In May 1984 Education Minister Senator Susan Ryan took the Schools and Tertiary Education commissions' funding recommendations for the next triennium to Cabinet. She noted that the Schools Commission had been asked to provide funding options that would give effect to the government's needs-based policy, rather than giving automatic increases to all non-government schools. She also noted a background of orchestrated public protest meetings, concern about the continuing uncontrolled expansion of the non-government sector, and poor retention rates and declining enrolments in government schools. The Schools Commission put forward a range of options to improve funding for government schools and proposed dividing non-government schools into 12 rather than three categories so that funding could be directed more accurately according to need. On tertiary education Senator Ryan noted that since 1979 recurrent and equipment funding had remained almost unchanged and capital funding had been nearly halved, despite a 10.5 per cent increase in enrolments. The Tertiary Education Commission suggested that existing funding of around $2.2 billion per annum should be increased by up to $347 million by 1986–87. Emphasis would be given to improving participation and equity, particularly for the disadvantaged, and to improving staff numbers and facilities. Cabinet, supported by some of the major policy departments, decided that it would be very difficult to accommodate the levels of increased expenditure proposed by the commissions and referred the issue to an interdepartmental committee (see A13977, 754, 755 and 788).

In February 1985 Cabinet reviewed policy on the enrolment of overseas students at Australian tertiary institutions. Issues of concern included increasing competition for places between Australian and overseas students, high concentrations of overseas students in some institutions, and the fact that at current fee levels overseas students were being subsidised at the rate of some $100 million per year. Cabinet endorsed proposals by Ministers Hayden and Ryan to set an annual ceiling on overseas student numbers, with quotas for individual countries, and to restrict overseas enrolments to 10 per cent of the student population of each institution and to 20 per cent of the enrolments in specific courses. Fees for overseas students would be increased gradually to raise the level of cost recovery from the present 25 per cent.

On 23 September 1985 Cabinet considered a joint submission from Ryan and Trade Minister John Dawkins on the more effective marketing of Australian education services overseas. A recent survey mission to South-East Asia had reported that there was significant potential demand for specialist courses such as English language training and also for full-fee places in normal degree and diploma courses. There were already proposals to establish a number of private universities in Australia to cater for both Australian and overseas students. The ministers put three options to Cabinet: permit private universities to deliver courses in Australia, allow existing institutions to arrange with private universities to deliver courses in Australia and overseas, or permit existing Commonwealth-funded institutions to offer courses for overseas students both in Australia and overseas. Ryan favoured only the third option, but Dawkins was prepared to consider a combination of the second and third options, subject to safeguards. Both ministers opposed access to universities by Australian students paying full fees. Cabinet decided that only the existing Commonwealth-funded higher-education institutions should be permitted to market full-fee courses to overseas students and that Australian residents could not be enrolled under full-fee arrangements. Education units would be established in major student-sending countries, immigration and health screening would be streamlined, and effective English-language assessment procedures developed (see A14039, 3253).

In March 1985 the Department of Finance, supported by the departments of the Treasury and Prime Minister and Cabinet, suggested that tuition fees be reintroduced for Australian tertiary students at the rate of some $1400 per annum for university students and $900 per annum for colleges of advanced education. Students would be offered a subsidised government loan system to pay their fees. Finance argued that, despite the abolition of tuition fees in 1974, students from higher socioeconomic groups were still overrepresented in tertiary institutions and could thus afford to pay fees. However the government had made a firm commitment prior to the 1984 election that it would not reintroduce fees and the Finance memorandum was not considered by Cabinet.

Selected documents

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2019