Questions without Notice: Universities

Mr WILKIE (Clark) (14:41): My question is to the Minister for Education. Minister, you’d recall that last year I challenged you about skyrocketing HECS-HELP indexation charges, and you committed to having the Universities Accord panel look at it. Here we are 10 months later, and charges are set to rise further by a record 7.1 per cent. Minister, in the circumstances, will you freeze the indexation, at least until the Universities Accord final report is delivered in December?

Mr CLARE (Blaxland—Minister for Education) (14:41): I thank the member for Clark for his question. You’re right; I made a commitment to get the accord team to look at that, and they’re doing that. The accord team will report at the end of June with its interim report and provide a final report to me at the end of December. The short answer to your question is no, we have made no change to HECS in the budget. What we’ve done in the budget is to provide extra support to students through an increase in youth allowance and Austudy and extra support through an increase in rental assistance. That will help a lot of students with the cost of living. More generally, HECS has helped millions and millions of Australians get to university and get a university degree.

When I was a little kid, only about seven per cent of Australians had a university degree. When most of us were knee-high to a grasshopper, very few Australians had a university degree. We’re a different country today. Almost one in two Australians in their thirties has a university degree, and a big part of that is because of HECS, which has helped to fund an increase in the number of students going to university. But that’s not true everywhere. In the member for Clark’s electorate, it’s only about 30 per cent. Where I grew up in Cabramatta, it’s about the same. In the member for McMahon’s electorate, it’s less than that. Only 25 per cent of people there have a university degree. In the Treasurer’s electorate, it’s lower still, only about 19 per cent, and even lower in the bush. And it’s an order of magnitude less for our Indigenous brothers and sisters; only seven per cent have a university degree. This is what we’ve got to fix. The cost of university degrees is important, and the cost of living is important, but the cost of those kids from those communities missing out is important too. This is what we’ve got to fix. This, at its core, is what the Universities Accord will be all about.