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Wednesday, 2 November 2011
Page: 12481

Mr GARRETT (Kingsford SmithMinister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth) (13:32): I thank those members who spoke on the Higher Education Support Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2011. There have been some very thoughtful and constructive contributions made in the House. I thank the member for Gippsland for drawing our attention to a particular school which has a focus on year 9s. I certainly agree with him that it is a challenging year for students, as they are making their way through their secondary school career, potential decisions about higher education or skills and training and a period of emotional and physical growth as well. Thank you for the invitation, which of course we would consider.

I note the member for Aston emphasised the importance of improving teacher quality. That is certainly something the government have taken very seriously. We have a significant national partnership that is addressing the question of teacher quality. I have been very pleased to see the record levels of investment that this government has made not only in education generally but also recognising how important it is that we do provide our teachers with additional support. They are the single most important person once a child goes through the school gate. Not only their status as a profession but also their opportunities to be able to work more effectively are things we have placed great emphasis on as a government. I want to commend the work of the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership and also thank my ministerial colleagues at the most recent ministerial council meeting of education ministers, where we continued to agree and provide approval for those measures that have been brought forward, including national teacher registration, and a range of important steps around the national curriculum as well.

The bill before the House amends the Higher Education Support Act 2003 to implement 2011-12 budget measures, update maximum payment amounts and clarify the government's policy in relation to Australian citizens studying at the overseas campuses of Australian higher education providers. The government announced in the 2011-12 budget that it would reduce the HECS-HELP upfront discount and the voluntary HELP repayment bonus. This measure is providing savings of some $479 million to assist in paying for the government's increased investment in higher education.

From 1 January 2012 the HECS-HELP discount for upfront student contribution payments will be lowered from 20 per cent to 10 per cent. The reduction in the upfront discount will affect students who can afford to pay upfront and choose to do so. It will not affect students who fund their university studies through HECS-HELP deferred loans and it will not affect universities' revenue. The HELP voluntary repayment bonus will also be reduced, from 10 per cent to five per cent. The decreased bonus will apply to all HELP debts.

The act will be amended to provide for an increase in funding for overenrolment of Commonwealth supported places. Funding for overenrolment of Commonwealth supported places was raised from five to 10 per cent for allocated places for 2010 and 2011 as a transitional measure prior to the introduction of the demand driven funding system for higher education funding. From 2012 the government will fund all undergraduate Commonwealth supported places provided by public universities. The bill increases the maximum amounts for other grants under section 41-45 and Commonwealth scholarships under section 46-40 of the act to provide for indexation and other variations affecting the 2012 to 2014 years and to include the 2015 funding year.

The act will be amended to clarify that Australian citizens are not entitled to Commonwealth support or access to a HELP loan when they are undertaking their course of study primarily overseas. The amendments only affect students who are undertaking a course of study primarily at an overseas campus. It will not affect students who are only doing a minority of their course at an overseas campus, such as those involved in a formal exchange program or who are accessing overseas HELP.

The policy remains the same as currently indicated in the administrative material provided to the sector by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations—in particular, section 19 of the Administrative information for providers: student support. This is not a change of policy but rather a clarification of the government's policy. Current students will not be affected. Universities that currently have students in Commonwealth supported places at overseas campuses will be able to maintain the status of these students for the duration of their current courses.

With the move to a demand driven funding system and the substantial cost to the government and Australian taxpayers of funding Commonwealth supported places and access to HELP loans, it is important that the government clarifies its policy in relation to Australian citizens studying at overseas campuses of Australian providers. This bill reflects the government's continued commitment to growing Australia's higher education sector and to expanding opportunities for Australians to obtain a high-quality higher education. I commend the bill to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.