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Wednesday, 8 November 2000
Page: 22488

Mr IAN MACFARLANE (7:22 PM) —I thank the member for Cunningham and the previous speakers, the member for Cook and even the member for Dobell. I thought the roof was almost going to fall in when I heard the member for Dobell actually supporting some legislation to do with education put forward by our government. But I do sincerely thank him and the previous two speakers for their support for these education services bills. As previous speakers have said, Australia is a destination that many people aspire to come to. It is a place where they come for tourism and education. They see it as a secure place and a place in which they can receive a standard of education and an insight into life that perhaps they may not be able to receive in their own country.

As the member for Cunningham so kindly mentioned, I have a fine university in my electorate which has a great deal of involvement in overseas education, with students either coming to our beautiful city and attending the university or, as an alternative, studying over the Internet. The University of Southern Queensland has a distinguished reputation in catering for students should they choose to stay at the campus or should they wish to study from overseas. The USQ is one of the `new age' universities. It is a university built on `clicks and mortar'. It is a university that uses the latest Internet technology to enable it to take education to all parts of the globe. The USQ, which is in Toowoomba, is a regional university. It has been rated one of the best in the world and the best in Australia for its commitment to serving people from all cultural backgrounds. It is a provider of distance education, servicing thousands of students in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra and beyond—by `beyond' I mean overseas—and has one of the largest enrolments of students studying offshore of any university in Australia. While excellence and achievement are the USQ's hallmark, the defining characteristics of the University of Southern Queensland is that, of its 19,000 students, 75 per cent do not occupy the campus; they study where they live. They study through an innovative distance education program which includes, of course, the use of the Internet. The USQ has led the field in state-of-the art e-education.

I again remind the House that the USQ has been acknowledged both nationally and internationally as one of the great universities of the world. This fine regional university was honoured this year, as the member for Cunningham alluded to, by receiving the University of the Year Award in conjunction with the University of Wollongong. In speaking about the USQ, I would also like to acknowledge the work of Professor Swannell, who has done an enormous job in building up the university with the very fine and able support of his highly professional staff. In receiving the University of the Year Award, the USQ has now received due recognition for the place it holds in our education system. Last year the USQ was awarded two prestigious international prizes of excellence for being one of the world's best dual-mode universities. This means that it was the best in the world at providing people with flexible alternatives to having to go on campus to study. This suits ideally the attraction of either overseas students physically or their study and the income that that derives. These awards were made by the International Council for Open and Distance Education, a peak body representing distance education providers from 130 countries worldwide and backed by UNESCO. So the international accolades that the USQ receives and the import income that that generates are certainly well recognised.

In the context of this legislation, USQ is a major export earner for my region and for Australia. It is the single biggest employer in Toowoomba, employing 1,209 people. Last year alone, USQ reaped education exports worth around $13 million. And the awards do not stop with academic excellence. Last year USQ was nationally recognised for its export effort, winning two prizes at the multicultural marketing awards organised by the New South Wales Ethnic Affairs Commission. The awards were in recognition of the university's ability to provide a world-class university experience for people from a variety of cultural backgrounds—ideally dovetailing into this issue of attracting people from overseas to come here to be educated. Across Australia, education is a major export earner, as mentioned by a number of the previous speakers. Training and education exports are worth around $3 billion a year for Australia. Overseas student numbers in Australia have grown from an estimated 50,000 in 1990 to 150,000—a growth that outstrips even the export growth of the wine industry, I would suggest to the member for Barker. To service this industry, the number of private education providers has expanded by approximately 1,000. In the publicly administered and funded education sector, reliance on overseas students as a source of revenue has also increased. In the higher education sector, where 50 per cent of overseas students are enrolled, fee paying overseas students now account for 8.3 per cent of revenue.

Commonwealth regulation of providers in education export industries is the responsibility of DETYA. However, immigration matters relating to overseas students are the responsibility of the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs. That is why we are dealing with this legislation in this fashion. It is on the migration aspects of the Education Services for Overseas Students Bill 2000 that I plan to focus my contribution in the House tonight and probably tomorrow as well. The Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs and the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs are interlinked as regulatory regimes. It is an unfortunate reality that we have a situation where more people than we can handle—and perhaps some of whom are undesirable—wish to come to this country to be educated. I cannot blame them. I cannot think of a better place to live. It is a great country with great people.

Debate interrupted.