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Thursday, 22 March 2007
Page: 2

Mr ROBB (Minister for Vocational and Further Education) (9:07 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

This is the third bill to implement measures recommended by the independent evaluation of the Education Services for Overseas Students Act 2000 (the ESOS Act). The ESOS Act protects the high-quality reputation of Australia’s education and training export industry by regulating education and training providers, providing consumer protection and tuition assurance for overseas students and ensuring the integrity of the student visa program.

This bill includes amendments that support the revised National Code of Practice for Registration Authorities and Providers of Education and Training to Overseas Students (the national code 2007), enhance national consistency, streamline administrative procedures for international education providers and ensure that the ESOS legislation supports student visa conditions and migration regulations.

The evaluation of the ESOS Act and the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories report in August 2004 have recommended that the ESOS legislation be extended to enable Christmas Island District High School to apply to be registered to enrol overseas students. Christmas Island District High School and other representatives of the Christmas Island community have sought this amendment to ensure the ongoing viability of years 11 and 12 at the school and assist the island’s economy. My department has worked with the Department of Transport and Regional Services and the Western Australian Department of Education Services to resolve the policy and operational implications of the amendment. This amendment will enable Christmas Island District High School to seek registration under the ESOS Act to deliver education to overseas students.

My department has been working with the state and territory governments to review their respective roles and responsibilities in the administration of the ESOS legislative framework. This amendment provides greater flexibility in relation to the investigatory roles to be undertaken by the Australian and state and territory governments in relation to the national code 2007. Measures made possible by this amendment will enhance national consistency and minimise any perception of duplication in compliance monitoring by the designated authorities and the Australian government.

An increasing number of both vocational education and training and university courses include an element of study completed with an interstate partner. Interstate work based training opportunities are attractive to providers facing a scarcity of industry places in their state or territory. There is a strong call from providers, industry representative bodies and some states and territories to allow international students to undertake part of their course interstate. A further amendment will facilitate course delivery by arrangement across state boundaries. This will allow for industry placements and course components to be offered by institutions in other states where the designated authority approves the arrangement and takes on the responsibility for regulation and compliance monitoring.

The national code 2007 allows international education providers to more effectively manage the educational outcomes of their students. Providers have some discretion as to when they elect to report a student for breaches of visa conditions in relation to attendance, where course progress is satisfactory and compassionate and compelling circumstances exist. The consumer support mechanisms of the provider, such as specified time frames for access to independent dispute resolution processes, have been strengthened. Consequently, when a student is reported to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship for unsatisfactory course progress or attendance, its officers will not look behind the educational judgement of the provider. This amendment will ensure that the provider is responsible for educational issues. The role of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship will be to finalise the student’s visa status.

A technical amendment to the ESOS Act is proposed to reflect the requirement for international education providers to have written agreements with all overseas students. Previously, written agreements with students were optional for providers. This has been revised in the national code 2007 to reflect the importance of formal agreements for all overseas students.

A technical amendment is also required to allow for the removal of the late penalty payment currently imposed on an international education provider’s annual contribution to the ESOS assurance fund. The ESOS evaluation identified that the penalty does not act as a significant deterrent and is not viable on a cost-benefit basis.

The ESOS Act and its complementary legislation ensure the quality of education and training provision to overseas students, provide overseas students with consumer protection and maintain the integrity of the student visa system. The amendments contained in the bill will simplify procedures for international education providers and enhance national consistency in the administration of the ESOS Act. These amendments will be welcomed by the international education industry.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Ms Plibersek) adjourned.