House of Representatives

Higher Education Support (Transitional Provisions and Consequential Amendments) Bill 2003

Second Reading Speech

Mr Nelson (Minister for Education, Science and Training)

I have just introduced the Higher Education Support Bill 2003, which proposes the most fundamental changes to Australia's higher education system in more than 20 years. The Higher Education Support (Transitional Provisions and Consequential Amendments) Bill 2003 now before us is an important adjunct to that bill and a part of Our Universities: Backing Australia's Future, the government's blueprint for higher education reform.

This bill will provide for the transitional arrangements and consequential amendments to other Commonwealth acts which are required to successfully implement the new funding framework.

It increases the expenditure limits in the Higher Education Funding Act 1988 to enable the government to increase support for regional student places and to increase support for nursing as a national priority, prior to the start of the Commonwealth Grant Scheme in 2005 under the Higher Education Support Act 2003. It also provides for indexation increases.

This bill establishes a transition fund for the 2005, 2006 and 2007 calendar years. It also ensures that no grants other than grants of transitional assistance are made under the Higher Education Funding Act 1988 after 31 December 2004.

The bill provides for the phasing out of marginally funded places. The transitional arrangements will allow an institution's CGS funding agreement to identify the number of marginally funded places remaining in an institution and will ensure that these places do not adversely affect an institution when adjustments to its CGS grant are calculated.

The bill provides for the `grandfathering' measures for current HECS-liable and Postgraduate Education Loan Scheme students until the end of 2008. It ensures the conversion of all relevant student debts under the Higher Education Funding Act 1988 to Higher Education Loan Program debts from 1 June 2006.

The bill provides for transitional arrangements for the University of Notre Dame Australia and Avondale College to ensure that their current HECS-liable students can continue in their courses until 2008.

A one-off payment of financial assistance will be made to Marcus Oldham College in lieu of future annual funding allocations, and the college will be removed from the current Higher Education Funding Act 1988.

The bill makes consequential amendments to the governance arrangements set out in the Australian National University Act 1991 and the Maritime College Act 1978. In particular, it amends the structure of their governing bodies and the method of appointment of members of these governing bodies. It inserts clauses detailing the duties of members of those governing bodies. It also clarifies the responsibilities of those governing bodies.

The bill also amends the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 in relation to clarifying deductibility of fees.

Full details of the measures in the bill are contained in the explanatory memorandum circulated to honourable members.

This bill complements the Higher Education Support Bill 2003, and it is as critical to reform as the principal bill. The changes will also mean that, where a university provides a tuition exempt course to a student, that will not in any way disadvantage students in terms of their youth allowance or Austudy.

In introducing this bill the second of three complementary bills I would like to remind the House of what Professor Schreuder, the President of the Australian Vice-Chancellors' Committee, said on 13 May this year. Professor Schreuder said that it was: critical that the Parliament legislate to adopt this comprehensive policy and funding transformation package to create an internationally competitive system of universities, diverse by missions but excellent in outcomes.

Together with the Higher Education Support Bill 2003, this bill constitutes an integrated package of reform which will be the new foundation of Australia's higher education sector. I commend the bill to the House and present the explanatory memorandum.

Debate (on motion by Mr Griffin) adjourned.