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Tuesday, 18 August 2009
Page: 8150

Mr CHEESEMAN (1:02 PM) —I again rise to speak on the Rudd government’s Higher Education Support Amendment (2009 Budget Measures) Bill 2009. As I was saying, to make sure that the objective of deciding whether institutions have met their targets or not is realised by people with the best available knowledge, the government is setting up a new agency, the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency. Another key question is whether the media will be able to use this information to create league tables for universities. Quite frankly, I do not see a problem with that. The public interest demands that universities be held accountable for their performance. Some of the information generated should of course be in the public domain. I think that students, parents and the Australian and international public have a right to know how our universities are performing in these areas. After all, it must be remembered that the performance targets will be individual targets negotiated with individual universities. I think that what we are putting in place provides incentives for universities, encourages talent broadly and is open and transparent.

Obviously the level of change that we are talking about here is quite sweeping. We certainly could not be accused of being a faint-hearted government when it comes to education reform. We recognise that significant adjustments are required of universities. To support continuing transformation in the sector, $400 million will be provided over four years for structural adjustment. This includes $200 million for the capital component of structural adjustment provided through the third round of the Labor’s Education Investment Fund. This funding will promote long-term sustainability in the sector by assisting universities in making strategic decisions about their future mission and possible ways to enhance their place in the new education environment. It will replace the existing Diversity and Structural Adjustment Fund and will support broader strategic and capital projects. In particular, the new fund will lay the groundwork for the provision of more sustainable higher education in regional areas ahead of decisions being taken on a better model of longer term funding for regional delivery.

The higher education sector will of course need time to adjust to the post-Bradley environment. The government will undertake further work throughout 2009 to better identify the issues facing regional provision, taking into account the changes in the operating environment, including the impact of the move to a more demand driven system. The government will consult with the sector in undertaking this further work. Without doubt, some regional and outer metropolitan universities may be affected by the move to a demand driven system in 2012. Funding for structural adjustment will support institutions that choose to reconsider their strategic direction as a result of this reform. Some universities may find that focusing research funding leads to reduced access to research funding. Regional institutions in this position will benefit from the opportunities and incentives for institutional collaboration in the shared deployment of research infrastructure, facilities and personnel through the Collaborative Research Networks program.

Regional universities play an enormous role in many rural and regional communities. In my own electorate of Corangamite, Deakin University is our largest employer. It is also one of the keys to the great change that must take place in our region, which is transitioning from a dirty brown industry base with a high-carbon footprint to a new low-emission high-technology future. Deakin is already playing a part in this transformation, and it is critical that this university is supported to achieve that. Deakin University is like a lot of regional and metropolitan universities. It is looking to carve out a particular niche where it can make a difference to the world and, of course, the region that it operates around. It is with great pleasure that I have spoken on this bill and I commend it to the House as another great Labor bill.