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Tuesday, 23 February 2010
Page: 1547

Mr CHEESEMAN (5:41 PM) —It is again a privilege to rise and speak on another higher education bill brought to this place by the Rudd government. I have spoken on almost all of the higher education bills in the first term of the Rudd government because I have a particular interest in higher education and our higher education system. My interest, of course, stems from a range of reasons. Firstly, I am interested in contributing to what the Rudd government is doing, and this is one of the great reforms that we are introducing. The Rudd government is setting the higher education sector up for challenges of the future. Therein lies the second reason for my own interest. Deakin University is one of the key institutions within my region. It brings high-tech, knowledge based industries to our region. The third reason is my personal interest in the higher education sector, particularly through my time at the University of Ballarat. I am very pleased today to be able to speak and put my efforts into supporting some great Labor reforms.

The Higher Education Support Amendment (University College London) Bill 2010 provides for an amendment to the Higher Education Support Act 2003 to add the University College London as a table C provider which can offer assistance to eligible domestic students through the Commonwealth’s FEE-HELP assistance scheme. It is anticipated that this bill will commence on 1 September 2010. In order not to disadvantage any existing students wishing to seek FEE-HELP assistance for units of study they undertake with the University College London during semester 1 of 2010, this bill has a retrospective provision that commences from 1 January 2010.

This comes as a result of a request from the institution itself. In 2009 the University College London made a request to the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations to be included as a table C provider. I think this application by the college is a big tick for our higher education system. It shows that some of the world’s best and most regarded higher education institutions want to be integrated into the Australian system. The University College London is, of course, ranked fourth in the 2009 UK tables of higher education, which I think is a fantastic contribution that they have made.

Quite a lot of work has been undertaken by the department to sort through the issues of quality assurance. The University College London has worked with the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations to make sure that they meet the same quality and accountability requirements that private higher education providers in Australia are required to meet. The University College London will continue to be required to meet the quality and accountability requirements and will be audited by the Australian Universities Quality Agency every five years, in compliance with the act.

This is a pretty straightforward bill. There is nothing particularly controversial in it. I will not, therefore, take up my full allotment of time. But I would like to take this opportunity, as we are discussing a bill of this nature, to mention that there is going to be further internationalisation of higher education institutions, and I think that is fantastic for Australia. This is particularly important in light of recent episodes which have captured state, national and international headlines with regard to the Indian student situation.

International commerce and student education is now big business in our region, in Australia and across many countries of the world. I believe the overseas students who come to our shores add significantly to the richness of our culture as well as to our local economies. In the Greater Geelong area, we have thousands of students who come to study at Deakin University, which now has a growing international reputation. About 25 per cent of the 32,000 students who study at Deakin come from overseas. Many of these people come to Geelong to study, and many of them stay on afterwards. This adds significantly to our culture, but it also adds significantly to our communities—for instance, by contributing in many ways to sporting clubs.

Our region and Australia have some wonderful opportunities in developing a massive export industry by marketing the quality of our higher education system to the rest of the world. This is one of the great industries of Australia, and it has really grown up over the last 30 years. We have a great higher education system that has real quality to it, and it is contributing to the international debate on quality in education. We also have qualities in Australia that enable us to be world leaders with respect to international education, particularly in terms of our wonderful landscapes and communities. Our education providers paint Australia in a fantastic way to many international communities, and I continue to support Deakin University and others in developing a fantastic export product, which not only builds our economies but also builds our role internationally. This bill is just a small piece in Labor’s reform agenda for higher education. I commend the bill to the House.