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Tuesday, 25 June 1996
Page: 2166


Senator STOTT DESPOJA(7.27 p.m.) —I should begin my remarks tonight by saying that I concur with the statements made by Senator Reynolds. The Australian Democrats have expressed in this place on many occasions our concerns about the proposed funding cuts to higher education and, specifically, regional campuses. We know full well that those regional campuses will be hardest hit by any cuts to the higher education budget.

Tonight I wish to talk about a regional campus, the University of South Australia's Salisbury campus. I think I express the concern and anger of many of my colleagues when I talk about the closing of the Salisbury campus. I know that the closure of this campus which was supposed to have been phased over a period of four years, starting next year through to the year 2000, has been speeded up in anticipation of funding cuts in this budget to the higher education sector.

I know the local community and the staff and students share my anger because the decision to close the campus failed to take into account the best interests of the people in that area. I should note that people in the Salisbury, Elizabeth and nearby Barossa Valley areas are among the most disadvantaged people in the South Australian community.

The Salisbury campus is located in the northern suburbs of Adelaide. It is a region that has the most highly condensed urban population of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people outside Redfern—a little known fact. It also has a low socio-economic make-up. It is one of the lowest socio-economic regions of the city, with a correspondingly low participation rate in higher education.

This campus of the University of South Australia was chosen to host the Jobs for Young Australians Conference last year because there was the hope in the Salisbury region that the campus could offer people from traditionally disadvantaged backgrounds the opportunity of an education, a job and a future. For almost 30 years, the courses at Salisbury have reflected this hope. The former teachers college has expanded over the years to cater for many other caring and service professions.

The people who chose to study at the Salisbury campus planned to be primary and secondary teachers, nurses, community workers, recreational planners and park rangers. They chose to study so that they could give back and contribute to their community. The university was meant to serve the community. The fact that it has now been closed down flies in the face of all equity and social justice principles. It also flies in the face of the mission statement of that campus and university.

Despite previous assurances by the university that many, if not all, the courses offered at the Salisbury campus would be transferred to the Levels campus, which is a city based campus, I find it appalling that only one school—the School of Environment and Recreation Management—will be left in that northern region. The very courses that contribute to the community, such as nursing, community work and teaching, will not be available at the inner northern Levels campus. These courses will be out of the reach of most students, as they will be located at campuses in the Magill and Underdale areas. These students will now be faced with many hours travel per day by public transport. They will have to cope with a lack of appropriate facilities, such as the excellent child-care service that is currently located at the Salisbury campus. They will also lack an access point to higher education in their region.

Many students will be forced to drop out. Many more will find that their studies will suffer under the duress of having to travel longer distances or dealing with the extra burden of dislocation and a lack of support services that we know are vital to academic achievement. It is a betrayal of the university's mission statement and it is a betrayal of those people in the Adelaide northern suburbs region.

The Salisbury campus has successfully broadened access to education for those people from the northern suburbs. It is not simply a case of providing a campus at the back door for these students. It is a matter of these students being able to attend a campus where they are not marginalised because they are the first person in their family to access higher education. A Salisbury campus initiative, the pathfinder program, addressed this alienation with quite an innovative program which paid and encouraged students to study at that university. It encouraged them not only to study but also to go back and tutor many of their peers or people who were coming up behind them in that region. So it really provided role models for participation in higher education. It provided secondary school students with hope.

But Salisbury campus is now being closed. Those good intentions were not backed up with forethought or funding. As we all know, the higher education system suffered a 13 per cent cut in real terms over the period of the Labor government. It now looks like it is set to suffer more funding cuts under this coalition government. The intention of the former government was to give people, like those in Adelaide's northern suburbs, educational opportunities. Unfortunately, this was not evaluated.

Recent reports have noted that participation by students from lower socioeconomic back grounds in higher education has not markedly improved in this country. This issue should be addressed as a matter of urgency. With the closure of campuses like the Salisbury campus, we will see this problem exacerbated and certainly not alleviated.

It has been noted that the campus's catchment area covers the Barossa Valley region—this is quite ironic—where the former minister for education, Mr John Dawkins, who presided over the unified national system reforms, lives with his young family. I imagine the former minister hopes that his child will be able to reap the benefits of a mass higher education system. Unfortunately, Mr Dawkins's child, like many children from the northern region, will not be able to afford themselves of the course options at a campus in the northern region. It is a sad day for the people of the northern Adelaide suburbs. It is a sad day for those who care about academic excellence and the future of the so-called clever country. Without social justice and a fair go for all, we will never achieve excellence in higher education.