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Wednesday, 7 December 2005
Page: 220


Dr NELSON (Minister for Education, Science and Training) (6:47 PM) —I thank all those who have contributed to the debate on the Higher Education Legislation Amendment (2005 Measures No. 3) Bill 2005, although I did not agree with quite a bit of what was said by those on the opposite side. However, it is worth pointing out that the government—in fact, two years ago this week—passed groundbreaking legislation for reforms of higher education. The end result of that has been an increased $11 billion in investment over a decade in universities, 40,000 additional government funded HECS places over the next five years and $400 million to support scholarships for living and accommodation costs for 43,000 Australian students. We have moved the universities to fund them on the basis of what they actually deliver and to provide performance based funding pools. I announced only last week the first allocation of the $251 million learning and teaching performance fund, from which Wollongong and Swinburne universities, for example, were ranked in the top five.

I turn now to some of the comments made by the member for Rankin. Firstly, the lifetime chance of higher education in Australia at the moment is approaching 50 per cent, with 30 per cent of students going directly from school to university. If you were to have a 60 per cent participation in higher education by 2020, you would need students with an IQ of 90 going into the university system. The member for Rankin should know that the forward demographics for university demand show that we expect demand to increase by about 12 per cent by 2020 in Queensland and by seven per cent in Western Australia. We are anticipating a five per cent reduction in Victoria, a 12 per cent reduction in South Australia and an 18 per cent reduction in Tasmania. This year, university demand is down by 8½ per cent for non-school leavers and up 1.5 per cent for school leavers. Overall, demand is down 2½ per cent. The simple reason that demand is down is that the labour market is very tight. There is plenty of work, plenty of overtime and plenty of jobs, so non-school leavers, in particular, given the opportunity cost of going back to university, will understandably take a job. When the Labor Party was in government and we had 1.1 million Australians who were unemployed—11 per cent, in fact, in 1993—140,000 people could not get into university in January 1993. The reason they were queued up was that they could not get a job.

One of the other things the member for Rankin might appreciate is that if there is a 60 per cent participation rate in a country with collapsing age dependency ratios and falling demand in terms of the demographic for higher education, you also have to take into account a 40 per cent attrition rate and reasonable failure rates. At the moment in Australia the lowest published entry score was a tertiary entrance rank of 32 for information and communication technology at RMIT. How low does the Labor Party really want entry standards to go in Australian universities?

The other great inconsistency, which has been covered in one of the opposition’s amendments, is the so-called cap on Australian fee payers. The ridiculous part about this is that Labor Party policy is that there should not be a single Australian paying his or her own way in an Australian university. The Labor Party supports no cap because it believes that there should not be any Australian students paying their own way in Australian universities. The Labor Party is hypocritical in complaining about a move on the cap. Equally, the Labor Party often says that the government should listen to the vice-chancellors, but the call for the removal of the cap has actually come from the vice-chancellors. I have said that I would be prepared to entertain it in the context of other changes that might also be put forward by the leaders of Australian higher education.

The argument has been put, for example, by Professor Ian Chubb, the Vice-Chancellor of the Australian National University, who says, ‘Why should there be no cap on foreign students but there be a cap on Australian students?’ The absurdity of Labor’s position is that there would be not a single Australian under a Labor government able to pay his or her own way in an Australian university, but an Australian can go to Malaysia and do a medical degree with Monash University. They can pay their own way and then come back into Australia with a Monash medical degree. That is amongst many of the inconsistencies in the Labor Party’s position and in the amendments being moved.

The particular bill that is before us contains measures that will enhance the legislative framework under which the higher education system operates. It will strengthen the accountability arrangements already in place under the Higher Education Support Act 2003 so that the Australian government and Australian students can be assured that all higher education providers have structures and procedures in place which are fair, transparent and accountable.

This bill will provide for ministerial discretion to require a compliance audit to be conducted on the operation of non-table A providers to determine their adherence to the financial viability, fairness, compliance and contribution and fee requirements of the act. It is envisaged that such compliance audits would be conducted on an as required basis in circumstances where the Commonwealth requires further assurance of the provider’s compliance with these matters.

The bill will also clarify the requirements that need to be satisfied before a person is taken to be a Commonwealth-supported student. It also makes some minor technical revisions to the Higher Education Support Act 2003, including amending it to reflect the new business name of Open Learning Australia—Open Universities Australia—and clarifying that the guidelines for incidental fees and fees in respect of overseas students are to be specified in the Higher Education Provider Guidelines rather than the Commonwealth Grant Scheme guidelines. It further clarifies the definition of ‘student load’ as it relates to a bridging course for overseas-trained professionals.

This bill also amends the Australian National University Act 1991 to repeal an obsolete heading. I urge members to support the bill. The government most certainly will not be accepting the amendments that have been proposed by the opposition, and I will make sure that the Hansard records that the Labor Party has called for further deregulation of Australian higher education in this debate. The member for Rankin and others have called for further deregulation. We heard comments about ‘the commissar’ and ‘the politburo’ and all those sorts of things. I say to the Labor Party: if the fact that, as minister, I require universities to train nurses in regional communities and I require universities to train podiatrists and I require a say over training people in scepticism and the paranormal means that I am guilty of excessive regulation, I stand accused and condemned.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. BK Bishop)—The immediate question is that the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question.

Question agreed to.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. BK Bishop)—The question now is that this bill be now read a second time.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.