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Tuesday, 4 October 1983
Page: 1308

Mr FISHER(10.30) —I wish to raise a matter of very widespread concern to country people who have students wishing to further their education in Melbourne. This concern is due to two recent actions, the first by the Victorian Government through its Minister of Education, Mr Fordham, and the second by the Federal Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Senator Ryan). The Victorian Government has proposed the closure of a number of student hostels presently housing tertiary students. The Victorian Minister has wiped his hands of responsibility for this action and is reported as saying that the Federal Government is responsible. Unfortunately, the Federal Government, through the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs, has taken a decision that will reduce the small amount of assistance that residential colleges and halls receive at present. It has reduced by 25 per cent the $9 received per student a week which increases the costs of these colleges and halls by $2.50 a week. I call on the Federal Minister to clarify this situation and explain to country people why the Government is attacking students who are already disadvantaged in endeavouring to obtain tertiary education.

These residences have provided a necessary transition to urban life for first and second year tertiary students for many years. They provide parents with some security in the knowledge that their children are living in a satisfactory environment with good meals, accommodation and supervision. Such residences allow for friends to be made and relate to new forms and places of education. After a year or two in these hostels, the transition to flats and shared houses can be made with people they know and respect, in the knowledge that such a move is satisfactory to their needs.

A recent national survey, by Professor David Beswick of the Centre for Study of Higher Education at Melbourne University, into student finances indicates the seriousness of these decisions by the two Australian Labor Party governments. The survey shows that the majority of students in residential colleges are from country regions; that 80 per cent, of necessity, must live away from home to obtain tertiary education; that more than half of these students come from government schools; and that a quarter of these students come from families where the combined parental income before tax is less than $300 per week. The survey also confirms the view I expressed earlier that these hostels are invaluable in ensuring a smooth transition from school to tertiary studies and results in more people persevering with their studies.

These young people from country regions will have few alternatives. The few hostel places available will not be available to many, particularly the important group of first year students. These young people often do not know of their acceptance into institutions until February. Naturally, by then, these hostel places have already been assumed by second and third year students. The other alternative for first year students in the future will be to rent flats or houses in a market that is desperately short of rental accommodation, when what is available is usually sub-standard and rented at excessive rates. As well, it is not easy to find someone to share with or to negotiate such arrangements when people may be living up to 400 kilometres from Melbourne. Country students get very little assistance despite the added disadvantages of distance and separation from their families.

The decline in real terms in the real value of the tertiary education assistance scheme allowance following the August Budget and the decision to scrap the former Government's student loans scheme compounds these difficulties. These cuts affect not just those eligible for TEAS but also a large group of students who receive neither a TEAS allowance nor parental support and who must rely on, with some difficulty, obtaining part time employment to complete their tertiary studies. It is, indeed, ironic that governments which engage in a rhetoric that indicates a concern for the educational disadvantaged are reducing support in so many areas. One only has to see the implication of the Federal Budget and now the Victorian Budget to realise the breaking of promises and the injustices being wrought on students and parents in their freedom of choice and their right of access to tertiary education. I therefore ask these two Ministers for Education to stop passing the buck, to tell us who is responsible for this action and to tell us why support to country students is being reduced. Let us hope that, in the name of social equity, this is not another method of changing funding direction that will result in mediocrity in education.