Thursday, 18 February 2021
Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Provider Category Standards and Other Measures) Bill 2020; Second Reading
I thank all senators for their contributions to this debate. The Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Provider Category Standards and Other Measures) Bill 2020 will amend the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Act 2011, known as the TEQSA Act, to facilitate implementation of the recommendations of Emeritus Professor Coaldrake AO's Review of the Higher Education Provider Category Standards. It will also make a number of other amendments to the TEQSA Act and the Higher Education Support Act 2003 to simplify the structure of the Higher Education Standards Framework (Threshold Standards), to guarantee that higher education students will have future access to their student records, even if an institution ceases to operate, to protect the use of the word 'university' in Australian internet domain names and, finally, to confirm that higher education providers can use Indigenous student assistance grants to assist prospective as well as existing Indigenous students. The bill also demonstrates the government's commitments to the needs of students, employers, higher education providers and the wider community through the creation of higher education standards that support a diverse and high-quality education sector and underpin the reputation and quality of our world-leading universities.
I would like to thank the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills for its consideration of the bill and of the minister's response to its questions. I also thank the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee for its consideration and inquiry report and welcome its recommendation that the bill be passed. In response to the committee's comments, in particular at paragraph 3.93, where a student has transferred to a new higher education provider, the government considers it is reasonable to assume there is an implied consent to access academic records from a previous provider. Indeed, these records will be needed to justify graduating the student in the new provider's name. The government notes the comments and additional recommendations from both Labor and Greens senators. As requested by the Scrutiny of Bills Committee and as recommended by the opposition, the explanatory memorandum has been updated to include the minister's response to the Scrutiny of Bills Committee.
On other matters raised, the government has accepted the view of key stakeholders that retaining a category with the title 'university college' is important to both the reputation and aspiration of high-quality, independent higher education providers. A category of this name has been part of the Australian higher education sector since at least 1935 when New England University College was established, which, of course, became the University of New England. So, while it wasn't specifically recommended by the review, it is a reasonable and appropriate response to the review.
The Labor Party's call for additional resources for TEQSA to administer the new provider category standards is, in the view of the government, unwarranted. As those opposite would be aware, the need for TEQSA to assess research quality is not new. The new research quality benchmarks will, however, provide clarity to both TEQSA and institutions on the quality of research required to both achieve and maintain university status. The government considers that the appropriate place for those benchmarks to be specified is in the threshold standards legislative instrument, along with all other thresholds and baseline requirements.
TEQSA's consultative process to develop guidance on how it will assess the benchmarks will provide a further opportunity for universities to contribute their ideas on factors and measures that should be considered and how different disciplines should be assessed. There's no need to specify, indeed, that TEQSA take a variety of factors into account, as the Greens suggest, as that is actually the only way that such a threshold can be assessed. Different providers will have different evidence to offer.
Again, I thank all senators for their participation in this debate. I commend the bill.