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Thursday, 29 March 2007
Page: 70


Mr TOLLNER (1:04 PM) —I am proud and happy to speak on the Education Services for Overseas Students Legislation Amendment Bill 2007 that is before the House today, because education services are a vital growth component of our export markets. Building upon the Education Services for Overseas Students Act 2000, this amendment bill will further protect the hard-won reputation of Australia’s education and training export industry. It will do so by regulating education and training providers, providing consumer protection and tuition assurance for overseas students and ensuring the integrity of the student visa program.

The bill includes amendments that support the revised National Code of Practice for Registration Authorities and Providers of Education and Training to Overseas Students, known as the National Code 2007. The bill will enhance national consistency in the administration of the ESOS Act. It will also streamline administrative procedures for international education providers, ensure that the ESOS legislation maintains the integrity of the student visa conditions and migration regulations and minimise any perception of duplication in compliance monitoring by the designated authorities and the Australian government.

The ESOS Act and its complementary legislation ensure the quality of education and training provision to overseas students. The amendments contained in the bill will simplify procedures for international education providers. These amendments will be welcomed by the international education industry. The stakes are high. In 2004-05, the economic benefits of international education to Australia were estimated to be around $7.5 billion, of which $6.9 billion was from spending by onshore students. In 2005 fees from overseas students contributed $2.1 billion to university revenue.

The broad principles laid down in the amendment bill will have a direct impact on the quality and delivery of higher education in all states and territories. In the Northern Territory, it will help to build the framework necessary to attract international universities and upgrade quality standards. On this note, I strongly support the establishment of a stand-alone United Nations University research and training centre on traditional knowledge in the Northern Territory.

Since early last year, I have been having discussions with both Charles Darwin University and the United Nations University on this very exciting initiative. There is still a way to go, but the United Nations University has made an in-principle commitment to build a centre of excellence for traditional knowledge—Indigenous studies—located at Charles Darwin University, Australia’s youngest university, in Darwin, in my electorate of Solomon.

CDU won the backing of the United Nations University to locate the centre in Darwin against international competition, and a great deal of credit must go to the vice-chancellor, Professor Helen Garnett, for her vision in promoting the collaboration. Considerable matching funding has been sought from both the Northern Territory government and international philanthropic sources, and I know that the federal government is currently reviewing funding options for the project.

CDU is seeking funding of several million dollars from the federal government as a one-off contribution or, alternatively, funding contributions on a year-by-year basis over the long term. The United Nations University has indicated that it will contribute several million dollars to establish the centre, conditional on matching funds from the Australian government. The proposed Indigenous studies centre is acknowledged by key Indigenous groups as an important step in enhancing the economic and social outcomes for Indigenous people in Australia.

The United Nations University functions as a decentralised network of networks with a truly interdisciplinary and global perspective. The UNU system comprises the UNU Centre in Tokyo and a worldwide network of research and training centres and programs assisted by numerous associated and cooperating institutions.

In June last year, the UNU Institute of Advanced Studies reported on a proposed meeting of international experts in Brisbane to establish a UNU initiative on traditional knowledge. They reported:

UNU-IAS has completed a preliminary study for establishing a centre on Traditional Knowledge in Australia. The study concluded that establishing a centre on Traditional Knowledge in Australia would be feasible and timely, and could make an important contribution to the challenges facing Traditional Knowledge ...

Charles Darwin University was subsequently selected as the preferred host for the United Nations Research Centre on Traditional Knowledge. Although CDU has only 218 overseas students currently enrolled in a total student population of 5,324 students, the proposed UN centre has enormous potential for the campus.

The amendment bill before us today will help new universities like Charles Darwin because administrative procedures for international education providers will be streamlined. It will ensure the quality of education and training delivered to overseas students is improved. This makes good sense, particularly in the Northern Territory, where there is a need to rationalise Indigenous education courses and develop centres of specialisation and excellence. The Territory has the potential to be a world leader in fields like Indigenous studies and tropical medicine, and the location of the UN University at CDU would provide some obvious synergies.

Charles Darwin University operates in some of the most remote contexts and regions in Australia and the world. Working in cross-cultural and multilingual environments requires methodologies of delivery and interaction that are quite different from any other tertiary institution in Australia.

I strongly support the idea of a United Nations global centre for Indigenous studies, which would consolidate all Northern Territory Indigenous educational groups, including the Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education, into one world-class centre. Batchelor Institute is controlled and run by Indigenous Australians and specialises in working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students from across Australia, especially remote communities. It aims to develop an Indigenous approach to mainstream disciplines and careers.

The institute offers higher education and vocational education and training courses, ranging from apprenticeships to certificates. The proposed tie-up between CDU and the UN University should strengthen ties between Batchelor Institute and Indigenous communities through cooperation in Indigenous research and development. This will attract overseas students, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, as well as academics, to the Northern Territory and reinvigorate higher education, scholarship and research in the Indigenous education field. It will also promote partnerships in research and scholarship with other organisations and researchers.

New funding sources and grants, for example, would expand and strengthen Batchelor’s research profile and provide research grants to staff. So far, research activity in the institute’s dispersed environment has been limited, to say the least. There are currently no students undertaking higher degrees by research. If the Batchelor Institute were to merge into CDU—a move which, by the way, I am keen to promote—it would allow them to focus on those areas which they should do best. That is predominately the VET sector, training apprentices and the like in a whole range of fields, which are sorely needed in most remote communities.

If the UN University and CDU can seal a deal and Batchelor Institute merges its operations into CDU, it will enable Batchelor Institute and possibly other Territory Indigenous education bodies to function in a global environment, offer higher degrees by research and develop key areas of research in education, health, management and natural and cultural resource management.

The new Batchelor campus of CDU could become a truly specialist institution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tertiary education through the provision of recognised and internationally accredited educational and vocational training courses. Of course, there will be major benefits to all concerned from the creation of better economies of scale that will see a greater bang for the buck, a much more targeted allocation of precious funds and better utilisation of the facilities at Batchelor.

This will be a world-class centre of excellence in all facets of Indigenous education and understanding and, as such, will attract considerable interest from other institutions not only in Australia but all over the world. Institutions and people will be seeking to collaborate and work with the best of the best. I believe that through this initiative the Northern Territory and CDU will capitalise on one of the Northern Territory’s greatest strengths, its Indigenous people.

For these reasons, I commend the Education Services for Overseas Students Legislation Amendment Bill 2007 to the House. In both its spirit and its letter it will advance these education goals in the Northern Territory and nationwide.