BY KERRYN WILLIAMS
CANBERRA — According to an unnamed senior federal education department officer quoted in the August 11 Sydney Morning Herald, the government censored the National Report on Australia's Higher Education Sector (2001), because it showed the negative impact on poorer students of fee increases.
The deleted material showed that since HECS increases in 1996, there has been a reduction of 17,000 older students and 9000 school leavers applying to study at universities annually.
Thirty-eight per cent fewer males from poorer families were studying in the most expensive professional courses such as law, medicine, dentistry and veterinary science. The research also showed that an additional $12 to $24 was being paid weekly by those with incomes in the range of $20,701 to $28,495, due to the lowering of the HECS repayment threshold.
Unnamed department officials told the SMH this material was pulled because it undermines the Coalition government's argument that no student will be worse off with the introduction of proposed new fees. The media furore has now forced federal Education Minister Brendan Nelson to publish this research on his department's web site.
In a bizarre Yes Minister-like twist on August 11, Nelson tabled in parliament a letter from the head of the Department of Education, Science and Training, Jeff Harmer.
The letter claimed that the department had removed the embarrassing research on the impact of higher HECS fees, because it believed the research to have "...methodological difficulties inherent in analysis of this kind and the incompleteness and inconclusiveness of some of the findings which meant that it did not have a valid place in the report." The letter claimed that there had not been any "formal briefing" of Nelson before July 23.
The letter has angered Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) members and delegates in the federal education department. In a written response, Susan McCarthy, secretary of the CPSU's education section, stated that "CPSU members and staff are disappointed in the department's response to the controversy, which implied that the work of our colleagues was seriously flawed. While these particular research findings may have been sensitive they were a valuable addition to the field of knowledge on higher education in this country. This was not recognised by the department."
The CPSU letter asks that staff currently subject to police investigation for leaks have access to advice and assistance, and are informed when they have been cleared. The letter has been circulated with a CPSU bulletin to union members and other staff in the education department.
From Green Left Weekly, September 3, 2003.
Visit the Green Left Weekly home page.