that a clever country needs will just not go on and do it because of this additional cost.

  NBEET has also advised the minister that the allocation of research postgraduate load should be based on evidence from institutions of the research management plan. It says:

Growth places must be directed to areas where the institution has research strengths and where there are trained supervisors.

That seems fine on the surface, but people have to realise what the government's hidden agenda is. When that particular piece of gobbledegook is translated, it means that the government will focus its resources and support the `big seven' concept of universities. The effect of this, as our Senate inquiry into university research has revealed, will be to create either a new binary system or a four-level system of post-secondary institutions in this country where the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer. Those universities that have established track records will be getting preference.

  So instead of assisting the newer universities and giving them proper research infrastructure and spending the sort of money the government should be spending in this area, it will is to concentrate on just a few. That is totally at odds with the developing direction of the findings of the Senate standing committee inquiry into universities. People are telling us that the research money should follow expertise wherever that may be—whether it is in country New South Wales or in the centre of Melbourne—and it should not be focused in the way that is indicated.

  My last point relates to the other funding that the government is putting into infrastructure, which is also inadequate. In this advice, NBEET has warned the government that quality of higher education will decline if there is any further funding reduction, and that has occurred, as indicated in this report. (Time expired)