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Wednesday, 30 October 1996
Page: 4763


Senator FOREMAN —My question is directed to the Minister for Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs. What is your current assessment of the impact of your proposed differential HECS provisions on demand for courses leading to the qualification of teachers of mathematics and science? Is it true that the HECS changes are responsible for the depressed demand for agricultural science courses which is causing such concern in the rural sector? How do you respond to the dangerous drop in applications which universities are reporting?


Senator VANSTONE —I think it is just simply too early to say what impact allegations vis a vis higher education have had on enrolments. There are two reasons why it is too early. Firstly, I do not think we have the final figures across Australia. I do not have that picture for myself; whether you have it is another matter. For that reason I think it is too early. We need to see those final figures before I can give you a sensible comment.

In any event, do not assume for one minute that anticipation of a new differentiated HECS and do not anticipate that implementation of the recommendations of Neville Wran, the former Labor premier of New South Wales, is necessarily what is going to have any particular impact. For example, you might imagine that some things that might have an impact on enrolments would be comments by people like Lori Faraone, the president of the National Union of Students, who made a remark to the effect that you need $30,000 to study at university. That sort of thing might put people off.

If people were to believe some of the stories they have read in the paper, some of which have been supported by people on the other side and down that end, that this government was cutting $1.8 billion out of higher education, that might worry people too. If they read the fine print somewhere in some journals and papers that were prepared at least to print the real story and found that the cuts are something like $680 million over four years against $20 billion of expenditure, then they might not be so worried. If students could read that funding per student was remaining effectively the same, then they would not be worried.

Senator, if there is any drop in enrolments—and we already know that in Queensland, for example, there is not but we do not know the figures—do not look simply to the implementation of more equity in the HECS system or to a situation where we are not going to charge a teacher the same as we are going to charge a doctor on a per annum basis as being the reason for that. Look amongst your own colleagues at some of the reporting they have given to what is happening in higher education and ask them whether they feel responsible.


Senator FOREMAN —Madam President, I ask a supplementary question. Minister, how do you explain that under your scheme a science teacher will incur a different HECS liability from a humanities teacher? Given the acute shortages being faced by our schools, how is this going to increase the number of maths and science teachers?


Senator VANSTONE —I don't recall having made a commitment that the policy changes would increase the number of maths or science teachers. If you are asserting that that is what I have alleged, I think you are making a mistake in that sense.

When designing a differentiated HECS it is important to design one that is as fair as possible to all students. It might seem simple to some to say, `Let's have three levels and we will charge you according to the degree you get rather than the subjects you do.' I think there are good and proper reasons for designing a system the way we have—


Senator Carr —What are they?


Senator VANSTONE —Senator, you have had your chance. I am trying to answer Senator Foreman's question. You can come back another time. There are good and proper reasons for doing it this way. Perhaps it could be done another way, but I think this is the fairest way possible to design this system. (Time expired)