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Thursday, 23 June 2011
Page: 7123

Mr GARRETT (Kingsford SmithMinister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth) (13:16): I thank the honourable member for his contribution and all other members who spoke on the Higher Education Support Amendment (Demand Driven Funding System and Other Measures) Bill 2011. I will just make some brief remarks to sum up. The bill before the House amends the Higher Education Support Act 2003 to implement the government's package of initiatives outlined in Transforming Australia's higher education system. The government understands that the Australian economy today requires, and in the future will require, more Australians to be degree qualified. The bill will ensure our nation's universities are able to meet the increasing demand for higher qualifications from students and employers and our nation's future workforce needs.

The government is committed to ach­ieving the ambitious goal it has set for national attainment. The government wants to increase the proportion of 25- to 34-year-old Australians with a qualification at bachelor level or above to 40 per cent by 2025. This is the major reason for the introduction of demand driven funding for undergraduate student places at public universities. Australian universities will no longer be asked by the government to ration Commonwealth supported student places among students competing to get a bachelor's degree.

The government recognises that it will continue to have a role in the national oversight of our higher education sector. It will retain some powers to assist the achievement of those outcomes and to enable it to respond to national imperatives. There may be circumstances in which the Australian government needs to limit the extent of future growth in expenditure for unallocated undergraduate places. The minister will be able to do this by specifying a maximum grant amount for these places in a university's funding agreement.

There will also be protections in the legislation for universities to ensure the minister cannot reduce an institution's funding or force it to cut back on its previous year's enrolments. These are not protections that apply in the current system of funding universities on the basis of a fixed number of places for each individual university, that fixed number being based solely on the minister's allocation decision. These protections, which are written into the bill, are new and substantial and they provide an additional level of reassurance for univ­ersities as they move to demand driven funding for undergraduate places. The government will monitor demand and supply for graduates in all disciplines in the early years of implementation of the system. The bill ensures the government has the capacity to respond to any new skills shortages and, if necessary, to any oversupply of graduates in particular areas.

The measures in this bill for demand driven funding of undergraduate places provide for much-needed investment in higher education. As a result of these reforms, universities will be able to grow with confidence and diversify in response to student needs. Consistent with the shift to a demand driven funding system, the government agreed, in its response to the Bradley review, that the student learning entitlement provisions of the act would be abolished from 2012. The SLE currently limits a person's eligibility to study at university as a Commonwealth supported student to the equivalent of seven years of full-time study. Abolishing the entitlement will reduce the regulatory burden on universities and allow them to get on with teaching the next generation of students.

The dialogue between universities and the government plays an important role in determining future policies and funding. It assists in understanding the strategic direct­ions of universities in response to govern­ment initiatives. Mission based compacts provide an important process of dialogue and communication between universities and the government. The amendments proposed by this bill will ensure that the investment of time and effort by the universities and by government in these compacts is recognised as part of the overall requirements for funding under this act.

I particularly thank the members who contributed to the debate on the application of free intellectual inquiry. Free intellectual inquiry will become an object of the act. Table A and table B providers will be required to have policies that uphold free intellectual inquiry in relation to learning, teaching and research. We believe that, as autonomous institutions, universities are best placed to determine how they wish to articulate their commitments to free intellectual inquiry. This bill reflects the government's continued commitment to invest in Australian universities and to expanding opportunities for Australians to obtain a higher quality education. I commend the bill to the House.

Question put:

That the amendment (Mr Pyne's) be agreed to.

The House divided. [13:25]

(The Speaker—Mr Harry Jenkins)

Question negatived.

Original question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.