House debates

Tuesday, 25 May 2021


Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (Charges) Bill 2021, Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Amendment (Cost Recovery) Bill 2021; Second Reading

4:28 pm

Photo of Garth HamiltonGarth Hamilton (Groom, Liberal National Party) Share this | Hansard source

These bills are about maintaining the high quality of higher education that Australia is renowned for, while ensuring the sustainability of the sector now and into the future. At present the TEQSA's cost-recovery levels are quite low, at around 15 per cent of total costs. The taxpayer currently bears the burden of funding the vast majority of the regulatory activities. Moving towards an industry funded model is not without precedence. In the financial services sector businesses pay a levy to fund their independent watchdog and the same applies in a number of other industries with a great deal of success. In every case having this independent oversight ensures the quality of services being provided and gives assurance to those using those services that they are getting exactly what they pay for. My comments come from my time running research within a CRC. What was very important to us was to make sure that we were getting the high quality of research from these educational institutions that we were asking for. It's something that Australia has a very good standing in for it higher education facility. This is an important step towards making sure that we maintain these high standards.

The increased cost recovery for the TEQSA will involve increasing the application base fees to recover the true costs of these activities. The increase to application base fees will be enabled by a new fees determination to be issued by the TEQSA and introducing a new annual charge on higher education providers to recover the costs of the risk monitoring and regulatory oversight activities, and the new annual charge is the subject of these bills.

These activities are crucial to protect students from unscrupulous providers and to protect the reputation of our higher education sector, allowing targeted and timely responses to issues such as academic integrity, admission standards and information, student safety, fraud and corruption. At a time when many people are looking to upskill and retrain, taking advantage of the flexibility of online education, it's even more vital that this agency exists. It ensures that students can feel secure, knowing that their qualifications will be accredited and recognised.

TEQSA registration means that, from anywhere in Australia, students can sign up to online courses at the University of Southern Queensland, based in my electorate of Groom, and receive a world-class education with full confidence. In fact, we saw many people do this and benefit from USQ's implementation of discounted short courses during the peak of the pandemic. Backed by this government's COVID-19 relief package, community members were able to enrol in 20 undergraduate and graduate certificate programs across priority areas such as health, IT, engineering, education and agriculture—a very big one for our region. The university saw a remarkable uptake, and this government is providing and extra $26.1 million in the budget to fund an extra 5,000 short course places, further proof that there is strong demand for high-quality education delivered by Australian universities. I would add that a learning from USQ's good performance is its minimal reliance on international students to fund its operation. This was a point raised by the vice-chancellor, Geraldine Mackenzie, in a meeting with Minister Tudge recently. I know the government agrees with me that this foresight has positioned USQ very well to handle the challenges faced during the pandemic.

I also want to assure the House that this cost-recovery strategy isn't being implemented blindly. TEQSA will seek stakeholder feedback on a draft cost recovery implementation statement, consistent with the Australian government's cost recovery guidelines. The clear intention is for the government to work with the higher education sector to create a sustainable model. We know that such cooperation will be have the best possible outcomes. We look forward to working with the sector and receiving feedback. This is a clear example of the government working with industry to create a plan that will bring in meaningful change with the least possible disruption. Our economy is reopening. This is the government doing everything it can to ensure that this continues to happen, through planned and coordinated efforts with industry.

While higher education providers might have some criticism of the charges the government is listing, they will be phased in over three years to moderate the immediate financial impact. It will commence on 1 January 2022, and 20 per cent of the costs will be recovered in 2022, 50 per cent in 2023 and 100 per cent in 2024.

In summary, these bills are essential to sustaining this independent service and protecting the integrity of Australia's higher education sector, which I hope will encourage more students to feel confident in taking advantage of the myriad courses available to them, and being part of the next phase of Australia's recovery from COVID-19,


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