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Thursday, 18 August 2011
Page: 8570

Mrs ELLIOT (RichmondParliamentary Secretary for Trade) (12:41): I am very pleased to be speaking on the Education Services for Overseas Students (Registration Charges) Amendment Bill 2011. It gives effect to the recommendations arising from the review of the Education Services for Overseas Students Act, the ESOS Act, conducted by the Hon. Bruce Baird and known as the Baird review. In accepting and implementing the recommendations from this review, the government has introduced a series of amendments to the ESOS Act, including the amendment bill before the House today.

The Baird review recommendations on the regulation of the international education sector include a stronger focus on risk management and improved use of resources. The amendments being discussed today will create a new fee structure to replace the current annual registration charges paid by all registered international education providers. Overall, there will be a reduction in the level of fees and charges paid by the sector as a whole. The changes to the registration charges will allow for fees paid by international education providers to be based on risk and will lead to improved regulatory activity. The risk based changes to the education charges will help ensure that resources are more effectively targeted right across the sector, placing greater scrutiny on those institutions that present the greatest risk. The change in registration charges is a key element of an overarching approach to managing risk in the international education sector.

The Education Services for Overseas Students Act protects and enhances Australia's reputation for delivering quality education services and provides financial and tuition assistance to overseas students. On 9 March 2010, the then Minister for Education, the member for Lalor, Julia Gillard, released the final report of the Baird review, titled Stronger, simpler, smarter ESOS: supporting international students. The report sets out the issues facing the sector and makes a number of recommendations along two central themes. Central to theme 1 is ensuring students are better supported through improved information, management of education agents, stronger consumer protection mechanisms and enhanced support to study and live in Australia. Theme 2 seeks to improve regulation of Australia's international education sector and to find ways to make the ESOS Act stronger, simpler and smarter to ensure Australia maintains its reputation as a high-quality study destination.

Recommendation 3a of the Baird review suggests that ESOS regulators adopt a consistent, comprehensive risk management approach. The recommendation suggests that this approach be developed, in consultation with stakeholders and experts, to profile providers at entry to determine the level of scrutiny, evidence, tests and costs that should apply at registration. The changes to the registration charges in this bill are all part of this overall approach.

In light of the Baird review and changes in the international education sector since the annual registration charges were last amended, in 2003, including unprecedented growth in student enrolments, it was very timely to revisit the registration charges. Revenue raised through the registration charges contributes to many things, including maintaining and developing information to support administration and enforcement, ongoing registration, regulatory supervision, compliance and enforcement activities t also contributes to the Overseas Students Ombudsman's role in investigating complaints.

Together with the change, registration charges resources will be better targeted at higher risk providers to ensure a robust and comprehensive supervisory and compliance regime is implemented. The changed registration charges will reflect the number of courses offered by each provider as well as the overseas student cohort in order to more accurately recoup the costs involved in the monitoring and enforcement activities, relative to the size of individual providers. The revised registration charges will be risk focused and based on the following four components: the first tier, a flat fee per provider charge to cover the administrative cost of the registration process; the second tier, which is a size fee and will be comprised of a charge per student enrolment and a charge per registered course for each provider; the third tier, a compliance history fee, which is a flat fee imposed in circumstances where the minister has, in the past 12 months, taken action against a provider under section 83 of the ESOS Act—this fee would reflect the additional supervisory activity which would be involved in relation to these providers; and the fourth tier, which is an entry-to-the-market fee and is based on evidence which suggests that providers with a shorter history of registration present a greater risk and therefore the greater regulatory and supervisory burden applies.

On this basis new providers will be charged a fixed fee for each of the first three years of registration. Providers that are representing a lower risk, such as government funded schools, TAFE colleges and public universities, will pay the flat fee and the student enrolment component of the size fee. These low-risk providers will be exempt from the course component of the size fee as they are already subject to rigorous quality control processes. As the amount of revenue to be cost recovered through the changed registration charges is expected to reduce from approximately $15 million in 2011 to less than $7 million in 2012, the vast majority of existing low-risk providers will experience considerable relief in this regard. The Australian Government Actuary has modelled the new fee schedule based on an assessment of the risk posed by education providers.

Australia has an international reputation for excellence in all areas of education and training. This reputation has been established and maintained by a strong regulatory regime put in place over many years to protect students and ensure the quality of our education and training courses.

In 2000, the Australian government introduced the ESOS Act. The ESOS Act ensures that, in order to enrol international students, institutions must first meet requirements for registration. All institutions which meet registration requirements are listed on the publicly available Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students, CRICOS. If an institution does not meet stringent standards for marketing activities, education delivery, facilities and student support services, it just is not registered. That means it cannot enrol international students.

The ESOS legislation provides consumer protection. This means students will receive the tuition for which they have paid and their fees are protected by law. Institutions must ensure that the marketing materials they provide to international students are accurate and not misleading. Before issuing proof of enrolment, the institution must first provide students with current and accurate information such a requirements for acceptance into the course; the course content, duration and the qualification that it leads to; the modes of study and assessment methods; the facilities, equipment and learning and library resources available; indicative course related fees, including advice on the potential for fees to change during the course; and relevant information in terms of living in Australia, including indicative costs of living and accommodation options.

Institutions must support international students in adjusting to study and life in Australia, achieving their learning goals and satisfying the learning outcomes of their course. This includes providing information on arrival about issues such as student support services available to help facilitate a smooth transition to life in Australia; legal services; emergency and health services; complaints and appeals processes; and any student visa conditions relating to course progress and/or attendance, as appropriate. Throughout a course, institutions must help students access study support services and welfare related services if they need them.

The Australian government acknowledges and values the contribution to Australian life of the international students who come from all over the world to study, live and work here. International students enrich Australian communities throughout the nation, whether they are in urban or regional areas. They bring much energy, diversity and enthusiasm and offer new ways of seeing things. What is really important is that international students expand Australia's global networks and link us to the world in so many ways. Their high-quality life experiences in Australia contribute to, and reinforce, our regional and global standing.

The Gillard government is committed to expanding the horizons of our educational institutions and their reach in overseas markets in which they can attract even more students to our shores. As part of this commitment, I was very pleased to announce a new brand for Australia's international education sector, Future Unlimited, on 6 June this year. Future Unlimited builds on Australia's new nation brand, Australia Unlimited, and is designed to refocus attention on the benefits of Australian educational qualifications and the doors they open for international students. The new brand, which is already reflected on the Australia government's website for international students, Study in Australia, which received over 3.3 million visits in 2010-11, will be incorporated into the activities undertaken by Austrade's global education network.

The growth of Australia's international education sector over the past 25 years has been a notable success. Australia is the preferred choice for international students from many countries and is the third most popular English-speaking study destination for these students. t is very important to remember, and a number of speakers have commented on this, that Australia's international education sector is our largest services export sector and our third-largest export overall. In fact, it contributed $18.3 billion to the Australian economy in 2020, so it is a very important part of our economy. In 2010 there were 617,000 enrolments recorded by students, representing more than 195 nationalities, at educational institutions in Australia. These are figures we can be proud of. And thousands more were studying Australian courses at offshore campuses established by Australian institutions. In addition to all this, the Australian government currently invests over $200 million each year in international scholarships which at any time are supporting around 5,000 international students, researchers and professionals studying in Australia and Australians undertaking study, research and professional development overseas. So we have a very strong commitment to this sector.

Australia's education sector is crucial to our economy and our global reputation and for our connection to the world economy at large. As students from overseas come to study in our institutions, they not only bring this very large investment in our country but develop very strong ties and relationships with Australia and our people that last long after they have ended their studies here. So our educational institutions provide one of the greatest networking opportunities imaginable with so many the future leaders around the world in different areas, whether in government, in business or in the not-for-profit sector. When many people who have studied in Australia return to their own countries, those wonderful networking ties continue and we can build upon them, increasing our global reputation as a result.

It is therefore vitally important that we protect our hard-earned reputation for the excellence and integrity of our institutions by ensuring that they continue to provide very high standards of education and training. We have a strong commitment to that because we understand the value for our international reputation of having such a strong regulatory regime in place. We know how important the investment return from international students is for our local economy, flowing through as well to so many sectors such as tourism, which has been mentioned by a number of speakers. So there are many benefits and we should all be very proud of the very good international reputation we have. The amendments in this legislation will build upon that. Australia, for all the reasons I have mentioned, is a very popular place for people to study because we have such high standards and excellence.

This bill will have many positive results, not just for the education providers but for all the students who will come here and, of course, for the Australian economy, which is vitally important. The bill will strengthen the governance arrangements and ensure that our nation continues to lead the world in the international education sector. We should be very proud of this fact. We will continue to recognise its importance and build on it. The Gillard government is very committed to providing high-quality educational resources, both domestically and for our international students, and to their continuous improvement. Australia's record in this area has developed over the decades and the sector has grown to the very large size it is today. I commend the bill to the House.