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
These Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency 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. I will speak on this using two different lenses. One is my having come most recently out of being a research coordinator in a CRC based in Brisbane looking at the mining industry and efficiencies that could be found in energy and water consumption in that area. What astounded us constantly in this role of pulling together research bodies from around Australia, from around our universities, was how well we competed against international universities and how high was the standard of education here. Referring to the comments of the member for Clark, the practical value of our tertiary education was felt very firmly in that role. I speak, secondly, as someone who is very, very fortunate to have received a tertiary education in Australia and has been able take that education and apply it in situations around the world. What is still a very good truism, I think, certainly for engineers, is how sought-after around the world is an Australian engineering degree. That is very much because the Australian tertiary education industry produces at a very high standard, and that is recognised around the world.
Toowoomba, in my electorate of Groom, is a significant education hub not only for western Queensland and northern New South Wales but growing into south-eastern Queensland. While we have long been renowned as a hub for secondary education, the opportunity for us to continue to grow into the tertiary education space continues, particularly with the University of Southern Queensland, which is seeing great expansion in emerging fields such as aviation and aerospace. Just last week I had Minister Karen Andrews come and visit the campus at Kearneys Spring to hear about some of the exciting innovations there. With continued growth, USQ can achieve its ambitions of becoming a global leader in applied technologies through the convergence of end users with researchers really pulling out the practical value that the previous speaker, the member for Clark, talked about.
More broadly, this is a sector that the government believes in. The government has implemented a $53.6 million package of measures to support international education providers through fee regulatory relief and targeted support. This very much fits the government's 'technology and not taxes' approach to addressing the challenges that the future will bring us. We need on our team people who have got the critical thinking skills that higher education provides. We need them to do everything they can to ensure the education provided is of that high standard. That's exactly what we're talking about here, ensuring that we can maintain the high quality of tertiary education that Australia has such a great reputation for providing.
These bills give effect to the government's decision to implement increased cost-recovery for the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency, announced in the 2018-19 budget. The government delayed the introduction of increased cost-recovery on several occasions because of external factors, including the COVID-19 pandemic. It's quite a simple approach and a very simple history for us to revisit, but it is very much now time for us to revisit those original cost-recovery plans. Australia is opening up. We are on the path to a much brighter future, and these bills need to be viewed within the context of the time. That's exactly the place we find ourselves with our universities—I speak from my recent trip out to USQ—and the optimism they hold for the future and the very stable foundations they have built. I note USQ's insistence on building its foundations on a very small percentage of international students, speaking when Minister Taylor came out to the university recently to look at what that has done for them and how well it has set them up. My understanding is that around eight per cent of their intake is international students. This gives it a very broad platform to continue and to overcome the challenges that perhaps could not have been foreseen, but the foresight of USQ really gave it an advantage coming into this.
I return to the point that our economy is opening up. There are brighter days ahead. In 2017 our university sector revenue was almost $38 billion. I think this addresses some of the concerns raised by the previous speaker. While COVID-19 has challenged the usual modes of operation for many institutions, I'm confident we will see them return to a level that meets or even beats the prepandemic benchmarks. At present, TEQSA's cost-recovery levels are very low, at around 15 per cent of total costs.