Thursday, 18 February 2021
Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Provider Category Standards and Other Measures) Bill 2020; Second Reading
It is a pleasure to rise today in support of the Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Provider Category Standards and Other Measures) Bill 2020. The bill proposes to amend the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Act 2011 and will enhance the system design, provider aspiration, research quality and regulatory flexibility within the Australian higher education sector. The bill that we're debating here today will also implement the recommendations of the review of the Higher Education Provider Category Standards, which was completed in 2017 by Emeritus Professor Peter Coaldrake AO.
Professor Coaldrake recommended amending the provider category standards to clarify and streamline the regulatory framework to ensure it is fit for purpose for all stakeholders, including students, the regulator TEQSA and current and future providers. The Morrison coalition government accepted all 10 of the review's recommendations with a key recommendation proposing to simplify and enhance the categorisation of higher education providers in Australia.
A key recommendation from this review has reduced the number of domestic university categories from three down to one—being an Australian university—and has reduced the number of overseas university categories from two down to one—being an overseas university. In addition, a new university college category has been created to better recognise high-quality, non-university providers. The university college category will introduce a mark of quality and better signal diversity and differentiation in the non-university sector. It will provide an opportunity for the highest quality providers to operate in regional and thinner markets without the burden imposed by the need to undertake research that other university categories might have. The new categories also clarify how the quality of research activity will be assessed in the Australian university category, giving more certainty to institutions about the expectations of research quality.
The bill we are debating here today will also make provisions to protect the word 'university' from being misused in internet domain names. This is a really important provision to be included. This will limit the ability of an organisation to mislead the public by claiming to be something they are not. Use of the word 'university' in an Australian internet domain name will require ministerial consent. This measure is consistent with the existing provisions that protect the use of the word 'university' in company and business names. Where a domain name has been issued with 'university' somewhere in it and there is no record of the minister having provided consent, the purchaser will be asked to seek that consent retrospectively. If consent is not provided, use of the domain name will be suspended by the domain administrator. As I said, fundamentally, this is about ensuring that the public is not being misled as to what may or may not be considered a university. These changes align with similar provisions that protect the use of the word 'university' in company and business names.
The Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Provider Category Standards and Other Measures) Bill 2020 also will include reference to the Australian Qualifications Framework qualification type 'undergraduate certificate' in the definition of 'higher education award'. It will allow the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency, TEQSA, to extend the period of a provider's registration or course accreditation more than once, which will help TEQSA manage its regulatory workload better and provide low-risk providers with additional flexibility, including in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and allow review by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, the AAT, of a decision by TEQSA not to change a provider's category, if this was requested, to ensure that there is an appropriate review and appeals mechanism in place.
The Morrison coalition government understands that higher education plays such an important part in Australia's future, helping to educate and upskill the next generation of workers for life in the workforce. This bill that we're debating here today is just one part of our broader policy agenda in this space. It is so important right now that we ensure that Australians are being trained with the skills that our community and our country need now and in the future. History has shown us that the make-up of the workforce changes over the years, so we need to be continually aware of what skills the workforce requires and ensure that our higher education providers and our skills and training providers are equipping the next generations with the right skills for the workforce that they will be entering. This is something I spoke about in my first speech in this place.
We need to ensure that growth occurs in the areas of greatest need and demand. Therefore, I think it's incredibly prudent that our higher education institutions deliver training in these growth areas of the economy. In September the Morrison government announced $326 million of funding for an additional 12,000 supported university places from this year. In October last year the parliament passed the government's Job-Ready Graduates legislation, which will grow the number of university places for domestic students by 100,000 in 10 years. More young Australians are going to benefit from the opportunity to get a university education.
It will also make degrees more affordable in areas of expected job growth. To encourage students to tailor their studies to learn the skills that will be in demand, students will pay less to study teaching, nursing, agriculture, maths, science, health, environmental science, information technology and engineering. I was scrolling through social media yesterday—at a time when news did appear in my social media feed; apparently, it doesn't this morning—and I saw an article from the ABC talking about how more young Australians—and it was on ABC Hobart, so it was particularly focusing on young Tasmanians—are looking to study agriculture as a result of the changes passed by the coalition government last year. I think that is just fantastic. Coming from Tasmania and knowing the strong agricultural background of our state, I am so pleased to see that more young people are looking to agriculture as a potential career path. Not only is it a great industry to work in, and I know many who work in the agriculture industry; it also ensures that we are getting more young people out into the regions, where agriculture plays such an important part in the local economy. It encourages young people to live in regional areas. I was very lucky to grow up in a regional area. I know what an amazing experience that was, so I hope many young Australians, in particular many young Tasmanians, will now choose to pursue agriculture as a career path and, hopefully, live in some of the more regional spots in Tasmania. It really is a beautiful place to have a life.
The Morrison coalition government has, of course, put in place other mechanisms to develop the workforce of the future, as I alluded to earlier in talking about how important it is that we equip our young people with the right skills for the jobs of the future. Not specifically in the higher education industry but more broadly, we've provided $2.8 billion for the Supporting Apprentices and Trainees wage subsidy. This is helping employers to retain their apprentices and trainees, and we know that that is more important than ever during the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. We've created the $900 million National Priorities and Industry Linkage Fund, established to enhance engagement between higher education and industry, with a strong focus on STEM industries. We've provided $7 million to subsidise short courses in areas of national priority. As I said, the Morrison coalition government has always been committed to ensuring that our young people have the appropriate skills for the future workforce. Given what has happened in the last 12 months with the COVID-19 pandemic, we know just how important it is that those linkages are supported and young people are provided with good options for study that will link them to a job in the future. These education and training opportunities, I think, will make Australians, particularly young Australians, job ready and help our country bounce back from the global pandemic.
The Morrison coalition government is continuing to work hard to deliver better education and training outcomes for Australians to ensure they have the skills they need to successfully find a job, succeed in the workforce and contribute to the future of our country, because there is no greater dignity than the dignity of work. The Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Provider Category Standards and Other Measures) Bill 2020, which we are debating here this morning, will reduce red tape and simplify the regulation and administration of Australian higher education. I think anything we can do to reduce red tape in the sector will only increase the ability of our higher education and training sectors and our education sector more broadly to respond to the needs of the future. As I've said many times already in this contribution, that is now more important than ever. I commend the bill to the Senate.