Second Reading Speech
That the Bill now be read a second time.
I am pleased to announce that the major components of the Higher Education Support Act 2003 have come into effect as of 1 January this year. The reforms contained in the new legislative framework give universities access to the funding they need to deliver world-class higher education, with a focus on quality learning outcomes. Laying the foundation for this is an increase in public investment in the sector of around $2.6 billion over five years from 2004. The Australian Government will provide some $11 billion over ten years in new support for the higher education sector from 2004.
There will be almost 36,000 new Commonwealth supported student places added to the higher education sector over the next five years and more funding for each Commonwealth supported student, linked to improvements in how universities are managed. In addition, there are extra funds for regional universities and new schemes and funding to encourage excellence in teaching, more collaboration between institutions and a renewed focus on equity. There will also be new places for the National Priority areas of nursing and teaching and special fee arrangements to encourage people to enrol in these fields.
The benefits to the Australian higher education system will become increasingly apparent as students and higher education providers take full advantage of the opportunities that the reforms provide.
The Australian Government is taking this opportunity to make a number of technical revisions to refine and enhance the effective implementation of the Act and give certainty to higher education providers and students.
This bill now before us will, in particular, enable higher education providers to respond to changes in student demand in a more flexible way. They also ensure that students are properly informed and protected about decisions made by higher education providers which affect them.
Included in the bill are a series of measures designed to clarify the requirements for the review of decisions made by higher education providers in relation to students. The amendments will ensure that providers have clear advice on their responsibilities, and students will be well informed of their rights and the procedure they need to follow if they wish to seek a review of a decision.
The bill also includes amendments to the Act which will give higher education providers more flexibility to deal with changes in demand and supply for particular courses or units of study. The changes will enable providers to publish more than one schedule of student contribution amounts and tuition fees per year, and specify more than one date for the publishing of Census Date and Equivalent Full Time Student Load values.
The bill also includes technical amendments to the Higher Education Support Act 2003 and the Taxation Administration Act 1953 which clarify the tax file number requirements for students.
These amendments will build on the implementation of the new arrangements under Our Universities: Backing Australia's Future package of reforms.
Full details of the measures in the bill are contained in the explanatory memorandum circulated to honourable senators.
I commend the bill to the Senate.