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Wednesday, 11 September 1996
Page: 3262

Senator McGAURAN —My question is to the Minister for Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs, Senator Vanstone. Minister, you would be aware of the array of misleading and untrue claims that have been made about the number of places in universities. Will you reassure Australians wishing to go to universities that these claims are false and that, in fact, some 6,000 additional undergraduate places will be provided in 1997?

Senator VANSTONE —I thank Senator McGauran for that question. He rightly asserts that there has been a lot of misleading information put out—primarily by the Labor Party, which has been joined by the Democrats—vis-a-vis the number of places that will be available at Australian universities next year. Next year the government aims to provide 358,000 undergraduate places at Australian universities.

Senator Hill —How many?

Senator VANSTONE —Three hundred and fifty-eight thousand. That will be 6,000 more than the number of places provided this year. In 1998, the number of undergraduate places will rise to 364,000. That, senators, is the minimum number of places that will be available to Australians.

The provision for the return of HECS revenue to universities—something the previous government was never prepared to do—for overenrolled students will, of course, provide further opportunities. I note that one university has already announced that it expects it will have a 10 per cent overenrolment next year. A 10 per cent overenrolment across the sector would mean an additional 36,000 places. Universities would receive an additional $90 million in HECS contributions for those places—something, I remind you, Madam President, the previous government was never prepared to do. When universities overenrolled, the previous government took HECS from the students and kept the HECS itself instead of giving it to the universities.

This government's commitment to expanding opportunities for participation in education is absolutely unequivocal. The only reduction in government funded places that the government is seeking is in course work postgraduate degrees. It is important to understand that this reduction takes place against massive expansion in the last decade, particularly in the last five years. Since 1985, course work masters degrees have expanded by 200 per cent. Research masters degrees have doubled over 10 years. PhD places have doubled over the past four years and increased by 175 per cent since 1985. Government funding for research postgraduate degrees will continue to expand.

The reductions in government funding for course work degrees will achieve a more appropriate balance between the public and private funding. Much of the expansion in higher education under Labor was in postgraduate education, giving people from generally privileged backgrounds second and third degrees. What senators opposite do not want to hear is that between 1989 and 1992—wait for this, because you probably do not know it—the number of people undertaking first degrees actually fell from 102,000 to 93,000. In other words, the previous government was happy to see the opportunities for new graduates to fall and to put those places into people getting their second and third degrees. We think it is more equitable to increase the places for undergraduate students.

When you realise that the average salary of a Melbourne University MBA graduate is $95,000, it is not unreasonable to say that the government is going to reduce its funding to those sorts of courses, maintain its funding for undergraduate students, maintain its funding for research students, and let the coursework students—some of whom already pay for themselves—continue to do so.

It is very important that people do understand that the higher education budget put forward by this government allows for a substantial expansion of undergraduate places. (Time expired)