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Wednesday, 5 March 2014
Page: 1751

Mr FLETCHER (BradfieldParliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Communications) (16:17): When I was addressing the House previously, I was making the third of the three points that I seek to make in my brief time today. The first point, which you would of course recollect, Mr Deputy Speaker, was that higher education is critical to our national competitiveness, especially in the areas of research, development and innovation. My second observation was that the operations of TEQSA, the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency, under the previous government generated much criticism from the administrators and leaders of universities around Australia. The third point that I was coming to was that the amendments in the bill before the House this afternoon will make a significant improvement by reducing the dead hand of regulatory weight on the higher education sector and targeting the activities of TEQSA in a much more effective way.

The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Amendment Bill 2014 is in response to a report, Review of higher education regulation, prepared by Professor Kwong Lee Dow and Professor Valerie Braithwaite, which contains the following statements:

We believe that the aspects of quality assurance and best practice currently undertaken by TEQSA are better identified and delivered through other means already in place in the regulatory community.

It goes on to say:

Ultimately, our recommendations are to require wherever possible that consideration is actively given to aligning and streamlining regulatory activities and reporting.

As the report identifies, the sector has been constantly at the behest of disruptions that steer the flow of events, and there are more to come. So there was quite strong wording in this report calling for changes to the regulatory framework; and, if I can paraphrase, I think it is a fair summary that there is a call there for lightening the hand of regulation and better targeted and less intrusive and burdensome regulation be applied to the tertiary education sector.

The measures in the bill before the House this afternoon, I am pleased to say, do go in that direction. These measures will increase the efficiency of TEQSA, the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency. They will cause the agency to focus on its core functions of provider registration and course accreditation and will remove TEQSA's quality assessment function. The enthusiasm with which that function was pursued by the officials of that agency led to much of the frustration I referred to within the higher education sector in the earlier components of my remarks.

I want to congratulate the Minister for Education on bringing forward this extremely important set of reforms and draw attention to the fact that it is consistent with the agenda of the Abbott government to lighten the burden of regulation across so many sectors and to allow those with expertise in their own sector—that is to say, managers at universities—to get on with the job of ensuring this vital sector is contributing to Australia's innovation and international competitiveness.