Carnegie Mellon University

29 Jun 2005 questionsarchive

I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Industry and Trade, representing the Premier, a question about Carnegie Mellon scholarships for public servants

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: On 15 June, at the seminar entitled Institute of Public Administration Australia Seminar:

South Australia’s Strategic Plan—One Year On, the Premier made the following statements in a speech to those assembled:

. . . the government will award about 20 scholarships to the new Adelaide branch of Carnegie Mellon University. These will be awarded on a competitive basis. . . they’ll be for state public servants working at the ASO 7 and 8 and MAS grades.

He continues:

I believe the involvement of public servants will be a perfect fit. . .

that is, with Carnegie Mellon. He goes on to say:

. . . it has a very strong reputation in fields relevant to South Australia. It’s number one in the US for computer science and IT.

And it rates very highly in areas such as business management and public administration.

An article of 1 November last year in The Australian in relation to Carnegie Mellon’s coming to South Australia stated:

Carnegie Mellon executives visited Adelaide, and it is understood some form of financial contribution was expected from the state and federal governments for the scheme to be a success.

A spokesman for the University of South Australia said it was pleased the government had turned its back on a plan mooted in 2002 to combine the three universities. Why has the Premier specifically selected Carnegie Mellon for these scholarships, that is, what is wrong with our other universities?

I note that the University of South Australia, Flinders and Adelaide Universities all offer computer science and IT programs. Flinders University has a well developed public administration program, and Adelaide University and the University of South Australia both offer business management.

How much will each student scholarship be worth? Is it true that the government has no idea how much the fees will be? Did the government go through a competitive process in deciding on Carnegie for these scholarships, or is this an example of old Labor going back to its State Bank days of picking favourites in the marketplace rather than relying on competitive tendering and proper evaluations—

The PRESIDENT: Order! The honourable member is starting to introduce opinion into the debate. You know that you should not be doing that, Ms Lensink; you have been here long enough.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: How will meritorious public servants who may be interested in other areas, such as environmental studies, tourism and so forth, benefit from this program, and how will this program differ from the existing study programs in which HECS and postgraduate fees have been paid? As the Commissioner for Public Employment has previously identified, public servants also lack significant skills in accounting, finance, economics and property management and valuation.

The Hon. P. HOLLOWAY (Minister for Industry and Trade): I am disappointed that the honourable member does not recognise that the Carnegie Mellon proposal has been given significant support by her federal government colleagues.

Presumably the same criticisms also apply to Alexander Downer and other members of the federal government who have been extremely helpful in establishing this, because they are smart enough to realise that the Carnegie Mellon University is one of the most reputable universities in the world. The areas in which it is particularly strong are information technology and public administration.

The highest rating Australian university in public administration is the Melbourne Institute. The chair of that university was at a meeting earlier this year and welcomed the introduction of Carnegie Mellon because he said it would be a challenge to his university, which has the best reputation in public administration in the country—that is recognised.

However, he welcomed Carnegie Mellon because it would lift the calibre of public administration education throughout this country. This government wants the best qualified public administrators in the country, and that is why we will support them to go to the best courses.

We are grateful for the support of the federal government which, unlike the local Liberals, appreciate the benefits of some policy initiative and development, which this government is doing, rather than the knockers opposite who can only ever criticise anything that is done. This university might actually do something positive to elevate the educational standards in Australia—and would not that be a good thing?

It will obviously have to be done over the dead bodies of members opposite, because they will do everything they can to stop it.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: By way of supplementary question, will the minister guarantee that the state government will not provide any more subsidies to Carnegie Mellon to either attract it or to retain it in South Australia?

The Hon. P. HOLLOWAY: The assistance that the government has given to Carnegie Mellon has been supported by the commonwealth government. The state government appreciates the support that the honourable member’s federal colleagues have given in relation to this matter. This government has given significant amounts of money to our local universities. Within my own department we are funding an automotive engineering course, and recently through PIRSA we funded a chair of mineral development under cover.

We announced just yesterday during question time a grant of $2.5 million to the University of South Australia, to AMSRI, the strategic minerals research institute, which will become one of the foremost institutes. My colleagues have just announced $8 million, I think, that is going to automotive engineering courses through the location of a new campus.

We have just given an enormous amount of money—$7.5 million, I think—to the wine cluster at Waite, which is the University of Adelaide. Of course, that follows on from all the money that we have given to the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics: and on it goes. This government is highly supportive of all our educational institutions. We are also pleased to have another new institution: the university with the best possible reputation in this country in relation to key areas such as information technology and public administration—and is that not a good thing?

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Sir, I have a further supplementary question. Do I take it from the minister’s reply he is saying that the courses that are expected to be run at Carnegie Mellon are superior to those provided by all other South Australian universities?

The Hon. P. HOLLOWAY: What I am saying is that this university is recognised throughout the world as being in those two areas that I have mentioned. Universities are rated, and some are rated higher than others. In terms of public administration, this university is ranked around the world as having a very high reputation. That is true in public administration and I believe it is also true in IT. In those two areas, this university’s degrees are rated by those who rate universities throughout the world as being right up there at the very top. I think that, sadly, our best universities in this country are well down the list, but one of the things that we hope will happen as a result of Carnegie Mellon is that it will lift the standard of Australian universities. That was exactly the point that the head of the Melbourne University Business School made in his address earlier this year. He welcomed Carnegie Mellon and he welcomed the competition it would bring, because it would elevate the standards in this area.

I would have thought that members opposite would believe in competition. They sold off electricity—but that is not really competition; they did not create any competition with that because they sold it off as a monopoly. However, that is another story. Certainly, some years ago the Liberals used to believe that competition was a good thing—in fact, their federal colleagues obviously believe it is a good thing in relation to education. The top practitioners in this country also believe that it will be a good thing.