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Wednesday, 5 March 2014
Page: 1755

Ms SCOTT (Lindsay) (16:35): I am pleased to rise in support of the amendments to the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Act 2011 moved by the Minister for Education in the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Amendment Bill 2014. The amendment bill delivers on the Abbott government's election commitment to reduce red tape. Red tape is a handbrake on our economy and our national productivity. We in the coalition are getting on with the job of getting things done. The government is committed to enhancing the quality of tertiary education. The Minister for Education just last week recommitted himself to the sector saying:

It is my goal to do all I can to make a good university system even better, and indeed to promote the development in Australia of the best higher education system in the world …

This is a noble cause. He goes on to encourage the university sector to embrace with enthusiasm its new freedom and autonomy. This amendment not only focuses on freedom and autonomy but also works to reduce the regulatory burden imposed on our university sector.

This is not a new theme for the Liberal Party. Our party has a long history in driving higher education in Australia dating back to our party's founding father Sir Robert Menzies. When Menzies first became Prime Minister in 1939, there were six universities in Australia and only 14,236 higher education students in a population of seven million people. By the time he retired in 1966, there were 16 universities and 91,272 higher education students.

Today the coalition government stands to once again strengthen the university sector by encouraging competitiveness and autonomy and by delivering on our commitment to reduce red tape. The Abbott government's deregulatory agenda will ensure universities can devote more time and resources to do what they do best—that is, delivering the highest quality education through teaching, learning and research. This is yet another opportunity to highlight 26 March, a key date in the parliamentary calendar that the government has set aside specifically for deregulation. I hope the opposition can see the merit in removing red tape that strangles businesses, universities and families alike.

Essentially, these amendments strengthen the core focus of TEQSA, which is, firstly, course accreditation and, secondly, provider registration. Each of these functions plays an extremely supportive role of individual institutions and, I note, has been broadly welcomed by the sector. Further, the amendments seek to remove TEQSA's quality assessment function which, generally speaking, allowed the agency to conduct sector-wide thematic reviews of institutions or courses of studies. Such reviews are time and resource intensive for TEQSA itself, but also for the universities which are asked to provide input to the reviews. I also note this type of information is collated by a range of departments and businesses and is really just an additional layer of red tape; hence, Australian universities welcome the removal of this function.

The Minister for Education, upon introducing this legislation, made a comment that this function and broader issues around quality in higher education and risks to quality are better supported through the constructive engagement with initiatives and programs of the institutions themselves. As I am sure all members of the House agree, universities are a vital part of our social and economic fabric. They employ over 107,000 people and in excess of $20 billion in total revenue annually.

I would like to acknowledge the outstanding work and contribution of the University of Western Sydney whose chancellery is housed within my electorate of Lindsay. The University of Western Sydney is a self-accrediting institution with robust and longstanding internal quality assurance mechanisms. Sure, I might be biased—I am an alumnus, after all—but I believe it is a testament to this fine institution that I am standing here today. Further to this, UWS has rigorous procedures in place for monitoring and ensuring quality processes, systems and outcomes. Prior to speaking on this legislation today, I sought advice and feedback from our new vice-chancellor Professor Barney Glover—and I would like to read his letter, which says:

The University of Western Sydney … supports this first step by the Minister to implement the findings of the Review of Higher Education Regulation and reduce the regulatory burden on universities …

He goes on to say:

… TEQSA’s core function should be to provide registration and course accreditation—removing the remit for quality assessment.

The amendments … are mainly technical in nature, leaving the Act's core objectives intact. If managed with the appropriate level of caution and direction, the proposed changes to the Agency’s governance structure, including provisions for Ministerial oversight and authority delegation, should bring renewed focus and efficiencies to the work of this important regulatory body.

This realignment of TEQSA’s functions will see it fulfil a more enabling rather than an imposing role on the nation’s universities. These amendments will free universities up to focus their energies on delivering the highest quality teaching, learning and research needed to foster Australian economic development and international competitiveness; this has never been more important, considering the challenges facing our manufacturing industries.

The quality of our higher education institutions is pivotal if they are to fulfil their community remit as well as their core functions of teaching and research. This is particularly true for Greater Western Sydney, where the University of Western Sydney’s focus on quality has been a key feature of its growth into an institution making a major economic and employment contribution to the region.

If implemented with the genuine support of the sector, the TEQSA Act amendments will meet their aim of reducing the regulatory burden on universities. A view is emerging that the issue of ‘quality’ is less so something that can be regulated centrally, rather it must be the main focus of universities that wish to remain viable in an increasingly competitive international environment. This amendment will enable that to happen.

Thank you, Professor Glover.

Mr Pyne: He's a good man, Barney Glover!

Ms SCOTT: He is a very good man. In receiving this positive endorsement from the university, I too am pleased to rise and support these amendments. I note that the University of Western Sydney also made two submissions in 2013 to the review of higher education. As you can see from the letter from Professor Glover, UWS has a very strong view on these amendments. If these amendments are implemented with the genuine support of the sector, the influence and support of TEQSA will continue to grow for the betterment of the industry. I seek leave to table these three documents.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Mitchell ): Is leave granted?

Mr Fitzgibbon: Deputy Speaker, I am a great fan of the University of Western Sydney, a great fan of Professor Glover and a great fan of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research and Development, Professor Holmes. On that basis, I am more than happy to allow the tabling.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Leave is granted.

Ms SCOTT: Thank you very much, member for Hunter. I am proud to be part of the government that is getting on with the job of reducing regulatory burden in our economy. I support this amendment that will assist universities across Australia, including the University of Western Sydney, and will help maximise their international competitiveness. I commend the bill to the House.