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Thursday, 29 November 2018
Page: 12079


Dr GILLESPIE (Lyne) (16:35): I rise to say a few words about our university education system, apprenticeships, vocational education training and skill shortages in the country and their influence on immigration. At the moment we have over 1.1 million students enrolled in universities around the nation. Universities employ over 100,000 staff. International education is in fact one of our major exports. They are significant contributors to local communities, not only providing employment but also developing cultural and other sporting bodies.

University research stimulates innovation and delivers solutions to the economic, social and demographic challenges facing the nation. The rate of return on publicly funded research is between 20 per cent and 60 per cent—a very good return on a big investment. Universities are extremely important to our national and regional economy. There were 270,000 Commonwealth supported places started last year, with approximately 480,000 commencing students. You can see the proportion of overseas students that contribute to the income for the nation.

But there is a problem. I note that some of the figures I've looked up look at completion rates or drop-out rates of 15 to 16 per cent. On those figures, that equates to up to 75,000 people who realise that a university degree doesn't suit them. At the same time, pathways to permanent residence figures in 2017-18, to 30 June this year, record that 39,800 people on temporary resident skilled visas were granted permanent residence or a provisional visa—a decrease of 21 per cent compared to the same period last year. But the vast majority of these people are bringing skills that we haven't developed in our nation or that we can't provide in places around the nation that have shortages. Only 3.2 per cent of these were in the family scheme.

The moral of the story is that we need more vocational education training and skills development in the nation. We are far too dependent on other nations, and we are addressing these shortages. We have a lot of incentives for Australian apprenticeships. We have starting incentives of $1,500 for employers, and completion incentives. For young apprentices, we have living-away-from-home allowances. We have youth allowance which can be accessed, depending on means testing. We have trade support loans of up to $20,000 over a four-year apprenticeship. Upon successful completion, there's a 20 per cent discount on the loan.

These are major incentives, but I'm really pleased to clarify and reannounce that there has been a new trial announced for regional and rural apprenticeships. If apprentices are on the National Skills Needs List, and if they're starting from 1 January, there is a wage subsidy available for employers to take them on. When it was first released, there was some confusion about whether existing apprenticeship employers and trainers would be eligible for this. I wish to clarify for the House, and for people in my electorate of Lyne, that employers who have been training apprentices for many years are eligible for this. That is fresh advice that I've confirmed with the ministry. People who have been keeping skills going in Australia are the very people we want to support, because they will take on more apprentices.

That trial is available for 1,630 people from 1 January 2019, and the wage subsidy is 70 per cent the first year, 50 per cent the second year and 25 per cent the third year. I really encourage all those people to look into this, coming up 1 January this year. Just yesterday, the Prime Minister announced that the adult apprenticeship incentive scheme, a $4,000 payment to employers on successful completion of the first year, will be extended to adults up to the age of 21 years. There are all sorts of support for apprenticeships and skills training. We certainly need it. Universities have a wonderful part and role in the nation, but we should focus more on filling the skills shortages.