Monday, 17 August 2009
Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Student Services and Amenities, and Other Measures) Bill 2009
I move Greens amendment (3) on sheet 5736:
(3) Schedule 1, item 5, page 5 (after line 28), at the end of section 19-38, add:
Accountability of expenditure
(6) Each higher education provider must include in each report it prepares for the purposes of section 19-10 the following information in relation to the period covered by the report:
(a) details of amounts collected as student services and amenities fees during that period;
(b) details of the expenditure of such amounts paid to the provider.
(7) Each higher education provider must provide a copy of that information to the department in the form approved by the Minister.
(8) The department must publish on its website the information it receives under subsection (7).
This amendment relates directly to the issues of compliance and monitoring. I mentioned numerous times throughout my speech on the second reading, as did Senator Xenophon and others, that, now that the other two Greens amendments have been unsuccessful, if students are not going to be directly involved in how that money they have put forward is being spent, there needs to be some kind of transparency in how universities will spend this money. This amendment is important for ensuring that. There needs to be some mechanism for allowing the student populace, other universities and the government to know how this money is being spent.
For students, $250 from their pockets at the beginning of the year is a lot of money. We completely acknowledge that. We also believe that we need to fund these student services. We need to ensure that there are good quality services and facilities as well as opportunities for students to be represented effectively. To do that we need to ensure that universities are putting money in the right places—that there is some compliance and there is transparency. I think this is an amendment that the coalition could support because of their concerns about not knowing where the money is being spent and that it may perhaps be spent in areas where it should not be.
This is about building transparency into this legislation—not just allowing universities to simply do what they want and not just allowing student groups, to whom perhaps some of the universities give some of that money, to do their activities just as they want to. There would be some mechanism of compliance here and a bit of accounting of how the money is spent on an annual basis. We would like to see that as part of the compliance mechanisms under the Higher Education Act, which already require elements of the university to comply. In order to ensure that the money collected from students is put in the right places, we want to make it explicit that this legislation is part of the compliance mechanisms that universities have to comply with. If it is not, there is transparency so that students, people within the university, the government or the opposition could pick up the phone and say, ‘Hang on a minute, what’s going on here? Why is this money being funnelled into this area?’ I do not think it will happen, but I think it is a good mechanism. We cannot just take money from students without giving them any guarantee of how it is going to be spent and ensuring transparency and compliance. I think it is something that the coalition really should be supporting.