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Thursday, 18 August 2011
Page: 8562

Ms LEY (Farrer) (12:06): I am very pleased to speak today on the Education Services for Overseas Students (Registration Charges) Amendment Bill 2011 and the Education Services for Overseas Students Amendment (Registration Charges Consequentials) Bill 2011. I will say at the outset that the coalition supports these bills. The bills will create a new fee structure for higher education providers who wish to be registered on the Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students—CRICOS. The fees that they will be able to charge will more accurately reflect the actual costs of supervision to these providers. The bills change the current fee-charging structure for the compulsory annual registration charge payable by all CRICOS registered providers. The new base fee, the compliance history fee, charge for student enrolment and charge per registered course is designed to cover the administrative costs of the registration process and reflect the size of any associated supervision, compliance or enforcement activity needed to ensure that only reputable providers are permitted to operate. hese amendments have come about in part as a result of the Baird review into education services for overseas students, which was called for by the government in light of some significant concerns with the way some providers were offering substandard services, bringing down the overall quality of Australia's international student education sector. We need to ensure that as a country we offer world-class education services to both domestic and international students.

I am alarmed at the downturn in what is our third largest export. The international student market was worth $17.2 billion to Australia in 2008-09, making it one of the greatest exports of this country. Yet, the June 2011 monthly summary of international student enrolments shows a 6.8 per cent decline in year-to-date enrolments from June 2010 figures. Vocational education and training figures are especially disappointing, with enrolments and commencements at year-to-date June 2011 falling by 18.7 per cent and 4.1 per cent respectively from the same period in 2010. Certainly the high Australian dollar is acting as a deterrent for some overseas students; however, various changes to the visa requirements implemented by Minister Evans have played a major role.

From 1 January 2010, students had to demonstrate or declare evidence of access to $18,000 a year to cover their living expenses. This is an increase of $6,000 from the previous year. In addition, providers have informed me of the significant blowouts in the visa approval process and student concerns over the changes to the approved Migration Occupations in Demand List, which will prevent many current students from staying on in Australia to work in the industry for which they have trained.

Changes to the ESOS framework are necessary to ensure the sector can be better tailored to provide education of the highest level possible. We do need to ensure that the interests of overseas students are protected and that we promote Australia as an international education destination. Given the substantial decline in enrolment figures in the vocational education and training sector, the VET sector, in particular, we have a lot of work ahead of us.

Last week I was in Western Australia. I met with representatives from the TAFE sector and other registered training organisations. They see huge potential for this industry, with one provider indicating that he felt the sector could expand to be worth $25 billion by 2015. However, this would not come about without significant changes to the existing visa framework.

We want a strong sustainable VET sector. We should acknowledge that the revenue stream from international students is a vital part of that. Providers of education have previously relied significantly on the public purse—and there are good reasons that that, to an extent, needs to continue—and there are community service obligations on our TAFE sector as well, but there is also a vibrant, innovative and really very exciting opportunity for services to international students that is not being taken up. I condemn the government for its lack of action in this area. We have to ensure that all education providers offer a high standard of education, on a par with best practice. The coalition is committed to ensuring that we have sufficient safeguards in place for international students. We have in the past needed to propose amendments to education services legislation; however, in this instance, we do support the bills.