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Thursday, 3 May 1973
Page: 1701

Mr BEAZLEY (Fremantle) (Minister for Education) - I would have thought from the second reading speech and from the speech of the honourable member for Chisholm (Mr Staley) who applauded the form of it, that so far as the universities are concerned this was virtually a vice-chancellor's discretionary fund, analagous to many discretionary funds they have set up out of their ordinary funds for assisting needy students. For instance, the University of New England had a fund of some $35,000 to which a grant of $63,000, I think, is to be added under this scheme. It is to be given to the university in very broad terms. I said that it will be a matter for each university to determine who shall receive assistance, but I would expect that grants would be made available to students who are in extremely difficult financial circumstances following misfortune outside thencontrol such as death, injury, serious illness or desertion by breadwinners of families on ordinary income; the annihilation of family income in flood, drough or bushfire; seasonal or chronic unemployment of the breadwinner; loss of earning power by the breadwinner for any other reason and so on. I could not envisage all the circumstances under which a vice-chancellor would use his discretion, and having said to them: 'Here is a discretionary fund for you to use on a confidential basis to assist students', we now have certain points moved in an amendment which makes the whole situation appear very rigid as far as those universities are concerned.

There are some sections of the amendment which have nothing to do with accountability. One refers to the academic progress of students assisted by grant, loan or by any other means. In normal university procedure this exists now. Students can lose scholarships and in future, by failure, they will be able to lose their means tested grant and the payment of their fees. But they will not be able to lose this grant by failure. If they receive assistance under this provision and fail at the end of the year, this will not be being renewed next year as an emergency grant. It came about originally because of the circumstances this year in which the Commonwealth is not offering to meet all tertiary fees. The State of New South Wales produced a situation in which fees rose by I6i per cent, and this came as a very heavy blow at one university where the income of many families was seriously affected by drought. We have given to universities what was virtually a vice-chancellor's discretionary fund, and while no doubt a lot of this information will be available to the Australian Universities Commission the Government does not want to make it a condition of the grant that a lot of this information be sought. The making available of academic results of all students who are being assisted by this grant, as sought in part 4 of the amendment, would give the universities some considerable administrative duties which I would not wish them to have.

There is no great point in accepting or rejecting the amendment moved by the Opposition but I think that it would manoeuvre the Government into having a seeming desire to supervise in detail what is an emergency and discretionary grant, and would take away the character of a discretionary fund for the vicechancellors which, in discussions with their leaders and the people with whom I have corresponded, was left as a very flexible fund. I have not any doubt that the institutions concerned will apply this money for the assistance of needy students. To that extent they are accountable to the State Auditors-General, and I would not want anything more rigid put in statutory form.

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