Tuesday, 3 August 2021
Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (Charges) Bill 2021, Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Amendment (Cost Recovery) Bill 2021; Second Reading
I thank Senator Patrick for his very impassioned and interestingly linked contribution. I did not realise that our submarine procurement strategy was so integrally linked to TEQSA and agency cost recovery charges—but I see it clearly is after that contribution! I rise today to speak on the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (Charges) Bill 2021 and the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Amendment (Cost Recovery) Bill 2021, and I will stick to the topic. Our higher education sector is a crucial industry for our economy. It services around 1.5 million students at any given time across the country, 31 per cent of whom are usually attracted from international communities. That was pre COVID. Pre COVID, the sector revenue was close to $40 billion. I do note, despite what I have heard from some contributions from across the chamber today, that media is reporting that not all universities are in the negative. We have seen some universities actually reporting better than expected results this year, which is a positive. It just goes to show how agile our university sector has been in responding to the COVID crisis.
In part, the attraction for international students to study in Australia is the consistency and quality of our higher education sector. It is also due to the establishment of TEQSA. TEQSA was established as a result of the Bradley review conducted in 2008 that examined the future direction of the sector, its fitness for purpose and options for reform. The agency that was established in 2011 now registers regulated entities as higher education providers and accredits their courses of study. It conducts compliance and quality assessments and reaccreditation of assessments and courses. It provides advice and makes recommendations to the Commonwealth minister responsible for education on matters relating to the quality and regulation of higher education providers. It cooperates with similar agencies in other countries and it collects, analyses and interprets information relating to quality assurance and the practice of quality improvement in our higher education sector. TEQSA is crucially focused on quality assurance and student outcomes. It ensures that our higher education providers meet minimum standards, promote best practice and improve the quality of our higher education sector.
But this work comes at a cost. Currently the majority of that cost—around 85 per cent—is borne by our taxpayers. Let us remember that not every Australian either has the opportunity or necessarily wants to attend a tertiary education provider. Certainly I'm very grateful for those who choose, instead of going to university, to undertake a trade and help keep our economy going and keep our houses serviced by electricians and other essential service providers. I'm very grateful for those people. I don't see why those people, through their taxes, should have to pay for the privileged few to attend our higher education providers over and above the vast quantities of money that our government provides. Over $20.4 billion from taxpayers in financial year 2021 is going to support our university sector. I thank taxpayers for that. But I do not see why our taxpayers should pay for every nut and bolt that goes through the university sector. That is why it is crucial that we have some cost recovery—