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Thursday, 2 December 2021
Page: 11342


Mr TAYLOR (HumeMinister for Industry, Energy and Emissions Reduction) (10:26): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Higher Education Support Amendment (2021 Measures No. 1) Bill 2021 will make the following three amendments to the Higher Education Support Act 2003(HESA): to list Avondale University (Avondale) as a table B provider; to clarify grandfathering arrangements for honours students under the Job-ready Graduates Package of reforms to higher education; and allow the Minister for Education and Youth to make other grants to table A and B providers and bodies corporate to assist higher education providers to translate research into commercial outcomes including through collaboration with industry.

Listing Avondale as a table B provider recognises the university's recent achievement of registration as an 'Australian university' by the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) and its teaching and research performance. This amendment will contribute to specialisation, differentiation and quality across the Australian higher education sector. Avondale provides unique value to the university sector through its stated goal of delivering education with a strong research focus, particularly in the areas of teaching and nursing.

The amendment to HESA to give Avondale greater access to HESA grants, such as research block grants, is obviously crucially important. In its research activity to date, Avondale has been successful in securing competitive grant income from both national and international sources by partnering with peer universities and industry.

Access to research block grants will allow Avondale to strategically expand its research activity and leverage its existing partnerships to play a greater role in industry focused research translation and commercialisation. This will better position the university to serve the Lake Macquarie region and meet future challenges.

Avondale has proven that it delivers high-quality teaching and produces job-ready graduates. The Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching (QILT) survey results show that Avondale performs well above the national average across student experience measures and full-time employment for graduates. In the 2019 and 2020 QILT Student Experience Survey, Avondale exceeded the national average on learner engagement (20.5 per cent higher), overall experience (9.6 per cent higher), skill development (9.8 per cent higher), teaching quality (8.2 per cent higher) and student support (7.3 per cent higher).

In the 2018, 2019 and 2020 QILT graduate surveys, Avondale exceeded the national average on the good teaching scale (18.4 per cent higher), overall satisfaction (12 per cent higher), and full-time employment (nine per cent higher).

Listing Avondale as a table B provider is fully supported by the university and its community. Given its strong teaching and research performance, it is appropriate that Avondale receives table B status under HESA.

This bill will also amend HESA to clarify that under the Job-ready Graduates package, Commonwealth supported students who commenced an ongoing course of study before 1 January 2021 are considered 'grandfathered students' for a related honours course. This means they are not subject to higher student contribution amounts. It will align the legislation with the original policy intent and minimise the risk of students not receiving the intended benefits of the Job-ready Graduates package.

The Higher Education Support Amendment (Job-Ready Graduates and Supporting Regional and Remote Students) Act 2020 made amendments to HESA to change student and Commonwealth contribution amounts towards student fees. This was to encourage students to enrol in courses in areas of job growth. Those amendments inserted a definition of 'grandfathered student' in schedule 1 of the act for the purposes of treating certain existing students (on 1 January 2021) beneficially where they would otherwise be charged a higher student contribution amount.

Under the current definition, Commonwealth supported students who complete an 'ongoing course' at the bachelor level after 1 January 2021 are not considered grandfathered students for a subsequent related honours course. The current definition only applies where a student completed an earlier bachelor course prior to 1 January 2021. A student who commences or transfers to a new related honours course after 1 January 2021 is also not covered by the current definition.

This amendment will ensure existing students who undertake a related honours course after 1 January 2021 are not subject to higher student contribution amounts.

To benefit the greatest number of students, the grandfathering amendments will apply to any student who commenced an ongoing course before 1 January 2021, then undertakes a unit of study in a subsequent related honours course with a census date on or after 1 January 2021. This means some students will retrospectively become grandfathered students, and any student contribution amounts deferred to the Higher Education Loan Program (HELP) or paid up-front may need to be recredited or refunded, respectively. The bill therefore provides the Minister for Education and Youth with the power to make rules prescribing matters of a transitional nature by legislative instrument, with certain limits imposed.

The clarification to grandfathering arrangements must be in place by February 2022 to ensure eligible honours students are grandfathered from 2022. If this timing is not met, some honours students commencing in 2022 will be charged as non-grandfathered students and may initially pay higher fees. Student contribution amounts are determined at the census date for a unit of study; therefore the bill must pass and receive royal assent before semester 1 2022 census dates occur.

The amendment to make grants to support research commercialisation with universities and other institutions will strengthen the ability to support the translation and commercialisation of research by our higher education providers, including through closer engagement with industry partners.

This measure will allow the Morrison government to deliver on its commitment to maximise the social and economic benefits of Australia's multibillion-dollar university research sector. The measure will enable activities that will help translate our high-quality university research into breakthrough products, new businesses and ideas needed to grow the economy and improve our country.

I commend this bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.