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Wednesday, 23 May 2012
Page: 5225


Ms BIRD (CunninghamParliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (10:13): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Higher Education Support Amendment (Student Contribution Amounts and Other Measures) Bill 2012 amends the Higher Education Support Act 2003 to increase the maximum student contribution amount for units of study in mathematics, statistics and science from 1 January 2013.

The bill removes eligibility for Commonwealth supported places and the Higher Education Loan Program schemes for Australian citizens who would not be resident in Australia.

To support continued growth in the higher education sector, the government is increasing the maximum student contribution amount for units of study in mathematics, statistics and science from 2013.

All students will pay the same student contribution amount for maths and science units of study regardless of when they commenced their course of study. The government believes the reduction in student contributions for maths and science that commenced for students starting a course of study from 1 January 2009 was not delivering value for money.

The majority of students undertaking maths and science units in 2009 and 2010 were not enrolled in a maths or science course of study, nor were they studying an education course. It is clear the policy was not substantially increasing the number of maths and science graduates in the workforce as intended and it was not improving the supply of quality maths and science teachers.

In 2011, the Prime Minister asked the Chief Scientist, Professor Ian Chubb AC, to advise on ways to encourage increased enrolments in mathematics, statistics and science courses at university and school.

The government considered the Chief Scientist's advice and announced a $54 million response as part of the 2012-13 budget to improve student engagement in maths and science.

To improve the supply of qualified graduates entering maths and science teaching at school, the government will fund projects and courses that improve the quality of teacher training.

To ensure the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute (AMSI) continues to provide support to mathematics researchers and students, the government will fund AMSI to provide scholarships and a range of intensive short courses for later year university maths students.

The government will also fund innovative partnerships between universities and schools that are experiencing difficulty in engaging students in science and maths, have poor outcomes in maths and science, or have low numbers of students going on to further study in these disciplines.

These initiatives ensure universities receive more money to support the teaching of maths and science so Australia has people highly skilled in these disciplines. This will be critical to developing a knowledge based economy and ensuring future generations are also equipped with these skills.

The government is removing eligibility for Commonwealth supported places and the HELP schemes for Australian citizens who do not reside in Australia.

The government believes its funding priority should be to support those students who are most likely to pursue careers in Australia, repay their HELP debts and use their education to benefit Australia's workforce and economic needs.

Students undertaking study as part of a formal exchange or who are engaged in a study abroad program for some of the units in their course, including those students receiving assistance through the OS HELP scheme, will not be affected by this change.

The estimated number of people who may be affected by this change is relatively small. However, with the removal of all limits on the number of undergraduate places in bachelor level courses and growth in online delivery of courses, it is important to clarify the eligibility conditions for Commonwealth support before there is further growth in the number of students who do not live in Australia and are being assisted by the government.

There are around three-quarters of a million Australians living overseas permanently or long term. In the last three years over 120,000 Australians left the country with the intention of permanently residing overseas. The government does not believe it is appropriate that they continue to receive large subsidies toward obtaining a higher education degree from an Australian university while they are overseas.

The small number of students who are not resident in Australia and are currently enrolled in Commonwealth supported places or are accessing HELP will continue to be eligible for the schemes for the duration of their current course.

This amendment complements last year's changes to the act clarifying that Australian citizens are not entitled to Commonwealth support or to access HELP when they are undertaking courses of study primarily at an overseas campus.

Debate adjourned.