Wednesday, 16 September 2009
Higher Education Support Amendment Bill 2009
Debate resumed from 24 June, on motion by Ms Kate Ellis:
That this bill be now read a second time.
It is a pleasure to rise to speak today in the second reading debate on the Higher Education Support Amendment Bill 2009. This bill provides some minor administrative efficiencies in the operation of FEE-HELP and VET FEE-HELP, which are assistance schemes for students in terms of paying the fees associated with either their university degrees or vocational education and training courses.
The amendments will allow higher education and VET providers to lodge their applications for approval to offer FEE-HELP and VET FEE-HELP before having their tuition assurance arrangements in place. This presumably will allow the two processes to occur simultaneously, thus speeding up the approval of providers and access to the loans. The amendments also broaden the conditions under which the minister may be satisfied that a VET provider is able to meet the VET quality and accountability requirements and so qualify to offer VET FEE-HELP. The new conditions include that the minister may be satisfied by a recommendation of a body that is approved under the VET provider guidelines.
The anticipated elimination of duplication between the Commonwealth and the states and territories is attributed to this measure as it will, according to the explanatory memorandum:
… allow recommendations from approved national or state-based agencies to be used as part of the assessment and approval of training organisations to deliver VET FEE-HELP assistance.
So in essence there are some administrative changes being made by this bill to the provision of VET FEE-HELP and FEE-HELP in order to enable those people who can offer it to put their processes in place at the same time as they are seeking students, rather than having to wait until one is in place before they can offer the other. Secondly, as a basis for granting licences—for want of a better description—under this legislation, the minister will be able to use the state based agencies that have already allowed qualifications to the VET providers, in particular, to go ahead and offer this kind of facility. That will stop the VET providers, in particular, having to go through two processes—the state process and the Commonwealth one—and it removes duplication. So the opposition supports this bill and we look forward to it being passed quickly so that VET providers and higher education providers will be able to, more quickly, take advantage of its provisions.
I rise to speak on the Higher Education Support Amendment Bill 2009, which is something that I am very passionate about. On indulgence, Mr Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Sturt for his contribution. This bill makes minor amendments to provide for administrative efficiencies in the operation of the FEE-HELP and the VET FEE-HELP assistance schemes under the Higher Education Support Act. It is certainly a very important bill. As a father of five children I am very passionate about education. Our love for education and our want for Australian youth to be better educated, and how we can improve that area, are core things that both the opposition and the government share.
My parents are both educators. My father, Bob, has been a very strong advocate for education for a long time. He did a one-year teaching course and then a Bachelor of Arts degree over about 10 years. He has been a school principal and has basically been an educator from 17 years of age until he retired at 65. He still, at the age of 67, goes back and helps out when he is needed. He has a history of 46 or 47 years as a school teacher, an educator, who staffed schools in the Territory. He also used to recruit teachers for the Northern Territory. My mother was also a school teacher, as was my grandmother, and my sister is also a teacher. So we certainly have a history of school teachers in our family. I believe that we should support anything to do with education.
I am the perfect person; it is one of the core things I talk about in the marginal seat of Solomon, and I take that interjection in the spirit in which it was given. Education and health are two things that I really do look at. As governments we can bicker a little bit around the edges with different issues, and we do. I love the debate at question time, in the Main Committee and in the chamber but when it comes to health and education I do think that there is too much that divides us in this place. We need to make sure that we continue to develop education and that we continue to be at the forefront of developing education for the young people coming through in the future in Australia.
We are such a lucky country in regard to education that we probably take it for granted. We say at times that we are trying to find ways of making sure kids go to school. Yet I know that, in Third World countries, in developing countries, school is a luxury. The kids there yearn for school. They love it. I remember some AFL guys telling me about going to South Africa once and about the kids they met over there. The kids saw a biro, and they could not believe this thing that wrote. So the guys ordered in a heap of biros, boxes full of biros, and just gave them out to the kids, because they did not have pens—they had not even seen pens before. Pens to us are something so simple that we take them for granted and leave them all over the place, but those kids found them unbelievable. They wanted them. So the AFL guys just gave out pens.
This bill amends the tuition assurance provisions in the act, to remove the administrative requirements for higher education and training organisations to have tuition assurance arrangements in place at the date of their application for approval, to offer FEE-HELP or VET FEE-HELP assistance to students. In addition, the bill provides the amendments to allow recommendations from approved national and state based agencies to be used as part of the assessment and approval of training organisations to deliver VET programs. That is very important. As I said, education is, for me, the cornerstone for our society. It should be the right of every Australian to be well educated, and I fully commend and support the bill.
I commend the previous speaker for his efforts. I rise to speak on the Higher Education Support Amendment Bill 2009. This bill will see changes to the application and approval process for the income contingent loan schemes for higher education and vocational education and training. The coalition sees benefits in allowing higher education and vocational education training providers to lodge their application for approval to offer FEE-HELP and VET FEE-HELP before tuition assurance arrangements are in place. The main benefit will be a reduction in the duplication of administration and a cut in red tape by allowing the two processes to occur simultaneously. As a result, the approval of providers and access to student loans will occur more rapidly and efficiently.
University students in my electorate of Forrest welcome the implications of the Higher Education Support Amendment Bill as the amendments, unlike the recently proposed changes to Youth Allowance, will actually benefit students in regional and rural communities. The government failed to consider regional and rural students in the proposed Higher Education Support Amendment (2009 Budget Measures) Bill 2009. I was contacted by over 200 students and parents in my electorate who are concerned about the government’s proposed changes to Youth Allowance which compromise the future of young people right throughout Australia. As I said, for regional students, the associated costs enforced on a student who must relocate to study are enormous, particularly in comparison to those of, for example, a metropolitan student who lives at home and/or has access to public transport.
Don is a concerned grandfather from Busselton who got in touch with me. He stated in an email:
I feel, as a country resident, we are being treated as ‘second class citizens’. So much for the ‘education revolution’ we hear so much about!! I would say that many country children who should be able to attend University are unable to do so because of the heavy financial impost on the family.
Debra was another constituent who got in touch with me. She has a son who is currently living in Perth and studying at UWA. Debra said:
His board and lodgings at the residential college (and he is staying at one of the cheapest ones) is around $11,000 for the 34 weeks of university this year. He also has to pay for books of around $1,000 pa and weekly living costs such as stationery, printing, clothes, medical supplies etc. The UWA website estimates these weekly living costs (at $80pw) to be $2,720 for the 34 week university year. This means his essential costs for the 34 weeks are $14,720 pa—and not including his HECS or his board and living costs for the 18 weeks he will have to move out of the residential college each year.
I have had many parents contact me who are angry that the government is deciding that the future of their child or children is to be without youth allowance, particularly because they may not be able to access higher education simply because the family and the student cannot afford the cost. Year 11 student Lahni, from Busselton, sent me an email, addressed ‘To the government’:
I hope you can see the impact you are having. You are not changing figures; you are changing a child’s future. You are not helping the economy, you are disadvantaging it. You are not creating futures, you are destroying dreams. So I hope with the goodness of your hearts, you can find the courage and the common sense to stand up for regional kids. To stand up for education, to stand up for me … I hope most of all you can sleep at night. As I lay in bed listening to my mother cry, and worry because she can’t afford to send her daughter to university, to get away from a small town … but you can. You can make this difference, you can make my dreams come true. You can give me this opportunity my parents can’t. I beg you.
They are very powerful words from such a young woman. I am still not convinced the Minister for Education fully understands the associated costs that regional and rural students must encounter.
As demonstrated by supporting this bill, the coalition strongly supports education, and strongly supports good legislation such as the Higher Education Support Amendment Bill, which reduces the red tape for students attending university. This bill also broadens the condition under which the minister may be satisfied that a VET provider is able to meet the VET quality and accountability requirements and so qualify to offer VET FEE-HELP. It is anticipated that this legislation will achieve greater administration efficiency in the income-contingent loans schemes for higher education and vocational education and training. I, along with the coalition, support this legislation.
I might commence my contribution by reflecting on the lightening speed with which the member for Solomon got across his brief. His contribution to this chamber was a truly remarkable effort. Actually, on a recent trip to Solomon the member for Solomon took us to a number of higher education providers. I certainly enjoyed that.
It is with a great deal of pleasure that I rise today to speak on the Higher Education Support Amendment Bill 2009. I have said this before, but it is quite remarkable the way in which the minister has gone about with such zeal in reforming our education system. She certainly provides this government with a great deal of pride in the way she goes about this. The Rudd government is committed to providing a first-class higher education system. And I would argue, of course, that we are very committed to cleaning up the mess that was left behind by the previous government. As I said, I would certainly like to congratulate the minister for her reforming zeal and her first-class work rate on these matters.
This bill provides for minor amendments to the Higher Education Support Act 2003. There are two important aspects to the changes proposed here. Firstly, we are amending the tuition assurance arrangements for both the FEE-HELP and VET FEE-HELP assistance schemes to remove the requirement for higher education providers and VET providers to have tuition assurance arrangements in place at the date of application for approval.
Secondly, we are amending the VET provider approval provisions of schedule 1 of the HESA to allow the minister or her delegate to accept recommendations regarding an applicant’s compliance with the VET quality and accountability requirements from an approved national, state or territory registering or accrediting authority.
Higher education and VET providers offer assistance to students through the Commonwealth’s FEE-HELP and VET FEE-HELP assistance schemes. These schemes aim to reduce the financial barriers to studying and training by providing full-fee-paying students with access to income-contingent loans to pay their tuition fees through the course of their studies. From 1 July 2009, the VET FEE-HELP assistance will also be made available to Victorian government subsidised students. In other words, they will have a fair crack of the whip. I would like to place on record my congratulations to the Victorian government for being a world leader in the provision of tertiary education.
Really it is about safeguarding students’ commitment to and investment in their course so that, in the event a higher education or VET provider ceases to deliver a course of study in which the students are enrolled, students have the choice of either transferring their enrolment to a different provider offering the same course or having their tuition fees refunded. What we are really doing here is putting in place a safeguard measure.
I think these reforms bring out the level of attention to detail of this government and the efforts that we are making on behalf of the Australian community. We are doing our best to make sure that no-one falls through the cracks or is disadvantaged by untoward circumstances outside of their control.
Under the current arrangements, paragraphs 16.25(c) and 6(d) of schedule 1A of the HESA require applicants to demonstrate they have met the requirements to have their tuition assurance arrangements in place on the date they make their application for approval as a higher education or VET provider. This results in delays in application assessment and approval processes as well as imposing an additional financial burden on applicants well before they are approved as providers and begin offering assistance to students.
This is about trying to make it easier for students to study. It is about getting rid of the barriers and frustrations people have to face when they make their decision to study. Under the previous government, all of these things were never tackled. The Howard government, in my view, was extremely policy lazy. It is remarkable to see the efforts that our government is making in addressing these issues.
The higher education system can be a very frustrating place when you are trying to access it. There are lots of hoops that people have to jump through, particularly in relation to applications and financial support measures. Labor is trying to make these things much easier and make sure that there are no hidden pitfalls in the way of a person’s study. That is what we are on about. We are trying to make it as easy as possible for students to continue their studies under often trying circumstances.
The amendments will allow applicants additional time to put tuition assurance arrangements in place, as they will not be required to demonstrate that they have met the requirements unless and until they have met all of the other conditions associated with the application process. The decision to approve an application will still be contingent upon fulfilment of the tuition assurance arrangements within these measures. Legislative instruments under both schemes will be amended to provide further direction to applicants regarding the operation and requirements prior to the approval of those arrangements.
In addition, the bill provides a new section, 11(2)(b) of schedule 1A of the HESA, to allow the minister and/or her delegate to be satisfied that an applicant for VET approval meets one or all of the VET quality accountability requirements if the body is identified. Amendments will also be made to the scheme’s legislative instruments to identify relevant national, state and territory registration and accreditation agencies, as I mentioned earlier, to make such recommendations for the purposes of the VET provider approval processes. Under the current arrangements there is no such discretion for the minister or her delegate to accept recommendations for the purposes of making a decision to approve an application. An example of that would be that currently there is no provision for the minister to rely on the outcomes of processes conducted by state based regulatory agencies when making her decision.
As I said, this bill is about developing an effective, efficient and responsive higher education system. It is about putting in place safeguards for individuals. It is about encouraging people to study. It is about making it easier for people to study. It is about making rules that make it easier for institutions to operate in a complex world. This is another bill by which the Rudd government is building a first-class higher education system to meet the challenges of our future. It follows measures to increase student support, it follows measures to financially support young people from less-well-off families to study, and it follows measures in the Bradley report that will build a better higher education system for us. This is another very clear step that Labor is preparing Australia’s education system for the 21st century.
In conclusion I say again that I congratulate the minister for her ongoing efforts to reform the system. It is fair to say that Australia has a high-quality education system. These arrangements will set our system to an even higher standard and higher quality, enabling students to be able to access a first-class education system. I commend these measures to this chamber.
It gives me great pleasure to speak on the Higher Education Support Amendment Bill 2009. This legislation shows the Rudd government’s commitment to education. The Rudd government has overseen an education revolution. We are committed to seeing this revolution continue within Australia so that all Australian students benefit. This bill provides for minor amendments to the Higher Education Support Act 2003. It amends the tuition assistance assurance arrangements for both FEE-HELP and VET FEE-HELP to remove the requirement for higher education providers and VET providers to have tuition assurance arrangements in place at the date of application for approval. It also means the VET provider approval provision in schedule 1A of the HESA will allow the minister or her delegate to accept recommendations regarding an applicant’s compliance with the VET quality and accountability requirements from an approved national, state or territory registered accredited authority. This legislation is about the quality of education that is being offered. Every member of this House is beholden to have this as a paramount concern. We do not believe that education should be provided based on just performing a task or jumping through the hoops; rather, we think that education needs to be of a certain standard and that it needs to be quality education.
Concerns were brought to a head at the closure of the Sterling College in Sydney. It was a private education college offering vocational qualifications. It went into administration in late July. I know there was great concern expressed in the media about this. I was contacted in my office about this situation and how it eventuated. The doors of Sterling College shut on 500 students—students who were mainly from overseas and who had spent thousands of dollars on tuition fees. The issue of financial mismanagement in this lucrative sector was highlighted. I think this is important to know: the sector is worth about $14.35 billion to the Australian economy. Also, at the Sterling College substandard courses were being offered. Former lecturers at the Sterling College complained about not receiving basic training. We need to ensure that the right sorts of procedures are in place. This amendment to the tuition assurance arrangements for the FEE-HELP and VET FEE-HELP assistance schemes will assist.
These measures provide for minor amendments to items 16 to 25 and item 60 of schedule 1A of HESA by removing the requirement for higher education and training organisations to have tuition assurances in place at the date on which they make their application for approval as a higher education provider. The tuition assurance requirements under HESA are a safeguard for students in the event that a higher education or VET provider ceases to deliver a course of study in which students are enrolled. In that event, the students have the choice to either transfer their enrolment to a different provider offering the same course or have their tuition fees refunded.
Because of my concerns about what happened with Sterling College, I spent some time today researching this matter. I discovered that the majority of students enrolled at Sterling College were overseas students. Australia’s education of overseas students is a very important economic activity. Australia is seen as an education powerhouse. For those members who are not aware, in the vicinity of 70,000 Indian students—that is, Indian students alone—are enrolled in this country. It is the country’s third most lucrative industry—after coal and iron ore—and is worth about £7.5 billion or, as I stated earlier, $14.35 billion. Concerns crystallised following the closure of the Sterling College in Sydney. It was a private education college. We need to focus on these details. There have been a number of media reports around this issue. I note that after investigations the ABC’s Four Corners program claimed that some colleges and migration agents were ripping off students. Federal Police and immigration officers have raided many offices and found information to show that we need to address this issue.
Australia, as I have already stated, has put a lot of effort into making itself an attractive venue for overseas students to come and study in. We need to ensure the quality of the courses and introduce amendments, even if they are minor amendments such as this legislation. These amendments and other amendments will make this sector a lot more transparent and accountable. I think it is really sad if we have a situation where overseas students come to Australia and find themselves in limbo as colleges collapse. I see that the member for Melbourne Ports is to my left. He would be aware of the fact that colleges have collapsed in Melbourne. The Melbourne International College had its education licence cancelled by the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority.
Yes, and so it should have, as he highlights, because it was not providing appropriate education and support. It was not enhancing Australia’s reputation within the international education market. There are untold numbers of examples of—
Madam Deputy Speaker, on a point of order: I do not doubt the veracity of the member’s contribution. However, this material is the subject of another bill. I am not certain if the member is speaking to the current bill, the Higher Education Support Amendment Bill 2009. I ask you to call her back to order.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am quite happy to do that, but I actually thought the member opposite would be supportive of the comments that I was making and would like to see Australia’s educational reputation enhanced. I thought that this would be a prime opportunity to mention some of the issues that have been highlighted in the media recently. But, as the member opposite obviously is not supportive of Australia’s international education reputation or the need for us to provide quality education within this country, I am quite happy to return to the other aspects of this legislation, go through it schedule by schedule and point by point and ensure that the member opposite listens to my contribution for a full 20 minutes. I hope that people in his electorate, where I know there are a number of people who are concerned about this issue, are aware of his blatant disregard for the quality of vocational education and of the education that is provided to students from overseas. I might add that it is not only overseas students whom this legislation is addressing.
Under the current arrangements, items 16 to 25(c), which I am sure the member opposite is quite familiar with, and 6(d) of schedule 1A of the HESA require that all applicants demonstrate that they have met the requirement to have tuition assurance arrangements in place and that they make their application for approval as a higher education or VET provider. Given the Rudd government’s commitment to an education revolution, to quality education and to ensuring that we do not have VET organisations going belly up, as they have been doing around Australia, this is a very important amendment to the existing legislation. The member opposite may be quite supportive of institutions being able to provide training without going through the proper process—he may be happy with the situation as it exists at the moment—but we on this side are not. We want to have quality arrangements and quality requirements in place, and we want to ensure that the approval process takes place in a proper fashion.
As I was saying, the process of application for approval as a higher education VET provider can result in delays in the application assessment and approval process as well as imposing an additional financial burden on the applicant well before they are approved as a provider and are beginning to offer assistance to students. The Rudd government recognises that this can be a problem. We do not move away from that requirement to ensure that there is a quality process in place. This amendment will allow applicants additional time to put tuition assurance arrangements in place. Also, they will not be required to demonstrate they have met the requirements unless and until they have met all the conditions, being the other conditions associated with the application process. The decision to approve an application will still be contingent upon the fulfilment of the tuition assurance requirements. Legislative instruments under both schemes will be amended to provide further direction to applicants regarding this obligation.
The bill provides for a new proposed section 11(2)(b), as I am sure the member opposite would be aware and would welcome, in schedule 1A of the Higher Education Support Act. This is to allow for the minister or her delegate to be satisfied that an application for VET provider approval meets one or all of the VET quality and accountability requirements. I think it is important that I state here that we on this side of the House are very committed to accountability. We on this side of the House believe in transparency. We on this side of the House believe in consultation. All of this has taken place in relation to this piece of legislation. I know that when the opposition was in power that was not always the case.
If a body identified in the VET provider guidelines makes a recommendation to the minister or her delegate, amendments will be made to the scheme’s legislative instrument to identify relevant national, state or territory registration and accreditation agencies able to make such recommendations for the purpose of the VET provider approval process. It was my understanding that the opposition was quite supportive of these changes to the legislation. I sincerely hope that the member opposite, the member for Mitchell, is going to stand up and support this legislation. I would be very disappointed if he did not show the same level of support for this legislation as he is obviously showing for overseas students. I would like to think that he was a bit more committed to Australia’s educational reputation and a bit more committed to ensuring that Australia actually excels in that area. But I am sure that he will have an excuse for not being as supportive as he should be.
Under the current arrangements there is no discretion for the minister or her delegate to accept recommendations for the purpose of making decisions to approve an application. This bill is all about making the legislation more workable. It is all about making the VET system more responsive to the needs of those people who actually need action, the students who are trained through the VET system. I think that should be embraced. There is currently no provision for the minister to rely on the outcomes of processes conducted by national or state regulatory agencies when making her decision, and it is pretty disgraceful that the minister cannot rely on these processes.
This bill has such a sensible approach and brings much-needed change. I believe it will also stop duplication. These amendments will allow for a more streamlined VET provider assessment process, and I think that is what everybody involved in the VET area would like to see: a streamlined process that will benefit those providers, that will benefit the students, that will benefit us as a nation and that will benefit industry. The bill creates administrative efficiencies, and those administrative efficiencies will be accompanied by processes that lead to efficiencies within the course. There will be better courses and better outcomes and, when the legislation reduces costs and duplication between the Commonwealth VET provider application process and those processes administered by national and state based agencies, it will be a good outcome for all.
The amendments are aimed at encouraging a greater number of quality registered training organisations. This will be very beneficial. I state once again for the benefit of my colleague the member for Melbourne Ports, who is in the chamber, that Victoria will also be included in the process. I know that he embraces that, welcomes that and is very keen to see it happen. Applications will be assessed more quickly and will provide students with access to FEE-HELP assistance sooner—and that is what it is about: encouraging students to undertake VET retraining and ensuring that they have the fee assistance that they need and that they can access the courses that they need very quickly so they can get the skills they need to re-enter the workforce and are suitably qualified and that we in Australia have a skilled workforce. We recognise that there have been problems with a skill shortage in Australia. Unlike any members of the previous government, I think this legislation will help in a number of ways—(Time expired)
I rise to speak in support of the Higher Education Support Amendment Bill 2009. This is an important piece of legislation. It is important because it is part of the Rudd government’s commitment to higher education reform. It is important because higher education is crucial to ensuring that we are the most productive in terms of our workforce, that we have profitable business and that our people achieve everything that they aspire to in life. Where a person lives or the disadvantages they suffer should not determine the destiny of their vocation or income security for them and their families in the long term. Providing assistance to tertiary students, whether through VET courses or through universities, is absolutely vital in the circumstances.
Whilst on the face of it the bill is not particularly far reaching—it is not a long bill; it is short in the circumstances—it does ensure that assistance in terms of FEE-HELP and VET FEE-HELP can be made available to full fee-paying students studying in higher level education or training, in providing loans for all or part of the student’s tuition costs and in ensuring that students who are attending certain educational institutions can get access to tuition assistance. It also allows institutions to have more flexibility in fulfilling the requirements for tuition assurance arrangements. Currently they have to either be exempt or indeed have those in place at the time of an application. This extends out the time for that institution to get that assurance to the time that a minister might approve it. That is more flexible in terms of its arrangements, but it opens up the prospects of students getting access to additional educational institutions.
This is extremely important for my constituents in Blair. Getting help to go to university is crucial for people from low socioeconomic backgrounds whose parents cannot support them. Many people in this House will have received assistance through Austudy or TEAS or through assistance from family or friends to get to university. It is crucial that we provide more assistance to those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds because, if we say we are a strong country, we need also to say that we are a fair country. The ethos of being a country that believes in a fair go is crucial.
Whilst the amendments streamline the application and assessment processes for higher education and training organisations to apply for FEE-HELP and VET FEE-HELP for assistance to students, they are also important amendments because they broaden out the opportunities for students to get assistance and access to educational institutions, which might help them to get the kinds of qualifications in life that will improve their financial circumstances. This in turn will ensure that their families in the future will get access to a decent wage and salary and will be able to meet all the necessities of life as well as have that little bit extra for their recreation, lifestyle and pleasure. The bill amends tuition assurance provisions and it removes the administrative requirement for higher education and training organisations to have those arrangements in place.
There are a number of amendments in this bill and I want to commend the member for Shortland, who almost painstakingly went through the provisions—and I do not intend to go through them. This is also a great opportunity to commend a number of local providers in my electorate, who are providers of higher education in an area that, historically, is not necessarily an area where a lot of people enter tertiary institutions. I went to Bundamba State Secondary College, and the records that I have looked at said that I was the first person ever from that school to go on to study law at university. It is not common enough for students who have attended state high schools to go on to university. We want to make sure that they get every opportunity to go to universities or TAFE institutions.
I want to take this opportunity to also commend the Bremer Institute of TAFE in my electorate for their careers day, where young people from local high schools got the opportunity to access the kind of financial help we are talking about in this bill. It also provided information to get them to TAFE or to university. Getting that knowledge and that information to young people is extremely important. It was an important careers day because it allowed students to get varied information. They heard from people at the Springfield Land Corporation and from people at Ipswich City Council. Even hearing from their local federal member was important for them to understand what opportunities lay before them. Bremer Institute of TAFE has been around for many decades in Ipswich. It had its genesis in the centre of town, has been located in a number of different places and is now in Bundamba. The Bremer Institute of TAFE is an important institution in Ipswich and it is important that students in the area get the kind of higher education support that this bill will provide.
I want to also commend the University of Queensland, Ipswich campus, for their recent publication. I was pleased to be there at the UQ Boilerhouse launch of Mines, mills and shopping malls: celebrating the identity of Ipswich. At the risk of incurring the wrath of a certain member from New South Wales, I will say it is a wonderful book. Higher education is important to the city of Ipswich, and this legislation is as well. This book talks about the impact of certain events on Ipswich—the Reids fire, the 1974 floods and the Box Flat Mine disaster. It is an important publication by a higher education institution that operates in my electorate with the support of the federal government. The budget that gave out $2.4 million over four years to ensure that an additional 50,000 students can attend university by 2013 was so important.
This legislation today is important to ensure that we give assistance to full-fee-paying students. Getting those students through university and TAFE is crucial. In my electorate we have seen unemployment go down by three per cent in the last 12 months or so. Jobs have risen by 10 per cent. We want to make sure that those jobs are good jobs. We want to make sure that those kids get the opportunity to become carpenters, plumbers, tradesmen and hairdressers and work in banking and finance.
Legislation that streamlines application procedures, legislation that improves the approval processes and legislation that makes our higher education sector function better, as this legislation does, improves the chances and the lot of young Ipswich students and students in the rural areas outside Ipswich. That is why I am very happy to support this legislation. This is good legislation. It is reforming legislation. I commend the minister for bringing it to the House. I am very pleased to support it.
in reply—I thank members on both sides of the House for their contributions and for their support of the important changes in the Higher Education Support Amendment Bill 2009. As we know, this bill provides technical amendments to further streamline the operation of the FEE-HELP and VET FEE-HELP assistance schemes which continues the government’s objective of making administrative efficiencies in support of the broader agenda to extend the availability of income contingent loans.
We know that an important part of the education revolution is encouraging greater accessibility of education for all Australians. VET FEE-HELP assistance is aimed at encouraging students to take up higher level qualifications, by reducing the financial barriers associated with study. From 1 July 2009 the VET FEE-HELP Assistance Scheme was extended to assist certain state government subsidised students. This bill makes amendments to the Higher Education Support Act 2003 to streamline the application and assessment process for higher education and training organisations applying for approval to offer FEE-HELP and VET FEE-HELP assistance to their students. The amendments will provide administrative efficiencies, resulting in faster approvals of higher education and VET providers, therefore giving students access to financial assistance sooner. In particular, the bill will amend the tuition assurance provisions in the act to remove the administrative requirement for higher education and training organisations to have tuition assurance arrangements in place at the date that they apply for approval to offer FEE-HELP or VET FEE-HELP assistance to students.
The bill also provides amendments to help eliminate duplication between Commonwealth and state and territory agencies and reduce the cost and the time taken to assess a training organisation’s application for approval under the act. These amendments deliver increased efficiencies in the administration of these schemes, making it easier and faster for higher education and training organisations to be approved to offer assistance for students. This is a good result for our higher education institutions and, importantly, a good result for the students of Australia. With that in mind, I commend the bill to the House.
Question agreed to.
Bill read a second time.
Ordered that the bill be reported to the House without amendment.