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Thursday, 18 August 2011
Page: 8577

Mrs ANDREWS (McPherson) (13:12): I rise to speak on the proposed amendments to the Education Services for Overseas Students Act, known in the ESOS Act, contained in the Education for Overseas Students (Registration Charges) Bill 2011 and its related bill. The inclusion of these amendments will create a new fee structure for higher education providers who wish to be registered in the Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students, known as the CRICOS.

Higher education providers are required to register with the CRICOS in order to offer their courses and programs to international students. The amendments to the act will allow for the fee structure to be set to more closely reflect the cost of supervision of these providers. The bill will amend the Education Services for Overseas Students (Registration Charges) Act 1997 to provide for recommendations that have arisen from the Stronger, simpler, smarter ESOS: supporting international studentsreview, known as the ESOS review, conducted by the Hon. Bruce Baird AM.

The Bradley review recommended that an ESOS review take place before 2012. The review came about from the significant growth in the number of overseas students and the changing composition of this group. The ESOS review received around 150 formal submissions and more than 300 people registered with the online discussion forum.

The ESOS Act has been evolving through substantial reforms since 2000, when there were allegations of immigration rorts, poor quality education services, college closures and exploited students. orty-one recommendations were endorsed from an independent evaluation in 2004-05 to improve the act's effectiveness. Following this, amendments were then made to the act in 2006 and 2007. However, in 2009 there were further allegations of unethical behaviour reported by the media and this led to protests by the Indian community against assaults on Indian students and resulted in the closure of a number of colleges.

In 2009 the government introduced amendments to the ESOS Act pending a review. The amendments to the act made in 2009 required a number of things including re-registration of all institutions registered on the CRICOS. Two new registration requirements were introduced in an effort to strengthen the education credentials of education providers and have all providers list the names of their agents and comply with the regulations relating to them.

In just over a decade reforms and amendments to the ESOS Act have been implemented to ensure a fair treatment of the international student body. The proposed amendment bills that I am speaking on today will further potentially strengthen and reform the existing act. The ESOS Act exists to ensure that international students in Australia receive the education and training for which they have paid, to protect the reputation and integrity of Australia's education and training export industry and to strengthen the public confidence in the integrity of the student visa program.

The ESOS review commented on course delivery that supports quality education experiences for international students. Currently, all of the courses open to international students must be registered on the CRICOS and there are specific requirements for courses for international students. These include requirements that the international student be located in Australia and that their primary purpose for being in Australia is to study. I note that these requirements are intended to support the integrity of the student visa program, and this was also noted in the ESOS review.

I would like to take this opportunity to expand on the importance of our reputation as an international education destination. The international education industry is suffering according to the latest Australian Education International data. Contributors to the current downturn include the strong Australian dollar and the current government's policies, which include tougher student visa conditions, tighter skilled migration and the crackdown on private colleges. The latest AEI data, for June 2011, showed international enrolments across Australia declined 9.1 per cent compared to the same time last year, and this compares to a previous annual growth rate of 11 per cent since 2006. According to the AEI, the education industry across Australia totalled $18.3 billion in export earnings in 2010. However, the full economic value to Australian businesses and local communities is considerably higher than this figure, which excludes international student expenditure on things such as accommodation and living expenses.

Our reputation is made vulnerable when international students feel we are taking advantage of them and our reputation becomes even more vulnerable when these students are victims of crime. In the review of education services for overseas students, Baird commented on this issue and raised the concerns of most Australians, including me, by saying:

The recent attacks, predominately on young Indian students, have saddened me as an Australian.

Baird consulted broadly and identified a number of concerns including:

Concerns raised during consultations included reports of: false and misleading information provided by some education agents, poor quality education and training, gross over-enrolments, lack of appropriate education facilities, providers paying exorbitant commissions to education agents, limited financial scrutiny of providers, ineffective application and enforcement of regulation, low English language entry requirements, poor social inclusion of students in their institutions and the broader community, inadequate complaints and dispute handling services and some duplication between Commonwealth and states and territories leading to confusion and unnecessary regulatory burden.

Many related issues raised were out of the scope of the review such as alleged workplace exploitation, migration and visa issues, deficient and expensive student accommodation, lack of transport concessions and health matters.

The Gold Coast cannot afford the impact of any negativity towards our international students. The education sector of the Gold Coast is well developed and currently includes four universities: Southern Cross University, Griffith University, Central Queensland University and Bond University. There are also 160 registered training organisations, 32 private schools and 64 state schools. In May 2010 employment figures showed that education institutions on the Gold Coast employ over 17,500 people. The Gold Coast's two largest universities generated more than $1.6 billion towards the Gold Coast's economy in 2010.

Two studies detailing the economic benefits of Griffith University and Bond University show both institutions contribute significantly to the Gold Coast community. Griffith University injects more than $1 billion annually into the local economy and accounts for more than two per cent of local employment. Privately operated, not-for-profit Bond University injects $600 million and 2,200 regional jobs. mportantly, these economic impact figures do not include development of human capital provided by the education of graduates or the flow-on effects of research and development conducted by the universities. Griffith University and Bond University together have over 20,000 students enrolled and many of the graduates remain on the Gold Coast after graduation, which increases the human capital and knowledge base of our community.

The depressed state of the Gold Coast's main industries in tourism and construction along with the above average unemployment rate highlights how crucial it is that the Gold Coast's education sector continues to develop. I would like to see the Gold Coast economy mature and broaden to include an excellent education and research industry to complement the existing emphasis on our industries.

Overseas students are clearly critical to the Gold Coast economy. They provide a very welcome boost to our tourism industry in particular. Where we are able to welcome the overseas students to the Gold Coast and they have an experience that is favourable towards them, they are most likely to encourage their friends and their relatives from overseas to visit and to holiday on the Gold Coast. So the flow-on effects of overseas students to the Gold Coast economy are in fact enormous.

The Gold Coast economy has been struggling for some time and we have been very dependent on two industries. Clearly, tourism is a major industry for us, as is construction. It is long overdue for us to develop a second layer of industry on the Gold Coast, but I should say that we are well on track to doing that now. The second layer comprises our manufacturing industry and, importantly for today's purposes, the education industry. We should be doing what we can to strengthen and develop the education sector on the Gold Coast.

In my electorate of McPherson, Bond University's international student population is around 30 per cent of total enrolments. So it is a significant proportion of Bond student enrolment. Safeguarding students' interests is key to the success of the international student sector. The global financial crisis has not helped this goal, as numerous providers have had to close due to events that are largely out of their control. Risk management is therefore important so that the interests of this sector and the wider economy are assured. The ESOS review commented that a provider's risk profile should not only guide entry to the sector but influence the level of regulatory resources dedicated to monitoring and supporting a provider.

We support the education sector and recognise that overseas students are a critical part of this industry. Therefore, I believe the changes are a step forward for the industry, the international students and our overall reputation as an education destination. As I indicated before, education is a sector that is crucial to the Gold Coast both now and into the future. I actively support the development and growth of our universities and tertiary education providers and give my commitment that I will work with them into the future to make sure that the Gold Coast is well placed to be an education centre of excellence.