House of Representatives

Higher Education Support Amendment (Asian Century) Bill 2013

Second Reading Speech

Asia's transformation into the world's most dynamic economic region is the defining development of our time. This transformation presents both opportunities and challenges for Australia. To be successful in the 21st century, the Asian Century, Australians will need to have the capabilities and connections to engage effectively with the region.

The Prime Minister released the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper on 28 October 2012, to serve as a roadmap for navigating the Asian Century.

The White Paper identified a need for a larger number of Australian university students to be studying overseas and for a greater proportion of them to be undertaking part of their degree in Asia.

The Bill addresses this need by amending the Higher Education Support Act (2003) to provide additional assistance through the OS-HELP scheme for university students who wish to undertake part of their study in Asia. The Bill also expands eligibility for OS-HELP to assist more students to undertake a wider variety of study-related activities.

OS-HELP provides low cost, student friendly loans to assist eligible students to pay expenses associated with undertaking overseas study as part of their higher education.

As Australian universities play a key role in administering the OS-HELP scheme, the Government has consulted with the sector to ensure that the amendments will maximise the support provided to those students who wish to take advantage of the many benefits that come from an overseas study experience in Asia.

The Government is committed to supporting Australian students to gain the Asia-literacy skills they, and Australian businesses, will need to take full advantage of the opportunities presented by the Asian Century. The best way for students to become Asia-literate is to experience Asia first hand.

A growing number of Australian students are undertaking overseas study. According to a 2011 survey, approximately 20,000 Australian university students were studying overseas, with around 7,000 studying in Asia. However, data shows that only one in eight OS-HELP loans is for study in Asia. The changes contained in this Bill will help Asia become the destination of choice for more students.

The Bill increases the maximum OS-HELP loan amount for students undertaking study in Asia to $7,500 in 2014, $1250 more than for other destinations. This funding will send a strong signal to students of the Government's support for engagement with the region.

The Government understands that language can be a barrier to overseas travel for many students, particularly for those considering study in Asia. To help overcome this, the Bill introduces a new loan worth up to $1,000 for intensive Asian language training taken in preparation for study in Asia. This extra assistance will help students better prepare for their study in Asia, and also help them get the most out of it when they are there.

Work placements and international experience are increasingly being sought by both students and prospective employers. Expanded eligibility and flexibility for the OS-HELP scheme will help more students undertake a wider range of overseas study experiences, including in Asia.

Students accessing OS-HELP are currently required to be enrolled at an overseas campus of an Australian higher education provider or with an overseas higher education institution. This has largely restricted access to OS-HELP to students undertaking traditional, semester long exchanges with overseas universities.

The Bill removes this requirement, so that students will be able to access OS-HELP for a wider range of study-related activities, including clinical placements and internships.

Eligibility for OS-HELP is also being extended to postgraduate students. This will assist the growing number of students who undertake professional entry courses at postgraduate level, such as in education, allied health, architecture and engineering, to include an overseas study experience in their course.

The Bill reduces the amount of study a student must have remaining upon completion of their overseas study from 0.5 Equivalent Full Time Student Load (EFTSL) to 0.125 EFTSL, which is generally the equivalent of one unit of study. This will particularly improve access to OS-HELP for students following a non-traditional study pattern, including many postgraduate students, part-time students, and students undertaking shorter work placements outside of standard semesters.

These initiatives will support more Australian university students, across all disciplines, to develop Asian literacy skills by experiencing Asia first hand. The skills and relationships developed during these experiences will be invaluable to the students and will help Australia take full advantage of the possibilities available in the Asian Century.