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Tuesday, 18 August 2009
Page: 8245

Mr BIDGOOD (7:54 PM) —I rise to speak to the Higher Education Support Amendment (2009 Budget Measures) Bill 2009. This bill is about increasing funding for our universities and supporting the removal of caps on some student places. The bill also increases the cap on overenrolment of Commonwealth supported places from five per cent to 10 per cent, in funding terms, for 2010 and 2011.

The amendments to the act will support an increase in the participation of students from low socioeconomic backgrounds and will have significant benefits for families from low socioeconomic groups. There will be flow-on effects of higher education aspiration and attainment for both the students and their families, including improved future employment, economic and social outcomes. Through this bill, the Rudd government is launching a reform agenda for higher education that will transform the scale, potential and quality of the nation’s universities and open the doors of higher education to a new generation of Australians. More people can go to university as a result of this bill, and that must be a good thing.

I am passionate about education. I believe in lifelong learning and believe that as many eligible and willing people should go to university as possible. Having taken on a trade as a young man, it was as an adult that I enrolled at a correspondence university and completed a bachelor of science honours degree in social science over six years by education through the Open University. I truly do understand the benefit a university education can have for those who are willing and able to undertake the study.

Through this bill, the government is giving more people the opportunity to study than ever before. This bill will improve the financial sustainability of our universities, guaranteeing quality in a system that delivers funding for growth and participation by students from all walks of life and recognises the vital importance of research. I am particularly proud that the bill introduces landmark measures to improve the rate of participation in higher education by students from a disadvantaged background. The bill amends the act to provide for an increase in funding to address Australia’s historically poor record in increasing participation by students from a low socioeconomic background. Our commitment to ensure that, by 2020, 20 per cent of higher education enrolments at the undergraduate level will be of people from a low socioeconomic background is furthered with the provisions in this bill.

The injection of additional funding for universities will support these targets. From 2012, universities will receive performance funding if they meet their targets and agree to new targets for the forthcoming funding period. The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency will provide an independent assessment of whether universities have met their targets. The funding will be fair and assessed fairly.

The bill amends the act to introduce a demand driven system of Commonwealth supported places from 2012 with transitional arrangements in 2010 and 2011. The bill also includes a new structural adjustment fund to support continuing transformation in the sector. The structural adjustment fund will be available to universities and will enable them to develop diverse missions.

In conclusion, this initiative is encouraging excellence in our universities and continuous improvement across the breadth of our higher education sector. It is also about fairness. Fairness is assured, as universities will be working to achieve the targets that they have negotiated for themselves. I commend this bill to the House.