Second Reading SpeechDr NELSON (Bradfield-Minister for Education, Science and Training)
That this bill be now read a second time.
Before I introduce the specific measures in this bill, I would like to recap some of the significant achievements in higher education reform to date in Australia.
The government's continuing commitment to the higher education sector is to provide students with better facilities and more course options across a range of campuses. The Australian government's priorities for higher education are to ensure that universities continue to diversify, that they are a part of an internationally competitive higher education sector and that our best universities continue to remain in the top tier of world rankings.
Laying the foundation for this commitment is an increase in public investment in higher education of more than $11 billion over the next 10 years, from 2005. As honourable members would be aware, in this year's 2005-06 budget, Australia's higher education sector will benefit from a record $7.8 billion investment from the Australian government.
The bill now before the House is a clear expression of our commitment to students to provide real choice in their higher education studies.
The bill will amend the Higher Education Support Act 2003 to enable high-quality foreign universities to establish institutions in Australia and offer education and training services to international and domestic students.
The first of these universities is the Carnegie Mellon University, which proposes to establish a branch in Adelaide. This proposal has received the resounding support of the Premier of South Australia, Mr Mike Rann, and I must commend the extraordinary efforts by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the member for Mayo.
Carnegie Mellon is a high-quality education and research institution which ranks 38 out of 200 on the Times Higher Education Supplement ranking of the top world universities and 54 out of 500 on the Shanghai Jiao Tong University's ranking of the top world universities. In 2006, Carnegie Mellon was ranked first by the US News and World Report magazine survey of graduate schools in information and technology management.
The Australian branch of Carnegie Mellon University is expected to attract more students to Adelaide from the Asia-Pacific region and contribute to its plan to transform Adelaide into a global university city of excellence. It will also further internationalise the South Australian economy, bringing further revenue and prestige to that state.
The introduction into the sector of such a highly regarded international university will increase diversity and choice within the Australian higher education sector, make Australia more globally competitive and part of the global higher education marketplace and attract students from around the world who are seeking a high-quality education experience.
Carnegie Mellon will welcome its first intake of students in March 2006. The students will be a mixture of both Australian and international students, who will be offered postgraduate courses in public policy and management and information technology. It is expected that the university will attract around 50 domestic students in the first year and up to 200 domestic students by 2009.
The amendments contained in the bill will extend limited Australian government assistance to the Australian branch of the Carnegie Mellon University by enabling the university's eligible Australian students to obtain assistance such as FEE-HELP.
The application by Carnegie Mellon University to operate in Australia as a foreign owned and operated university is the first such application to be received under protocol 2 of the national protocols for higher education approval processes, which have been in existence since 2000.
On 4 July 2005, my South Australian ministerial colleague made a determination under the South Australian Training and Skills Development Act 2003 recognising Carnegie Mellon University as a university for the purposes of that act.
That legislative action made it possible for me, as the responsible Australian government minister, to proceed with this bill so that Carnegie Mellon University can begin operations next year.
This bill also contains a number of amendments to the Higher Education Support Act 2003 to strengthen and better reflect the policy intent of the tuition assurance requirements which all non-table A providers are required to have.
Tuition assurance provides comprehensive and robust consumer protection for students in the event that a provider ceases to offer units in which they were enrolled. The amendments will improve the current protection mechanisms which allow students to choose either a course assurance option of switching to replacement units in a similar course with another provider or a student contribution or tuition fee repayment option of obtaining their money back for uncompleted units.
In addition, the changes will ensure that, where students choose the option of student contribution or tuition fee repayment, their Higher Education Loan Program debt will be remitted and their student learning entitlement and FEE-HELP balances will be recredited. Where students choose the course assurance option, they will not incur any additional cost for those units undertaken with the second provider that replaced units uncompleted with the first provider.
In the case of replacement units, the changes will protect students who are forced to withdraw because of special circumstances and institutions which provide the replacement units without any fee. Students will be able to get a refund without any impost on the second provider and the higher education provider guidelines will set out the basis for this refund.
I commend the bill to the House and present the explanatory memorandum.