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Thursday, 26 November 2009
Page: 13039


Mr TREVOR (1:19 AM) —As I was saying the other day, some universities attempting to combat the rising costs of amenities and services have reported having to redirect funding out of research and teaching budgets to make up the shortfall. According to Universities Australia, the body representing the university sector:

Universities have struggled for years to prop up essential student services through cross-subsidisation from other parts of already stretched university budgets, to redress the damage that resulted from the Coalition Government’s disastrous Voluntary Student Unionism legislation.

It is one thing to deprive our university students of vital amenities and services, but it is a completely different and far more severe issue when we begin to put at risk the educational quality of our universities. It simply cannot be justified. That is the cost of the current legislation and it must be amended urgently to rescue our tertiary institutions.

Without the amendment of these laws, Australia could see a serious decline in the influx of international students to our higher education facilities. The current laws have resulted in increased social isolation for international students because of the diminished services and amenities. If we continue to allow the quality of the services and amenities at our tertiary institutions to decline, then the multicultural vibrancy of our university campuses in Australia will be in serious jeopardy. In 2005, 18 per cent of all higher education students in Australia were from overseas. Without funding for the services that support these students, Australia could face a significant decline in its position as a major player in the international student market, and therefore a significant decline in the number of international students enrolling at our universities. The simple fact is that universities need the amenities and services they had in the past in order to attract significant foreign student bodies. These services are vital for international students to integrate and interact socially with other students at our universities. By depriving the universities of these facilities we are taking away this important component of tertiary education. We cannot allow our universities to be neglected any longer. With almost one-fifth of our students from overseas, we stand to lose much more than our multiculturalism. Many universities need this influx of overseas students to maintain educational services. The funding that this bill proposes to be provided by students at the discretion of their higher education providers, up to the capped amount, is absolutely necessary to maintain adequate student services and amenities and ensure our universities continue to be seen as a viable option for international students, both socially and educationally.

Without this funding, many higher education providers have been unable to effectively maintain the primary social activity that is seen as a beacon for Australia internationally. I am of course speaking about sport. Long has Australia been recognised as a sporting nation, but, with the former government’s introduction of their voluntary student unionism legislation, many sporting organisations have identified a decline in participation and an inability to invest in infrastructure and undertake long-term development planning. The former coalition government’s legislation is effectively killing university sport, which is devastating for regional areas where the university sporting teams are some of the very few available to the community.

Another crucial service that the removal of this funding has impacted on is independent representation for students. The current laws are forcing students to face the daunting reality of a diminished capacity for effective representation on university decision-making bodies. Without this, many students will struggle when decisions are being made. The amendments in this bill will ensure that students have access to representation and are not left to face important decisions alone.

This bill is not about imposing fees on students; it is about supporting our higher education providers to ensure the continued viability of both Australian and overseas students engaging in higher learning. Without this support, the future and outlook for universities in Australia is bleak. The Rudd government has consistently committed to ensuring that university students have access to vital campus services. We are honouring that commitment. It is not compulsory student unionism. We are not changing the legislation that prohibits a university from requiring a student to be a member of a student organisation. We are simply providing a chance for universities to renew their once-vibrant amenities and services. If this bill is passed, higher education providers will be eligible to impose a fee on students that will assist the rebuilding and restoration of student services and amenities. It is for all of these reasons that I commend the Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Student Services and Amenities, and Other Measures) Bill 2009 to this House.