Senate debates

Monday, 9 August 2021


Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (Charges) Bill 2021, Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Amendment (Cost Recovery) Bill 2021; In Committee

9:14 pm

Photo of Linda ReynoldsLinda Reynolds (WA, Liberal Party, Minister for Government Services) Share this | Hansard source

I thank Senator Carr for those questions. I'll deal with them in turn. First of all, generally, the claims by Senator Carr are complete rubbish. They have been promoted by many of the speakers in this chamber and are simply wrong, particularly in relation to the funding of higher education. The fact is this: since 2019, total funding to the higher education sector has actually increased, from $17.3 billion to $20.4 billion in 2021. That's a 17 per cent increase in just two years. This includes an additional one-off boost of $1 billion to the university research program—Senator Carr asked about the research program—to maintain the capability of Australian research during the COVID-19 pandemic. That research funding did cease in the 2021-22 budget, but it was a one-off payment and that was very, very clear.

If any of those opposite had any mathematical skills at all, they would know that when you don't include additional one-off funding then these decreases they keep crying over disappear, because it's a one-off payment—like so many other payments we have made to get this nation through COVID-19. The figures in the budget papers also exclude the Higher Education Loan Program, the HELP outlays. Including HELP outlays shows that the government's overall funding to universities in 2021 was in fact $20.4 billion, which is an increase of 37 per cent since we came into government—when those opposite were no longer in government, when they were booted out by electors. But no matter how many times we say the facts—and they are very clearly facts; they're in the budget papers—no matter how many times we repeat this, those opposite do not listen and they keep peddling what are clearly lies.

Senator Carr asked a number of other questions, and I'll happily deal in turn with all of those. Firstly, in relation to why the bill is needed and how it is going to be funded, these bills give effect to a 2018-19 budget measure to implement cost recovery arrangements for TEQSA in line with the Australian Government Charging Framework. The framework links the cost to those who generate the need for them—in this instance, higher education providers. These costs are currently borne by taxpayers, and we believe it is only right that those who are receiving the services pay for them. So the subject of these bills is the creation of an annual charge to recover the costs of TEQSA's risk monitoring and regulatory oversight activities. Senator Carr talked about the cost and made incredibly overblown claims about the cost and the impacts. The annual charge for providers will be between $25,000 and $35,000 per annum once fully implemented. However, it will be phased in over three years. Providers will pay 20 per cent of the charge—that is, between $22,000 and $35,000 a year—in 2022 and 50 per cent in 2023, transitioning to 100 per cent in 2024.

Senator Carr also asked about who it is applicable to. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, providers only paid application based fees. The amount a provider paid depended on their specific circumstances, but, in broad terms, a university would pay around $15,000 a year and a non-university provider would pay between $5,000 and $85,000. The price rise is broad because providers without self-accrediting status pay to have their courses accredited, and the price increase is based on the number of courses themselves to be accredited.

Senator Carr also wanted to know how the charge will be calculated. I can confirm to the Senate that the annual charge will cover the cost of delivering six regulatory activities. The first is concern management and resolution, the second is risk assessment, the third is inquiries, the fourth is business support, the fifth is guidance notice and the sixth is stakeholder communication and engagement. The consultation paper itself proposed that the cost for delivering concern management and resolution activities be proportionally distributed amongst providers, factoring in each provider's size and their student enrolments. For the remaining regulatory activities the consultation paper itself proposed that the cost be evenly split amongst providers. At TEQSA's estimates, the cost of delivery is the same regardless of provider size. For example, a risk assessment is a database process that takes the same effort for a provider that has 20 students as it does for a large university with 40,000 students. And that to me, and to the government, seems eminently sensible.

The last issue that Senator Carr asked about is what impact these new arrangements will have on students. The answer is: exactly nil. The annual charge will be charged to registered higher education providers. This is not a cost for students. It is up to the higher education providers to determine how they cover this quite modest cost. Maximum student contributions for Commonwealth supported places are determined by the government, and they will not increase.


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