Wednesday 18 October 2006


Mr FINCH (Question) - Mr President, my question is to the honourable Leader. Firstly, does the Government share concerns in the north about senior staffing levels at the university of Tasmania's Launceston campus? Secondly, is the Government satisfied that there is a fair distribution of degree courses between the Launceston and the Hobart campuses and, thirdly, will the Government support the Minister for Education and Labor members of Bass if they make representations to the university on the perceived imbalance between the north and the south?

Mr PARKINSON - I thank the honourable member for his questions to which I have a very comprehensive answer. On question one, the issue of senior staff levels is a complex one and the relevant levels between the University of Tasmania campuses depends, to a large extent, on the discipline mix and the research strengths on a particular campus. For example, a discipline like medicine tends to have a much larger number of senior staff, Hobart also has a much higher proportion of the university's research institutes, such as Menzies Research Institute, Tasmanian Institute of Agricultural Research, Tasmanian Aquaculture and Fisheries Institute and the Centre for Ore Deposit Research, which have a number of research-only professional positions.

In 1993 UTas had nine professors in Launceston and 38 in Hobart. In 1996 there were 11 professors in the north and 42 professors in the south. Currently there are 14 non-administrative professors in the north, there are 50 non-administrative professors in the south. There is also significant competition for senior academics and the university has a number of senior positions in both Hobart and Launceston where recruitment activities have been unsuccessful to date. This is not a reflection of the university's lack of commitment to these positions but a simple fact of the marketplace.

The Government is very keen to ensure the development and strength of this State's university and supports UTas's firm plans to grow both the Launceston and Cradle Coast campuses. The Government also recognises that UTas is limited in its capacity to provide everything that local communities might want for their local campus but because of the opposing demands of supporting courses within the constraints of Australian Government funding and UTas's obligation and desire to deliver extensive higher education throughout the State, in particular the ongoing balancing of resources depends upon maintaining a critical mass of students in order to offer programs on multiple campuses and the cost-effectiveness of UTas's utilisation of its infrastructure and staffing resources.

Nonetheless the university remains sensitive and responsive to business and industry, community, parent and student concerns in relation to the availability of, quality of and student accessibility to all its existing proposed courses and it is committed to addressing real perceived imbalances where practicable.

On question two, Mr President, as indicated, UTas is firmly committed to meeting the higher education aspirations of the Tasmanian students as well as those of parents, industry and business, and the community more generally. This commitment entails the fair distribution of degree courses. With limited resources it is especially difficult to provide multiple offerings in areas with high-cost infrastructure, such as medicine, pharmacy and science, requiring laboratory-based teaching. These programs are also difficult to deliver online. Education is delivered in Launceston and Hobart, however the courses available differ. UTas has demonstrated a strong commitment to the Launceston campus to date and it has been very successful in achieving planned growth on that campus and has committed considerable resources to improving infrastructure in Launceston. These resources go far beyond the cost of additional senior staff.

The Launceston campus has grown from 3 150 EFTSL - equivalent full-time student load - in 2000 to 3 950 in 2006, a 25 per cent growth over that period. Future growth plans have Launceston growing by more than 7 per cent per annum to reach 5 500 EFTSL by 2010. Since 2000, UTas has had significant growth in architecture - 204 to 345 EFTSL; education - 896 to 1 100; human life science - 161 to 336; nursing - 279 to 460.

Mr HARRISS - Point of order, Mr President, in regard to our sessional orders. I understand that the Leader said in the introduction to his answer that the answer is a comprehensive answer. That being the case, I wonder whether he might consider tabling such answers, not only today but in the future because we do have a compressed question time.

Mr PRESIDENT - Yes. Would that be acceptable to the honourable Leader?

Mr PARKINSON - Mr President, there are a couple of points on that. I presume that the idea of members giving notice of these questions is they get comprehensive answers. I would have thought that the honourable member for Rosevears was enjoying hearing the comprehensive answer being given. I was not aware that we were running out of time and I understood the time continues until the answer ceases.

Mr PRESIDENT - Yes, but I think the honourable Leader has several more pages there. There has been a practice in the past observed by previous leaders that when an answer has been very lengthy, leave is sought to incorporate that into Hansard, and that has been a very readily accepted practice. I am sure the honourable member for Rosevears will enjoy reading the answer as much as he would hearing it. He would probably enjoy hearing some answers to other questions in the limited time available. He is nodding his head, so if that is acceptable to the honourable Leader?

Mr PARKINSON - Well, Mr President, on the point of order, it would have been for me, as Leader, to seek leave. I do so and I understand that the honourable member for Rosevears is willing to accept that. I seek leave to have the answer incorporated in Hansard.

Mr PRESIDENT - I appreciate the honourable Leader's attitude. The question is, is leave granted?

Leave granted.

The remainder of the answer read as follows:

The bachelor of nursing includes load in HLS, sociology and philosophy and has grown as a program from 430 to 670 EFTSL; Sociology 205 to 216; visual and performing arts - VPA - 235 to 276; management 111 to 135.

By contrast the Hobart campus has grown from 6 400 EFTSL in 2 000 to 7 500 EFTSL in 2006 - 17 per cent growth over the same period. Future growth plans have Hobart growing at around 2 per cent per annum reaching 9 000 EFTSL by 2010.

Considerable capital investment in teaching infrastructure for Launceston has been made since 2000 - the Academy of the Arts was a $12 million investment; $ 6 million has been spent on architecture; and for humanities and Riawunna another $6 million; HLS lab space cost $3 million. Flexible learning space and learning hubs cost $1 million and spending on a range of minor projects totalled $30 million. By contrast in Hobart UTas received less than $5 million for teaching infrastructure over the same period.

The UTas blueprint for the Launceston campus includes strategic investment in 2007-08 that will support 15-20 academic and management staff with a strong leadership cohort; centres of excellence in key areas of research and advanced teaching; and improved campus amenities and projects under the UTas master plan.

In all, the university's plans will deliver an extra $100 million of investment and revenue to Launceston over the next five years and with the economic multiplier effect, considerably more additional investment, enterprise and jobs, into the Launceston economy.

UTas has clear growth plans that underpin all of this development - and has been achieving significant growth in line with those targets. The university has put in place significant infrastructure and staffing, negotiated a significant increase in funded places for Launceston, and has clear long-term targets for Launceston. UTas considers the only likely significant risk is if the community does not recognise and take advantage of the opportunities made available.

Through its mix of courses, UTas is at the moment encouraging migration from the south to the north with 779 southern students transferring to study at the Launceston campus, and only 497 travelling in the other direction. While this is part of the strategy to underpin development at Launceston, the most important element in achieving UTas ambitious growth targets is greater participation from within the northern region.

UTas is open to suggestions for increasing development of the Launceston campus which might enable greater capacity for providing multi-campus offerings in areas such as nursing and education, as long as this can be justified on the basis of student demand and cost-effectiveness.

UTas is also keen to further develop its online and flexible delivery mechanisms for appropriate courses and hence provide greater access throughout the State, especially where those initiatives are supported by robust work force planning data and demand from government, business and industry.

Scaremongering about staffing resources based on a limited understanding of the university's staff profile and plans, and failure to acknowledge and recognise the considerable developments over the past five years, is perhaps more likely to undermine the Launceston campus rather than help it.

The answer to the third question is that the minister will be meeting with the Vice-Chancellor this week to discuss university issues relevant to both ends of the State.