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Tuesday, 24 February 2015
Page: 1062


Mr PASIN (Barker) (12:16): I rise to speak in support of the Higher Education and Research Reform Bill 2014. Before I go into detail, I have to address some of the comments that have been made by the member for Denison. I am a little confused—and, granted, with my limited intellectual capacity that is easily done. The member for Denison bemoans the fact that tertiary institutions in this country seem to be falling in the global tables, and yet he wants to argue against this bill and therefore keep them hamstrung in terms of the reforms that will facilitate their transition into the next generation. We need to keep at heart the fact that the higher education system in this country needs support and needs to be freed from the rather restrictive legislative architecture that is placed around it.

The Higher Education and Research Reform Bill 2014 is important for Australia—of course it is. It provides necessary reform to keep our universities, TAFEs and colleges competitive. And it contains wins for many, including students from low-socioeconomic circumstances, our best researchers and our key industries which rely on skills oriented education and training as well as professionals. The bill represents the most significant reform to Australia's higher education sector in a generation. It has major benefits for students. The coalition's job—indeed, the job of any government in this place on education—is to widen opportunity to give everyone the chance of a tertiary education. Despite this, Labor and the Greens are sticking to an old, outdated and costly model that everybody in higher education knows is no longer working.

The government's higher education reform package has enormous benefits for students. It means they will be able to get an education of the quality they want—a truly world-class education—in the courses they want, with the support they want and at the price they need. Universities and other higher education providers are having to compete for students, which means students win. As Belinda Robinson of Universities Australia said recently, it is simply not possible to maintain the standards that students expect, or the international reputation that Australia's university system enjoys, without full fee deregulation.

The government will create the Commonwealth Scholarship scheme, the largest scheme of its type in Australian history. This will mean tens of thousands of disadvantaged students will get assistance to study in higher education. The government will introduce a new scholarship fund within the Higher Education Participation program for universities with a high level of low-SES students. The Commonwealth will for the first time be supporting all Australian undergraduate students in all registered higher education institutions in higher education diplomas, advanced diplomas, associate degrees and bachelor degrees. In supporting students in higher education diplomas, advanced diplomas, and associate degrees we will be supporting students in pathways into higher education and in diploma courses that provide them with skills for jobs. By supporting Australian students in whatever higher education institution they choose to study with—a public or private university or a non-university higher education provider, including many TAFEs—we will see lower fees for many students as the Council of Private Higher Education has confirmed. This expansion of the demand driven system will benefit over 80,000 students a year by 2018.

We are also acting to ensure that the Higher Education Loan Program remains sustainable and is fairer. Among other measures, the government is implementing a HECS indexation pause for parents or caregivers who earn less than $50,000 and are the primary carer of a child under the age of five. Another 80,000 students who are studying in vocational education and training will benefit through the abolition of the 20 per cent loan fee for VET FEE-HELP. Another 50,000 students will benefit from the abolition of the 25 per cent loan fee for FEE-HELP. The Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching will provide students with better information than ever before on which to base their course decisions.

The new Commonwealth Scholarships will create an unprecedented level of support for disadvantaged students to go to university. Under the new higher education system we will require that universities and other higher education providers provide $1 of every $5 of additional revenue raised on scholarships for disadvantaged students. Under the Commonwealth Scholarships scheme universities and higher education institutions will provide tailored, individualised support to students who have a low socioeconomic status. This might include needs based scholarships to help meet costs of living as well as to cover fee exemptions, tutorial support and assistance at other critical points in their study journey. We have been listening to students in regional Australia, and what they have been saying about the up-front costs of accessing higher education study. These Commonwealth scholarships will be of enormous benefit to students from regional Australia and other students. In addition, a new scholarship fund is being created in the Higher Education Participation Program, which will support disadvantaged students around Australia, including from regional Australia.

We are delivering more competition, which will deliver more choices for students. For the first time in Australia, the government is expanding the current system and providing support to students completing diplomas, advanced diplomas and associate degrees. The government is investing $371.5 million to deliver this initiative. Universities will receive government support to offer more courses to more students. These qualifications will provide career opportunities and pathways to further education.

Diploma courses provide important pathways into higher education for less prepared students, giving them the opportunity to develop the skills needed to undertake higher education study. Expanding Commonwealth subsidies for these courses will ensure our students have the best chance of success. This is especially important in regional and low-socioeconomic areas, where students are less likely to enter into higher education than students living in metropolitan areas. I think that in the trade these are referred to as 'foundation studies'. I can certainly say about the example in Mount Gambier, where the University of South Australia has taken an aggressive position in the market, that those foundational studies, if it were not for a cross-subsidy from the university, would need to be met by up-front fees. We would have a failing because these up-front fees would not be paid and therefore the foundation studies not undertaken and therefore the tertiary opportunity offered to the regional student missed.

We are also extending Commonwealth support to students undertaking higher education with private universities and non-university higher education institutions. This will enable those institutions to compete with higher education institutions, which will deliver more choice. The government is investing $448.9 million to deliver that initiative. More than 80,000 students will benefit from the increased opportunities by 2018, as I mentioned earlier. This includes an estimated 48,000 students in diploma and associate diploma courses as well as 35,000 additional students undertaking bachelor courses. At the same time, universities will be empowered to set their own fees for their courses, which will generate more competition for students between a greater number of providers. This will see many students paying less than they do now for their education as government supports more higher education options. Many TAFEs and private colleges already work in partnership with universities. Those universities have been seeking funding for pathways and other diploma courses that help less prepared students succeed at university.

The government will now fund those pathways and other diploma courses through universities and colleges, which will enable many more people in Australia to get qualifications that can be used outright or towards a university degree. The government will maintain the HELP loan scheme so that no student need pay a cent up front for their higher education till they have graduated and are earning a decent income over $50,000 a year as a result of their education.

Australian university graduates on average earn up to 75 per cent more than those who do not go on to higher education after secondary school. Over their lifetime graduates may earn around $1 million more than if they had not gone to university. It is only fair that, given this, students contribute fairly to the cost of their own education. All the higher education peak bodies around the nation support these reforms. Universities Australia, the Regional Universities Network, the Australian Technology Network, the Innovative Research Universities, the Group of Eight, TAFE Directors Australia, the Australian Council for Private Education and Teaching and the Council of Private Higher Education all support these higher education reforms. The need for reform has also been recognised by the employers of our graduates through such bodies as the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Distinguished commentators such as David Gonski, Gareth Evans, John Dawkins and Maxine McKew have urged Labor to engage positively on this topic of higher education reform.

Dr Chalmers: She works for the University of Melbourne.

Mr PASIN: Oh, we wouldn't want to listen to the universities about higher education reform; that'd be a very dumb thing to do! University leaders have shown in words and deeds that they repudiate the alarmist scare campaigns being run by those opposite. If there were a gold medal in running scare campaigns, those opposite would be atop the dais.

They also show that higher education will be accessible and affordable and that no student need pay a cent up front. I repeat that: no student needs to pay a cent up front, and no-one needs to repay anything until they are earning over $50,000 a year.

There has been much said about regional students, and their communities are, in my view, among the big winners in this reform package. Regional education providers will have the opportunity to offer more courses and compete to attract more students. By expanding government support to diplomas, advanced diplomas and associate degrees, regional education providers will be able to offer more courses.

One such beneficiary of this new system will be the new collaboration between the University of South Australia and the world renowned Australian jazz musician James Morrison. Those two entities have come together to create the James Morrison Academy of Music. When it begins next week, it will provide sub-bachelor degrees to 70 students in Mount Gambier. These are diplomas and associate diplomas. As an aside, James Morrison was busking out the front of my office yesterday. He is only human, given that it is my office! Returning to the more serious: these tertiary opportunities would not be funded under those opposite. These 70 students from across Australia—budding jazz musicians—in the initial stage would have to find these fees and would need to pay them up front.

If our reforms are successful, these same students will get the benefit of the Higher Education Loan Program. To repeat it for those opposite in case they might be a bit slow on the uptake: as a result of our reforms, these same students will not have to pay up-front fees. So, to those students who have come to Mount Gambier to engage with this exciting collaboration between the University of South Australia and James Morrison as the first participants in the James Morrison Academy of Music I say this: the Labor Party would have you pay your fees up front and in full before you even play a single note toward your sub-bachelor degree. Those on this side of the House, including your now local member—because you have all obviously become residents of the great city of Mount Gambier—would happily have you undertake that degree, attain your qualifications and enter the workforce, and only at the point at which you are earning $50,000 a year would you be asked to repay anything, and even then at a very slow rate.

In my view, this highlights the problem. We can come into this place and wax lyrical about theories. We can be ideologues. We can talk about the problems that besiege the tertiary education sector. But the reality is this: those of us on this side of the House want to deliver practical outcomes for students in the tertiary education space. Those on the other side of the House see a political opportunity. They are the alarmists, if you like. Instead of showing the kind of foresight that we did in opposition during the Hawke-Keating era, when we saw nation-changing reform and we backed it in, those opposite see it, they know it, they know it is in the best interests of this country, but what is more important to them is the political opportunity that presents itself every day. They cannot rise above it. It is the reason that, when the people of Australia turn to decide whether we should be entitled to continue to govern this country, they will say, 'Well, what is their plan?' To those that are in the chamber on the other side, I say: you had better get working on your plan, because you do not have one, and the people of Australia know it.