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Wednesday, 2 November 2011
Page: 12459

Mrs ANDREWS (McPherson) (12:04): I rise to speak on the Higher Education Support Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2011. This bill seeks to update the maximum public funds allocated to fund Commonwealth supported places, or CSPs, due to a projected increase in enrolments at Australian universities. In addition to this, the bill provides for an increase in funding in line with indexation, adds additional funding for 2015 and provides for discounts applicable when students pay their HECS upfront or repay their fees early.

By way of background, in March 2008 a major review into the higher education sector, known as the Bradley review, was initiated with the aim of developing a long-term vision for higher education. The expansive Bradley review mapped out a broad vision for the restructure of the higher education sector and identified a number of issues, including the need to have a future skilled workforce where 40 per cent of Australians aged between 25 and 40 will hold a bachelor's degree or above by 2025 and also the need for a demand-driven funding system for undergraduate places.

In order to increase the higher education participation level to 40 per cent, 220,000 additional students will be required each year, which is a significant increase. Over the past 30 years or so, the Australian university sector has been regulated by how many places each higher education provider can offer. The move towards demand-driven funding for undergraduate places and the removal of the restriction on the number of CSPs that Australian universities are able to offer is a positive move, although I note that the number of enrolments for medical students remains capped.

The Bradley review target of 40 per cent of 25- to 34-year-olds to be degree qualified by 2025 is particularly important to the Gold Coast. The Gold Coast is a region with a low participation rate in higher education, as illustrated by data from the 2006 census, with only 18 per cent of the Gold Coast population aged between 25 and 34 being degree qualified compared to the national average of 29 per cent. There is an 11 per cent difference in those figures.

By removing this cap and restriction, public universities will be given the freedom to decide the number of undergraduate student places they will offer and for which degrees they are offered. Decisions about undergraduate student places will be based on student demand and the needs of employers in a given discipline rather than rigid government stipulations. With private higher education providers comprising only six per cent of the higher education sector, private institutions such as Bond University on the southern Gold Coast can, and should, play a much more significant role in changing Australia's higher education scene. In a genuine demand driven system, Commonwealth support should follow the student irrespective of whether the student is enrolling in a public university or other approved higher education institution like Bond University.

As I stated previously today, the Gold Coast has low participation rates in tertiary education. Bond University and other Gold Coast universities are taking action to address low participation rates locally. They take part in the state low SES schools initiative by providing academics to work with local schools in tutoring in science based subjects, as well as assisting young people with advice on tertiary education. In addition, Bond University has an annual scholarship program in place that compares favourably to programs of the Go8 universities. A total of 10 per cent of Bond University's fee revenue is redirected to fee scholarships and a range of corporate and foundation funded scholarships are being developed in addition to this. These scholarships are awarded on the basis of individual merit. They support access and equity to students who might otherwise not be able to afford a place by helping them gain admittance on the basis of merit.

The Bradley review recommended that, to support the expansion of the system, Commonwealth supported places should be uncapped and made available to private providers. Bond University says the difference between the tuition cost and the CSP funding should be the student contribution, which could be funded through FEE-HELP. Parents who have struggled to put their children through a private school no doubt appreciate the Commonwealth funding which flows in support of private school places. However, support for private places stops at the university level if a student chooses a private university like Bond. This is an obvious anomaly which I believe should be addressed.

I have previously brought this issue of the government refusing to support private providers, like Bond, with Commonwealth supported places to this House. Not allowing students to use their CSP funding at a private higher education provider in this way denies choice in a true demand driven system. I know how important a demand driven higher education system is to Australia and have worked closely with Adrian McComb, the Executive Officer of the Council of Private Higher Education, and Chris Hogan, who is an Associate Director of Information and Planning at Bond University, on both this issue and other issues which relate to the growth of this sector.

Locally, the Gold Coast's two largest universities generated more than $1.6 billion towards the Gold Coast's economy in 2010. Two studies detailing the economic benefits of Griffith University and Bond University show both institutions contribute significantly to the Gold Coast community. Griffith University injects more than $1 billion annually into the local economy and accounts for more than two per cent of local employment. Privately operated, not-for-profit Bond University injects $600 million and 2,200 regional jobs. Importantly, these economic impact figures do not include development of human capital provided by the education of graduates or the flow-on effects of research and development conducted by the universities. Griffith University and Bond University together have over 20,000 students enrolled and many of the graduates remain on the Gold Coast after graduation, which increases the human capital and knowledge base of our community.

I have said many times before in this place, and wherever I get the opportunity, that I believe that the Gold Coast is well placed to become an education centre of excellence, particularly for the mining and the resources sector. I want to see the Gold Coast universities develop their programs, particularly in engineering and also in science at the bachelor's, master's and doctoral levels. If we look at Australia's skills needs into the future, it is very clear that we need more students graduating in the disciplines of science and specifically engineering. I call on the universities to look at demand into the future in those areas and to make sure that they are taking appropriate measures now to cater for our growing needs. In order to ensure the growth in our education industry we need to encourage participation in higher education. Australia's future economic success will rely heavily on a skilled workforce. I support measures to develop and maintain a future skilled workforce.