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Monday, 9 November 2015
Page: 7991


Senator RUSTON (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources) (17:14): I move:

That these bills be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speeches incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speeches read as follows—

EDUCATION SERVICES FOR OVERSEAS STUDENTS AMENDMENT (STREAMLINING REGULATION) BILL 2015

Today I introduce the Education Services for Overseas Students Amendment (Streamlining Regulation) Bill 2015.

This Bill will streamline and focus the Education Services for Overseas Students Act (ESOS Act) which is the legislative framework assuring student protection for the international education sector. Through this Bill duplicative regulations will be removed while retaining the high level of quality assurance in Australia's international education sector. The Coalition Government is committed to ensuring Australia builds on its success as a world leader in international education.

International education is our largest non-resource export - and it continues to grow. The Australian Bureau of Statistics recently released preliminary figures showing our international education exports reached a record $18.1 billion in 2014-15. This 14.2 per cent increase on the 2013-14 financial year shows the Government's policies are succeeding in driving further success in this major industry and are generating new jobs for Australians.

International education is not just an export industry. Through our high-quality education institutions across all sectors - schools, higher education, vocational education and training (VET) and English language teaching - Australia engages with the world, particularly our nearest neighbours. International education opens doors for Australia. By building education networks we help sustain Australia's place in global relations as well as create trade and investment opportunities.

As one of the most sought-after study destinations in the world, Australia has a major role to play in global education services. We are now a key centre for learning, research and innovation.

The Bill I am bringing forward today reflects the Government's collaboration with the international education sector to reform the ESOS Act. In the development of this Bill the Government consulted extensively. Comments were sought on a discussion paper which was released in October 2014, and an exposure draft of this current Bill was made public and feedback was invited. Stakeholders who provided comment included international education institutions, students, peak education industry bodies, the national quality assurance agencies and the states and territories. They have told us they strongly support the ESOS framework, but it needs to better adapt to the contemporary international education landscape. This Bill addresses the key areas of improvement sought by our stakeholders. It also clearly demonstrates our commitment to quality and to the protection of international students.

The principle that underlies these reforms is that the quality of our education system does not depend on the amount of regulation we put in place, but on the effectiveness and appropriateness of that regulation. These important changes to the legislative framework for international educationwill retain the high level of quality assurance for international education while reducing complexity and supporting the growth and competitiveness of the industry.

In working collaboratively with international education stakeholders we will achieve a better system of quality and oversight in international education - and significant deregulatory savings for education institutions of an estimated $75.9 million a year.

I turn now to some of the specific measures in the Bill that will make a significant difference to the operation of our quality frameworks for international education.

Regulation should be necessary and effective

The Tuition Protection Scheme (TPS) is the world's most comprehensive scheme designed to protect international students. During the Government's consultations on reforming the ESOS framework, stakeholders recognised the importance of that protection to international students, and the way in which the TPS enhances Australia's reputation. While the TPS is a critical element of our world-class student protections, part of its administration imposes a significant regulatory burden on education institutions. This Bill adjusts some TPS requirements to better target risk and cut some of the unnecessary red tape that was introduced with the TPS in 2012 amendments to the ESOS Act.

Currently the ESOS Act prevents any education institution from receiving—or any student from paying—more than 50 per cent of a student's tuition fees before the course starts, except if a course is less than 24 weeks. This is an inadvertent restriction on student choice, and it will be amended so a student can choose to pay more where they wish to do so. This will benefit students who are on scholarships, or who are in a position to pay up front if they choose to.

An additional TPS related requirement is that some education institutions must keep the tuition fees paid before a course commences in a 'designated account'. This only applies to private institutions. This is a costly imposition and an unfair burden on one group in our international education sector. It limits their competitiveness and their ability to invest in innovation to improve their operations and the quality of the student learning experience. Today we propose to change that so that all education institutions operate on a more level playing field.

Some reporting requirements relating to international students have been identified as being unnecessarily burdensome, such as the requirement for institutions to report a default by an international student in an unreasonably short timeframe. Stakeholders told the Government that requirements like these were disproportionate to risk and did not allow enough time for students and institutions to try to resolve issues and confirm that a default has indeed taken place.

These reporting requirements are duplicated in other provisions of the ESOS Act relating to changes to information about students, creating an unnecessary compliance burden for institutions that has not provided any additional protection for students or necessary information for Government agencies.

The Bill focuses the reporting requirements on changes to a student's course or movements and ensures the timeframe for reporting these changes is much more appropriate. To ensure the safety and wellbeing of students under the age of 18, the Bill will maintain the shorter reporting requirements for such students where they fail to begin a course or their study is terminated.

These changes will not water down the TPS's role or its ability to operate effectively or to manage risk. They simply reduce the areas of overlap and overreach that were created in the establishment of the TPS in 2012. The Government has listened to the views of the international education sector in making these changes and we are confident they strike the right balance.

Measures to streamline the education quality architecture

Currently the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) and the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) are the administrators of the ESOS framework for the international higher education and the international vocational education and training sectors - respectively- through a delegation arrangement with the Secretary of the Department of Education and Training, or in some cases the Minister. The Department of Education and Training is the administrator of the ESOS framework for schools. The changes in the Bill have the effect of formalising the current arrangements, i.e. that ASQA, TEQSA and the Department of Education and Training are the agencies responsible for administering the ESOS framework, or the 'ESOS agencies', for the respective areas of the international education sector.

This will streamline and simplify regulatory arrangements by providing TEQSA and ASQA with direct responsibility for many of the activities previously delegated to them.

The ESOS agencies will have direct and clearer responsibilities under the Act. The Bill ensures the states and territories retain their important role of assessing and recommending schools for registration by the Commonwealth under the ESOS Act.

The Bill enables the Minister to direct an ESOS agency in the performance of its functions under the ESOS Act, equivalent to the Minister's power in domestic education under the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Act (TEQSA Act) and the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Act (NVETR Act).

The Bill also reduces duplication that exists under the current arrangements. Different registration periods in the ESOS Act, the TEQSA Act and the NVETR Act create duplication in processes and unnecessary administration for many education institutions.

The amendments to the ESOS Act will allow for the registration of a provider for a maximum of seven years, with no minimum period of registration. The amendments also provide that an ESOS agency may extend a provider's period of registration for the purposes of aligning it with domestic registration timeframes.

An additional amendment will reduce the regulatory burden caused by having different registration processes at varying times by allowing an ESOS agency to use information supplied to it by an education institution to support their applications for registration under both domestic student and international student frameworks. Again this will have no impact on quality assurance, but will reduce the unnecessary regulatory burden on international education institutions.

To give further flexibility to education institutions, the Bill allows institutions to seek an internal review of decisions made by ESOS agencies where institutions do not agree with a decision on registration or re-registration. Previously, education institutions had to take their case to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal for a decision. Adding this additional avenue of review for institutions and the ESOS agency to resolve these issues will save significant time and money for all parties.

In 2013 the Review of Higher Education Regulation by Professor Kwong Lee Dow and Professor Valerie Braithwaite highlighted the need to reduce duplication across the ESOS Act, the TEQSA Act and the NVETR Act. The review found the differences between these legislative frameworks was a significant regulatory burden for education institutions. Today this Government addresses some of those key differences by aligning these Acts.

Appropriate and effective provisions to maintain quality and compliance

Some of the amendments introduced in the Bill will create more streamlined processes of quality assurance and oversight between the ESOS Act, the TEQSA Act and the NVETR Act. Agencies will have more flexibility and discretion in coordinating their responsibilities for international education under the ESOS Act with their responsibilities for education delivery to domestic students under domestic frameworks.

During the Government's stakeholder consultations on the Bill we identified that the arrangements need to be more flexible where TEQSA or ASQA take action against an education institution under domestic frameworks. Where the institution's registration under domestic frameworks ceases, or where it ceases to be accredited to deliver a particular course to domestic students, the ESOS agency will now be able also to cancel, suspend or otherwise impose a condition on that institution's registration under the ESOS Act without going through another review process. This ability to more easily align regulatory decisions in respect of an education institution under both the ESOS and domestic frameworks will improve efficiency for ESOS agencies and also provide greater transparency and equity for institutions subject to those actions.

In response to feedback from stakeholders during the Government's consultation on the exposure draft of the Bill, the Bill clearly specifies the circumstances in which an education institution is able to continue to teach—or 'teach out'—existing students once that institution's registration expires. While a provider is able to 'teach out', the Bill also makes it clear that an institution cannot recruit or enrol new students in a course after their registration expires.

These are important measures that will help to maintain Australia's reputation for quality in international education.

By way of further improvement, the Director of the TPS will be able to directly issue production notices requesting information from education institutions on their activities, and to make a recommendation directly to an ESOS agency about appropriate enforcement action against an institution.

Conclusion

The measures to streamline regulation in this Bill will help to drive the continued growth of international education. We need a strong, clear and flexible ESOS framework that works effectively and consistently with domestic quality assurance frameworks.

This Bill shows that we can cut red tape without compromising our commitment to quality or the reputation of Australia as a world-class destination for international students.

The international education community have told us very clearly that they want these reforms. They have worked with us proactively in developing these changes to the ESOS Act. We will continue to work with them on improving the ESOS framework, cutting unnecessary red tape and enhancing the quality of Australia's international education services.

 

EDUCATION SERVICES FOR OVERSEAS STUDENTS (REGISTRATION CHARGES) AMENDMENT (STREAMLINING REGULATION) BILL 2015

Today I introduce the Education Services for Overseas Students (Registration Charges) Amendment (Streamlining Regulation) Bill2015. This Bill is required to give effect to the Education Services for Overseas Students Amendment (Streamlining Regulation) Bill 2015 (Streamlining Regulation Bill)which I introduced earlier today.

The amendments I introduced in the Streamlining Regulation Bill remove the minimum registration period for education institutions which provide education to international students. To facilitate this change this Charges Bill makes minor consequential changes to the Education Services for Overseas Students (Registration Charges) Act 1997. The amendments in this Bill also clarify that the existing Entry to Market Charges are paid by an education institution only once for each actual year of registration.

Ordered that further consideration of the second reading of these bills be adjourned to 30 November 2015, in accordance with standing order 115(3).