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Tuesday, 24 November 2015
Page: 8740


Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training) (13:35): No, Senator Simms, I am not concerned, and let me try to calmly talk you through it. I am well aware of the Prime Minister's statements, and indeed I have made similar statements about my concerns with some of the operations in the VET sector and the way in which, in particular, the VET FEE-HELP student loan scheme is working in the VET sector.

It is important to understand that that VET FEE-HELP student loan scheme provides demand-driven funding to students enrolling in vocational education and training courses; that the way that it was established means that institutions are free to set their own prices; that they can enrol as many as they want once they have been approved; and that they get paid, essentially if they so choose, up-front for the entire duration of the course once the student commences their studies. That is profoundly different to what we are talking about in relation to Torrens University Australia being listed as a table B provider in the higher education sector, as distinct from vocational education. There are virtually no analogies that can sensibly be drawn in this regard. Obviously access to ARC block grant funding is not something that is demand driven. In fact, there are clear restrictions around that access that ensure that there can in no way, shape or form be blow-outs, rorting or other problems in this regard.

I would also note that there are, as I said in my summing-up speech, a number of private providers already listed as table B providers: namely, Bond University, who I mentioned; the University of Notre Dame Australia; and the former Melbourne College of Divinity, now the University of Divinity. So it is not unusual to have those private providers.

I did hear you in your speech, Senator Simms, single out Torrens University as being owned by a for-profit company. I would draw your attention to the fact that the parent company of Torrens University Australia, Laureate education, have recently converted from being a traditional corporation in a for-profit sense to being a public-benefit corporation, which requires them to have very clear, positive impacts on society and the environment through a number of legally defined goals. Their structure has in fact changed in that sense as well, which makes them much more analogous with the type of not-for-profit providers that we see already as table B providers in Australia. But, in relation to your specific question there, in no way could I see the type of behaviour that has occurred in the VET sector being replicated by a university by virtue of their being scheduled on the table B listing.