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Thursday, 26 June 2003
Page: 17625

Dr NELSON (Minister for Education, Science and Training) (9:38 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Education exports have grown phenomenally in recent years. As Australia's fastest growing export service sector, international education contributes over $5 billion annually to the Australian economy. Australian education has a global reputation for its high quality and innovation. These attributes, combined with competitive tuition fees and a lower cost of living than its major competitors, make the Australian education and training services export industry a thriving, expanding and vital sector in the Australian economy.

As you would have seen from the recent budget announcements, this government is committed to protecting this valuable industry, and assisting its development through strong policies and supportive legislation such as the Education Services for Overseas Students Act 2000.

The ESOS legislation established key national elements for the regulation of the international education and training services industry. It addressed problems facing the industry; the uncertain financial protections for students' pre-paid course fees; the emergence of a small minority of unscrupulous providers; and inconsistent quality assurance.

This bill contributes to this system by creating a new fee structure to replace the current inequitable tiered charges structure for the compulsory annual registration charge payable by all providers registered on the Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students, CRICOS. The new fee structure comprises a $300 base fee per annum together with a charge of only $25 per student enrolment per year. No other changes are proposed and providers will still calculate the number of enrolments as one enrolment for a course over 26 weeks and half an enrolment for a course of less than 26 weeks.

The existing tiered charging structure imposes a relatively greater burden on registered providers with small numbers of overseas students. The new base fee and charge per student enrolment means all providers pay the same, on a per capita basis, regardless of size. It also means that those providers that have the most to gain from our reputation as a high-quality study destination will carry a more equitable burden to ensure the quality, integrity and sustainability of the industry.

Importantly, the bill does not impose any further regulatory burden.

From these changes my department will receive $5.1 million over four years on an ongoing basis for increased compliance and enforcement activity. This will allow it to more proactively use the powers that already exist in the ESOS legislation to more speedily remove those providers who are not acting in the best interests of the industry. It will include, for example, looking at making greater use of provisions to deal with registered providers without the financial capacity to stay in the industry; taking more collaborative action with states and territories; and smarter information matching to better target our compliance activities. More effort will also be put into assisting providers to understand and meet their obligations.

In addition, the changes in this bill will also enable the government to further support and expand Australia's international education industry. Extra funds generated will be apportioned across activities such as quality assurance of providers delivering courses offshore, provider and course benchmarking and providing information to industry and students on the quality assurance framework. This is a very practical demonstration of the government's commitment to facilitating long-term, sustainable growth for this important export industry.

Protection and enhancement of Australia's reputation for providing reliable and high-quality education is crucial for both providers and their international students who rely on the strength of an Australian qualification as they further their careers, both here and overseas.

This bill continues the government's support for a strengthened regulatory framework for Australia's education and training export industry and will ensure its integrity and long-term viability.

I commend the bill to the House and present the explanatory memorandum.

Debate (on motion by Mr Rudd) adjourned.