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Friday, 17 December 1993
Page: 4962

Senator BELL (11.49 a.m.) —Mr Temporary Chairman, I have copious notes which express the approach the Democrats have to the Education Services for Overseas Students (Registration of Providers and Financial Regulations) Bill and express support for some of the coalition amendments. As we are seeking to save time, I seek leave to incorporate my copious notes in Hansard.

  Leave granted.

  The document read as follows

Overseas Students Tuition Assurance Levy Bill 1993

The Education Services for Overseas Students Amendment Bill 1993.

These Bills:

strengthen current protection of education services for overseas students by requiring private providers to

  maintain trust accounts for student pre paid funds;

adhere to limits regarding the draw down from those trust accounts to ensure that if default occurs that there is enough money for refunds;

introduce more prescriptive refund provisions if the course is not provided or a student withdraws; and

start of an industry-led tuition assurance scheme to guarantee that international students receive the courses paid for if a provider defaults.

The Australian Democrats feel that Australia still has many lessons to learn in the area of export education.

We have never supported the exploitation of overseas students as "milking cows"—a term the National Liaison Committee has used—as an endless revenue source.

We have constantly raised questions about quality of overseas students courses, fee levels and the lack of bridging and orientation courses available.

We recognise the valuable benefits that overseas students bring to this country—not just financial benefits but the essential cultural exchange that takes place.

We accept that internationalisation of our education system involves more than overseas coming to our soils, and the benefits are wider than just education exchange—cultural benefits, et cetera, income from trade and intercourse.

In order to facilitate this exchange of cultures, knowledge, ideas and concepts it is important the rights of students and of institutions, including private and public providers, are protected.

Despite the fact that since federation we have been the recipients of overseas students it has taken a long time for us to recognise our obligations in this regard.

In 1986 the full cost fee recovery program in Australia was introduced and since then there has been rapid growth in this sector. To ensure that these overseas students receive the education that they paid for the Education Services for Overseas Students (Registration of Providers and Financial Regulation) Act 1991 was introduced.

This provides a legal basis for requirements for the registration of all courses offered to students from overseas and for requiring participating institutions to take steps to assure the financial security of fees.

We have also seen an Industry Commission Report into overseas students with some recommendations designed to assist overseas students, some of which were implemented last year.

I have followed the progress of this debate, having been involved since I was previously Education Spokesperson, and have played a role in a review into the operations of the effectiveness of the ESOS Act by the Department which was taken up by the Senate Standing Committee and took place last year.

The Australian Democrats have a fundamentally different philosophy towards education from that of the other parties. We are committed to an education system that is accessible and equitable for all Australians—we do not support fees and charges for domestic students and we have expressed reservations and indeed outright opposition at times to fee increases for overseas students fees when those fee increases have not been matched with quality assurance or control.

It is unfortunate that, despite a plethora of reports and submissions on the issue of education services for overseas students, from groups ranging from the Industry Commission to the National Liaison Committee for Overseas Students (NLC) and private providers in the sector, it has taken so long for some basic recommendations to be implemented.

I recall my earlier days on the Senate Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training when this issue was first raised. At that point many of the suggestions made then have only just been recognised as valid and reasonable ideas.

The Democrats will be supporting, with some amendments, the Education Services for Overseas Students (Registration Providers and Financial Regulation) Amendment Bill 1993 which seeks to strengthen the ESOS Act and the Overseas Student Tuition Assurance Levy Bill 1993.

We share concerns regarding the implementation of the Tuition Assurance Scheme, namely the role of regulations, the level of consultation that has taken place and the nature of those regulations.

The Australian Democrats have traditionally had problems with the concept of delegated legislation. The process by which legislation is moved by regulation is of concern to us as it is on the increase and once regulations are moved they can only be disallowed NOT amended and, even then, it takes careful scrutiny of the notice paper to ensure that the Government does not let them simply slip by.

In regard to the TAS Bill, we will be alert for the regulations and we believe the Opposition amendment rectifies this.

Senator BELL —By way of explanation, I indicate that we will have the discussion in the committee stage and, because there is so much unanimity about the purpose of the ESOS bill, I think we could proceed rather rapidly in doing that.