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Wednesday, 3 February 2010
Page: 252

Senator EGGLESTON (12:35 PM) —I would like to make a few remarks about the Education Services for Overseas Students Amendment (Re-registration of Providers and Other Measures) Bill 2009 because ensuring that standards for overseas students are maintained is very important. The international student education sector has become very significant for Australia. It is very important that our reputation not be sullied or damaged, as has been happening with the collapse of so many institutions and with other events to do with education in the last year or so. It has been said that providing educational services to overseas students has become a very important export-earning industry for Australia. I believe that in fact the value of the sector to the Australian economy is something like $16 billion per annum, so it is actually a very significant part of our economy in terms of the service provision sector and I think it is very important that we move quickly to rectify some of the problems which have been occurring.

There is no doubt that education, apart from its obvious benefits in providing training to people from countries where that kind of training is not available, builds bridges of friendship between Australia and, in particular, its Asian neighbours. I remember attending a meeting of Australian university alumni a few years ago in Surabaya, Indonesia, where there were ex-students ranging from those who had come to Australia way back in the 1950s under the Colombo plan to those who had only graduated from Curtin University of Technology the year before. It was quite obvious that for all of these students the experience of having spent time at an Australian university had added greatly to their understanding of Australia and its culture and built up quite important links. For example, at that time four members of the Indonesian cabinet had Australian degrees, and that simply underlines the fact that education does provide a means of better understanding Australia among our Asian neighbours. Of course, the reverse is true too: it means that Australians get to know more about our Asian neighbours and the people who live there and allows them to form friendships. As a result, there is better understanding between the Asian countries concerned and Australia.

I understand that there are now over 450,000 international students in this country. The Chinese are by far the biggest group with over 120,000 students and there are some 27,000 from India and about 23,000 from Indonesia. In Perth we see a lot of Indonesian students, many of whom it seems go to Curtin University of Technology. In fact, one of the children of the President of Indonesia, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, is a graduate of Curtin University of Technology in Perth. But, while having overseas students here brings great benefit to Australia, the recent collapses of teaching institutions have very much sullied Australia’s reputation. This bill is, I think, a very timely move by the government to ensure that standards are maintained and that the negative publicity which arises from the collapses of these educational institutions is minimised and brought to an end.

It is not just that students do not get their qualifications when these educational institutions collapse. It also has to be borne in mind that many of the parents of the students who come to Australia, particularly from Asia, are not necessarily wealthy people, that many put their life savings into paying for the education of their children in Australia and that the collapse of these educational institutions becomes a very sad personal tragedy for the students and their parents. Just recently in Perth a very big educational institution, St Mark’s College in Highgate, which had 500 students mostly from the Asian region, collapsed. Those kinds of collapses have become all too frequent, and I very much support the purpose of this bill, which is to introduce provisions to enable reregistration of all institutions that are currently registered on the Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students to deliver courses of education and training to international students.

Registration of providers not reregistered will be cancelled under this bill, and the purpose of this measure is said to be to restore consumer confidence in the quality of education services provided across the entire international education sector. That is a very good objective of this government. As I said, the collapse of colleges very much tarnishes Australia’s international reputation, and I certainly support calls for national registration in this sector to ensure high standards of education, to provide fairness to students and to protect Australia’s international reputation.