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Thursday, 23 June 2011
Page: 7115

Mr ZAPPIA (Makin) (12:29): I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Higher Education Support Amendment (Demand Driven Funding System and Other Measures) Bill 2011. Since coming to office in 2007, the Labor government has made education reform a priority, with record levels of investment in education and a commitment to several major policy reforms. Yesterday in this House, in response to a question from the member for Wakefield, who is in the House right now and who I know to have a very deep concern and care for implementing a good education system throughout this country, the Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth outlined a number of measures that the government has implemented since coming to office and that will lead to a better education outcomes for young people throughout this country.

I will not repeat all of the matters that the minister referred to, but I will highlight some of the significant changes that have been made by this government since it came to office in 2007. Labor since then has nearly doubled the education budget to nearly $64.9 billion over the next four years. The government has built or upgraded facilities at every single Australian school, including 500 science labs or language centres, 1,300 covered outdoor learning facilities and 1,900 school libraries. The government has delivered around 413,000 new school computers in more than 2,000 schools, with more to come. To support students with disabilities the government will provide $200 million in new funding to provide more in-classroom support for students, including from health and other professionals, and the government has committed $1.5 billion to support around 398,000 students in disadvantaged schools, $540 million to improve literacy and numeracy outcomes and $550 million to improve teacher quality. I welcome the allocation of $425 million for a national bonus pay scheme for teachers. As a result of the Gillard government's reforms and record investment in higher education, we have already seen an extra 80,000 undergraduate students since 2007 get the opportunity of a university education. Over the same period, we have doubled the number of Commonwealth supported postgraduate places from 16,500 in 2007 to 33,000 this year. Right through from preschool to university education, Labor understand the critical difference good education makes to individual lives and to the nation's prosperity. We also understand that in a competitive global world having a university education is not just a privilege but indeed a necessity. That is why this legislation is important. At the turn of last century, fewer than one per cent of Australians had the opportunity to pursue higher studies at a university. In 2006, around 26 per cent of 25- to 34-year-old Australians had a university degree. The government's goal is to increase that figure to 40 per cent by 2025.

There are many families whose sons or daughters will be going to a university for the first time. This means so much to people. I know what it meant to my own family when my older brother was awarded a university scholarship. For my father to see his son go to university was a dream come true. University education should be accessible to everyone and this government want to ensure that that is the case.

On speaking earlier this year on a private member's motion on youth allowance, I made the following points: 'Since the youth allowance changes were made, more than 100,000 young people have benefited because they are eligible for youth allowance for the first time or they are receiving more money than before. More than one-third of these young people are from rural and regional areas. More than 240,000 university students have received student start-up scholarships towards their education costs. More than 55,000 of the students are from rural and regional areas. More than 36,000 university students, who need to move away from home to study, have received relocation scholarship payments toward their accommodation costs and more than 15,000 are from rural and regional areas.' The government's education reforms to date are making a difference and in particular for disadvantaged families such as those from rural and regional areas.

This legislation makes further important reforms with respect to university education. Under the changes that this bill will bring in, Australian universities will no longer be asked by the government to ration Common­wealth supported student places amongst students competing to get a bachelor degree. The government will no longer set the number of undergraduate places that a university can offer. From 1 January 2012, universities will have greater flexibility to respond to student demand and employer and industry needs. This year the government will fund more than 480,000 undergraduate places at public universities. With an anticipated four per cent growth, next year this will rise to over half a million places—that is a 20 per cent increase since 2008.

To fund this historic expansion of opportunity, the government provided an additional $1.2 billion in this year's budget, bringing the total demand driven funding to $3.97 billion over successive budgets. I note that the government are not uncapping funding for student places in postgraduate and medical courses. It will continue to allocate Commonwealth supported places in these areas for the time being. The bill will ensure that the government have the capacity to respond to any new skills shortages and if necessary to the oversupply of graduates in particular areas.

I particularly welcome the abolition of student learning entitlement from 2012. Under the current arrangements, there is a limit as to how much study a person can undertake as a Commonwealth supported student. Student learning entitlement prov­ides the equivalent of seven years full-time access to a Commonwealth supported place. It was agreed as part of the demand driven funding system that student learning entitlement would be abolished from 2012. The bill will remove student learning entitlement as an eligibility requirement for a Commonwealth supported place.

These changes are particularly relevant to disadvantaged communities such as the northern suburbs of Adelaide, where educ­ation achievement and university attendance has been below the state average, even though the University of South Australia has had a campus in the northern suburbs since the mid-sixties. We used to have the Salisbury college of advanced education, up until the late-nineties. When that was closed, their work was transferred to what was the old institute of technology at Mawson Lakes and is now the University of SA's campus at Mawson Lakes.

On this matter, it was only a couple of weeks ago that at a function organised by the Northern Economic Leaders Group of the northern suburbs of Adelaide, the member for Wakefield, who is in the chamber with me now, addressed the group in respect of the issue of disadvantage in those commun­ities and the need for the community to work together to ensure we encourage and facilitate the ability of more younger people from that region to not only complete year-12 education but go on and become university qualified—and the member for Wakefield certainly made the point very strongly on the day. The purpose of function was to discuss the statistics that clearly show that the northern region of Adelaide is where all the jobs growth has occurred in recent years, but those jobs, however, have been taken up by people from outside the northern suburbs because they were largely created in the defence sector at the DSTO at Edinburgh and in the IT sector and they could not be filled by young people in the region because in most cases they did not have the appropriate qualifications. So on one hand the region is creating jobs and employment opportunities for an area with a higher than average unemployment rate, but on the other hand the very people who need the jobs are unable to take them because they do not have the appropriate qualifications. It is certainly something that the region is working together on. The changes in this bill will be absolutely relevant to making the difference that we all hope to see. For several years, the University of South Australia has been involved in a community engagement strategy for the very purpose of finding ways to ensure that the young people from that region will be able to take up the jobs that are made available. Simultaneously, the industries of that region have also been working very closely with the university, trying to ensure that the courses offered at the university are relevant to the jobs that will be available in their industries in the years to come. So there is a very strong link between the employers in the region and the work of the university. It is critical, if there is a particular profession or qualification that is required in order to fill jobs, that the university not be restrained by having to cap the number of places and therefore the number of qualified students that can come from a particular course. It is important to ensure that the courses available at the university are closely matched to the jobs on offer, and that is exactly the kind of direction that this bill takes us in.

In recent years Australia has made intern­ational student trade a critical economic component of our community. In the year to July 2009, nearly 550,000 students on student visas enrolled for study in Australia. I suspect that most of those 550,000 students went to a university. I certainly know that the University of South Australia's Mawson Lakes campus has a very high ratio of international students. In 2008-09, Aust­ralia's international education sector became Australia's second-largest export earner, earning an estimated $16.6 billion. Intern­ational student numbers grew as a proportion of total tertiary student numbers from 11.4 per cent in 1998 to 21.8 per cent in 2008. As I said a moment ago, the majority of students coming to Australia would have been university students. Again, it is important, if we have an opportunity to educate intern­ational students and those international students want a particular degree, to make sure they have the opportunity to get that degree—and that will be the case if there are no constraints on the types of courses universities can offer. I know that univ­ersities around Australia are working right now with other countries and other overseas universities to ensure they can accommodate the qualifications overseas students are seeking.

I note with interest that Australian univ­ersities support the demand driven funding system provided for in this bill. I am not surprised they support it—it is my view that for years and years universities have been frustrated because they have not been able to provide the number of places required by students pursuing a particular degree. As the member for Capricornia quite rightly alluded to, this legislation arises from the Bradley review. Professor Denise Bradley—whom I knew personally; at one stage she was associated with the University of South Australia—understands the importance of these changes and the difference they will make particularly to disadvantaged communities around Australia. I commend the legislation to be House.