Senate debates

Thursday, 18 February 2021


Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Provider Category Standards and Other Measures) Bill 2020; Second Reading

9:31 am

Photo of Kimberley KitchingKimberley Kitching (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Provider Category Standards and Other Measures) Bill 2020. Labor will be supporting this bill before the Senate today. This legislation makes a number of sensible changes based on the recommendations of Professor Coaldrake's independent Review of the Higher Education Provider Category Standards. Labor welcomes efforts to simplify provider categories and make the threshold standards for universities simpler and clearer to use. We should also welcome the strengthening of research requirements for our universities. We should always be pushing to improve our world-class research efforts. I can tell the chamber that in Victoria, for example, there are actually more researchers per square metre than in Boston. Everyone always thinks that Boston is the research capital of the world, but it's actually Melbourne, around the Melbourne university precinct.

Labor does, however, hold some concerns over the practical effect this bill may have on the education sector, and we call on the government to ensure that these changes will not jeopardise the reputation of our world-class university system. With this bill, the minister has also partly ignored Professor Coaldrake's expert recommendations. This bill expands the role of TEQSA, the higher education regulator, but provides no additional resources. Further, while Professor Coaldrake recommended that the term 'institute of higher education' be used for non-university providers, the government is instead proposing the term 'university college'. Labor shares concerns raised by the university sector that the use of the term 'university' could create confusion and allow private providers to present themselves as universities without being subject to the same strict standards for teaching and research and that this would represent a risk to vulnerable students. Universities Australia told the Senate committee on the matter:

As we have said, we would prefer the university college category not be used to describe things that did not conduct both research and teaching.

The NTEU further said that a different term should be used instead of 'university college', citing their concerns about the way that research quality is specified. There was a minority report written by Labor senators on the committee, and in that minority report we recommended that any reference to 'university college' should not be included in the regulations and should be replaced with 'institute of higher education', as was the full intention of recommendation 1 of the Coaldrake review. We encourage the government to ensure relevant regulations reflect this.

Much of this bill concentrates on research standards. Excellence in Research for Australia remains the best means of judging performance against standards. It is the responsibility of the Australian Research Council to ensure that ERA is not diminished by gaming or rorting. It is the ARC's responsibility to ensure that ERA remains fit-for-purpose, and that should be the focus for the current ARC review into ERA.

Given the limited research funding that is available, it is important that the national interest is pursued by ensuring excellence-in-research effort in the development of key national priorities and industries. While the government has promised short-term relief to the crisis through its $1 billion research fund for 2020-21, there is no long-term strategy to deal with our universities' funding crisis. Spreading limited research funding too thin and lowering our research standards will only endanger Australia's international reputation.

Labor does support the Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Provider Category Standards and Other Measures) Bill 2020. We know the Liberals, this current federal government, really have underfunded Australia's world-class university sector. At the end of last year there was a deal done in this chamber with Centre Alliance which hiked up fees for thousands of students, many of whom will be now paying more than double. I myself was the recipient of quite a classical education and I think it is incredibly important to maintain that Socratic method, to maintain critical thinking, in our universities and in the students we produce in this country. That kind of learning is very important in order to have a civil society and to ensure that our civilisation, our Western liberal democracy, is maintained.

When I look at the cabinet of this government, every single member of that cabinet went to university. We want to ensure that all children can have the same opportunity to go to university. The proportion of people in this parliament who have received a tertiary education would be far higher than the average in the community, and I think we all deserve, and all children deserve, that opportunity. Under the job-ready graduates legislation, students will have their fees increased to $14,500 per year, doubling the cost for thousands of young people. That means people studying the humanities, commerce and communications will pay more for their degrees than doctors and dentists.

We're in the depths of a recession, as we know. Senator Hughes, Senator Carr and Senator Ciccone, who are all here, are Victorian senators. Our state just came out of a lockdown last night. When you walk in the CBD of Melbourne, what you know is that it has been pretty badly hit and that, as a country, while there is economic recovery, there are a lot of people who are still suffering. Youth unemployment has gone through the roof, rising by 90,000 people in recent months alone. The demand for university places has surged. In New South Wales, twice as many people have applied for university this year than last year. Job prospects are weak, so the choice for many people will be between waiting in the dole queue and getting an education. Year 12 students have persevered through incredible uncertainty in the last year. In fact, in Victoria, a lot of children attended very little school at a physical school last year. So the last thing we should be doing now is making it harder and more expensive for children to get an education and get into university.

We on this side have been urging the federal government to finally step in and help universities to save jobs. Since then more than 17,000 university staff have lost their jobs around the country, with thousands more to come. University Australia forecast 21,000 job losses in coming years. What we need to do and what this government need to do is step up to ensure that these job losses cease and are as minimal as they can make them. They've done nothing to stop these job losses. In our fourth-largest export industry, the Prime Minister has shown very little interest in the thousands of university staff losing their livelihoods or the communities that depend on their jobs. The federal government has actually excluded public universities from JobKeeper. The rules have been changed to ensure that those employed at universities don't qualify for JobKeeper.

When I think about regional universities, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic is going to be devastating upon them, and is in fact already so. Universities support 14,000 jobs in regional Australia. We're talking about the academics, tutors, admin staff, library staff, catering staff, ground staff, cleaners, security—all of these people in regional towns depend on regional universities for their jobs. All of those people, remember, have families. They're all trying to make ends meet. We're relying on our brilliant universities and their researchers to find a vaccine for COVID-19, but this government has done very little to protect their jobs.

Our record on universities is good. The last Labor government opened up additional universities, giving an additional 190,000 people a higher education. That is what we should still want. That is what this government should want. We boosted investment from $8 billion in 2007 to $14 billion in 2013. Under these policies we saw a new diversity in universities. Because of Labor's policies, the number of students from poorer backgrounds was up by 55 per cent, Indigenous student numbers had jumped by 89 per cent, enrolments by students with a disability had more than doubled and enrolments by students from country areas had grown by 48 per cent. These are the kinds of goals that should be driving any government's education policy, and they're the aspirations that will continue to define Labor's policies at the next election. We support the bill.

9:41 am

Photo of Mehreen FaruqiMehreen Faruqi (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise on behalf of the Greens to speak on the Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Provider Category Standards and Other Measures) Bill 2020. This bill seeks to make changes to the TEQSA Act to implement recommendations of the provider category standards review undertaken by Emeritus Professor Peter Coaldrake. The bill will facilitate the overhaul of higher education provider categories and the standards to which higher education providers are held.

The government claims the main goals of the bill are to raise standards and simplify the processes for universities to follow in order to meet those standards. Other proposals in the bill to are to ensure prospective First Nations students are eligible for student assistance grants, give TEQSA the ability to regulate undergraduate certificates, make changes to provider registration, take control of student records when an institution shuts down and ban the inappropriate use of the word 'university' in domain names. While the Greens will be supporting this bill, we are concerned about some of the proposals from the government about what will be included in the eventual regulations provided for by the bill and about the government's continued use of framework bills to bypass parliamentary scrutiny.

There is a lack of clarity in the bill about factors TEQSA must consider when determining research quality and the extent of the powers delegated to the minister and TEQSA. We oppose the government's stated intention to use the title of 'university college' as a category for high-performing non-university higher education institutions in the forthcoming instrument. The extent of the delegation of decision-making power to TEQSA and the minister in this bill is not proportionate and neither is it appropriate. The standards by which we judge our universities and the research they produce should be scrutinised by the Senate. The Greens do not share the Education and Employment Legislation Committee's view that the extent of the delegation of decision-making power in the enabling legislation is proportionate or appropriate and agree with stakeholders who have expressed concerns about this.

While we acknowledge commitments from the department and TEQSA to consult with key stakeholders in the development of the regulations, we echo the comments of the Queensland University of Technology in their submission to the committee inquiry into this bill. They said:

… it is surely the Senate's prerogative to consider all sides of a complex argument and exercise its legislative authority, when a significant regulatory change is on the table that has the very real potential to be materially consequential to the management and perception of the Australian tertiary sector as a whole.

At the very least, the primary legislation should set clear guidelines for the establishment of threshold standards in the regulation to ensure appropriate parliamentary oversight and legislative boundaries.

The Greens share concerns expressed by the National Tertiary Education Union with respect to the lack of clarity in the primary legislation about how threshold benchmarks of research quality will be developed by TEQSA. At the moment, proposed benchmark standards appear to suggest that Excellence in Research for Australia outcomes will be used to determine quality. They don't say much else. I note that ERA is currently under review and that many academics and other stakeholders do have concerns about transparency in regard to the methodology used to assess outcomes, particularly in the humanities, arts and social sciences. At a time when the humanities are under sustained attack by this government, it is particularly important to ensure the standards used to judge the quality of HASS research are fair and can properly evaluate cross-disciplinary research. I acknowledge TEQSA's assurances that a matrix other than ERA outcomes will be used to determine quality; however, this commitment should be included in the primary legislation, rather than being left to the discretion of the minister and the government agencies. I will move an amendment in the committee stage to ensure that that can happen and to make sure that, in developing the regulations determining the quality of research, we can actually include that. TEQSA must take into account a variety of qualitative and quantitative factors and specify what they are and why they have been chosen.

As the committee report identifies, many submissions and witnesses were opposed to the government's proposed use of the category title 'university college' for high-performing, non-university higher education providers. I share those widely held concerns that using the term 'university college' risks inaccurately redefining what it is to be a university. It is inconsistent to hold that the conduct of research or a certain quality and quantity of research are fundamental features of a university and yet to also enable providers which are not research active to brand themselves with the word 'university'. Recommendation 9 of the provider category standards review begins with the statement:

The essential purpose of regulating the nomenclature of institutions via the Higher Education Provider Category Standards is consumer protection.

It is entirely foreseeable that a university college category could cause confusion amongst prospective students about the standing of a given institution.

The government has not provided a policy rationale for discarding the clear recommendation of the PCS review to title the category 'national institute of higher education'. The prior existence of an 'Australian university college' category isn't a persuasive reason to allow institutions which do not conduct research to refer to themselves using any variation of the word 'university'. Likewise, we do not consider the desire of non-university higher education providers, many of whom operate for private profit, to brand themselves as university colleges. A particularly compelling reason is that it would risk confusion among students and the public and a decline in the perception of university quality. In drafting the instrument, the government should implement the original recommendation of the Review of the Higher Education Provider Category Standards to title the non-university category of high-performing higher education institution as 'national institute of higher education'. I will move a second reading amendment to this effect.

At the recent Senate inquiry into this bill, the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Higher Education Consortium spoke to the goal of a future First Nations university in Australia. They brought to the fore the importance of Indigenous representation in the determination of research standards. They spoke of the need to consider First Nations research and scholarship against appropriate standards which take into account Indigenous knowledge and are aligned with benchmarks of global Indigenous research. Professor Steven Larkin, CEO of the Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education, noted:

There has been a history of telling us that research has been quality and having impacts and outcomes that haven't aligned with necessarily our world view or our priorities.

He went on to say:

The analytical framework—

of research assessment—

tends a lot of the time to be Westernised or orientated. It is almost a subtle form of assimilation in an intellectual space.

Our systems of assessing research quality must ensure that the unique position of First Nations research and scholarship be included in the setting of benchmark standards and that First Nations voices are prominent in the determination of the standards used to assess Indigenous research.

I'll also note the NTEU's advice that the Senate be wary of the potential impact of the increasing focus on short courses and microcredentials on the higher education landscape. We need to be vigilant about the creeping privatisation and deregulation of the university sector and continue to fight for universities as places of public good. Indeed, the Liberals' willingness to throw money at short courses through the budget and JobMaker programs without corresponding funding for meaningful, long-term qualifications tells us everything we need to know about the fragmented, profit-driven future they see for Australian post-secondary education. It is an appalling future that we must resist.

The Greens value high-quality research. It is appropriate to expect high standards of our universities and the research that they produce. The conduct of high-quality research is fundamental to universities, and we should never allow that core aspect of our university system to be devalued or decoupled from teaching.

The Morrison government's cuts to university funding will reverberate through the university sector for years, if not decades. This is a sector already reeling from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and decades of austerity. The paltry amount of new funding for research in the 2020-21 budget will not go anywhere near to covering the funding shortfall caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and years of funding cuts.

To guarantee the future of high-quality research in Australia, it is essential that our public universities are well resourced by the government. University staff should enjoy secure work and good conditions. Social, economic and institutional barriers to diversity and inclusion in university education and the field of academia itself should be knocked down. Our public universities must be fee-free, they must be well funded democratic places of excellence in teaching and research. I move:

At the end of the motion, add: ", but the Senate:

(a) notes that:

(i) there is widespread opposition to the Government's proposed use of the category title 'University College' for non-university high-performing higher education providers, and

(ii) the Government has not provided sufficient policy rationale for discarding the clear recommendation of the Provider Category Standards (PCS) Review to title the category 'National Institute of Higher Education'; and

(b) calls on the Government to implement the original recommendation of the PCS Review to adopt the title 'National Institute of Higher Education' for the category of non-university high-performing higher education institutions when drafting the instrument giving effect to its changes to provider categories"

9:52 am

Photo of Claire ChandlerClaire Chandler (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

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.

10:03 am

Photo of Kim CarrKim Carr (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I might just indicate to Senator Faruqi that the Labor Party will support her second reading amendment and the Greens amendments to the bill. We participated together in the inquiry into this bill, so we're familiar with the terms of engagement. As Senator Chandler indicated, many of the matters that are before us involve technical, non-controversial matters. But, more substantially, there are questions as to the government's claims about this bill, particularly those in regard to the raising of standards in universities, which do require closer examination. This is in the context of this government's approach to universities, which, I say, involves a consistent and systematic hostility, and therefore it's appropriate that we view the claims about the raising of standards with some scepticism. It's claimed that this bill applies to the findings of the Review of the Higher Education Provider Category Standards undertaken by Professor Peter Coaldrake, which reported back in 2019. It's also claimed that the bill will simplify the processes that universities need to follow. It is doubtful whether the bill as it stands will do any of these things.

To understand why, it is necessary to consider how this bill, the Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Provider Category Standards and Other Measures) Bill 2020, works alongside the related bill concerning university funding which passed the parliament last year. It passed in this chamber by one vote, as a result of some of the shifty arrangements entered into with the crossbenchers. Consequent to the bill becoming law, it led to a substantial cut in funding of about $1 billion a year. The link between the funding of student places and the funding of research was also severed. The government provided stopgap funding for one year to provide support for some research projects. Now we have before us a bill that purports to raise university standards, including the setting of revised research requirements, in a context where universities are being asked to do more with less. So we have a bill that appears to confuse the aims of simplification with the aims of enhancing research performance. This confusion, given the continued under-resourcing of the regulator, TEQSA, and the government's long-held goal of encouraging new private entrants to the scheme, puts the international reputation of Australian universities at risk. This is in the context of the government having a persistent war against our researchers, in the name of national security, under the auspices of a government funded company, funded by a foreign government and claiming to be in the interests of defending national sovereignty—namely, ASPI.

The reputation our universities have in teaching, in research, in civic engagement, which is critical to the definition of what a university actually is, needs to be remembered at all times. The bill's changes to nomenclature do not, in fact, conform with the changes that are actually recommended in the review which is said to underpin this bill—that is, the Coaldrake review. So it does raise the question of whether the government's real motive is its declared aim of raising standards or whether the real purpose of the bill, together with the funding changes, is to increase the role of private providers in higher education. Coaldrake's review recommended the existing term of 'higher education provider' be replaced by 'institutes of higher education'. It did not support the use of the term 'university college', which this bill introduced to describe higher performing non-university providers. Is there any wonder that this term creates confusion? Is it reasonable to suggest that maybe that's deliberate? It allows new entrants to the scheme to be represented as universities but without the title of 'university' and without the implications of the terms for standards in both teaching and research. This is why, in the Senate inquiry into the bill, the peak body, Universities Australia, and the National Tertiary Education Union both opposed the use of the term 'university college'. They preferred Professor Coaldrake's term, 'institute of higher education', and Labor senators made exactly the same point in their minority report on the bill inquiry.

In the bill before us, however, the government chose to ignore the arguments of the sector and Professor Coaldrake. The bill introduces the term for the new category of 'university college', which the government claims is consistent with Professor Coaldrake's findings. The government appears to be uncertain about what 'new and improved standards' actually means. There is no generally recognised methodology for determining research quality. The Excellence in Research for Australia metric, which is administered by the Australian Research Council, underlies much of what Professor Coaldrake calculated to be the best way forward. Remember: I was responsible for the introduction of ERA, so it's only natural that I would defend it. But there is a very strong reason why we should defend excellence in research in Australia. The problem is that both TEQSA and the department of education have stated that other metrics might be applied when new entrants have an insufficient quality of research output to meet ERA standards. In other words, they're prepared to reduce the criteria if the new entrants can't measure up. Professor Coaldrake recommended:

… a threshold benchmark of quality and quantity of research should be included in the Higher Education Provider Category Standards.

The recommendation resulted in the draft criteria being recommended by the Higher Education Standards Panel. From 1 January 2030, to be registered as an Australian university, a higher education provider must conduct research that leads to the creation of new knowledge and original creative endeavour in at least three, or at least 50 per cent, of the broad fields in which it delivers courses of study, whichever is greater, or in all broad fields of education in which it has authority to self-accredit, in the case of a university with a specialised focus. The benchmark standards for research are research that is 'world standard', measured using best practice indicators, or research of national standing in fields specific to Australia, in the case of research that is not easily captured by existing standard indicators. The adoption of such criteria, even if it is out by 2030, will have significant consequences.

The Group of Eight noted in their submission to the Senate inquiry that, among the institutions currently registered as Australian universities:

        The University of Sydney, in its submission on the legislation, made the comment that the standards would mean:

        … that some current universities will potentially fail to meet the new threshold due to the lack of research capacity (partly as a result of the impact of COVID-19) or reinforce the fundamental structural flaw in research funding outlined above.

        The department of education, in its submission, stated:

        Analysis of 2018 ERA data suggests that all public Australian universities would meet the proposed initial research quality benchmark …

        They've already got the answers. However, the department did concede that it's arguable that some of Australia's smaller, private universities may struggle to meet these standards if assessed on ERA ratings alone. It seems to me that the standards under this bill are so low that the universities will meet them because of the time lag involved, given that the government has not announced any additional resources that will be available. For me, two questions come forward as a result of proper examination of the detail of this bill: Firstly, is the government confident that the standards that are being proposed are, in fact, sufficiently rigorous? Secondly, what is the point of standards if they are so low?

        The government needs to be aware of the consequences of the failure to maintain quality in higher education, particularly in terms of research. The history of higher education regulation in this country offers numerous examples of the price of failure. The failure in ministerial discretion, delegated powers, inadequate assessment of new entrants to the system and the misuse of title all arose in relation to the University of Greenwich scandal in the early 2000s. Greenwich University was an institution that was established out at Norfolk Island. It had a chancellor who was a convicted embezzler and a vice-chancellor who had bought some titles to the Russian throne. It was allowed to use the term 'university' because the then minister for regional affairs, former senator Ian Macdonald, directed the Norfolk Island Legislative Assembly to approve it. Greenwich University established its own degrees. It had a teaching staff who awarded their own PhDs. And, of course, then they could administer other people's qualifications. It was fundamentally a threat to Australia's international reputation as a quality higher education provider. That was only one of several examples of regulatory failure over the last 20 years, and this bill does not do enough to ensure that such scandals will not be repeated.

        Given the history of regulatory failure, it is a matter of profound concern that the threshold standards are not set out in the primary legislation. The minister has stated that to do so would be an impediment to innovation—an impediment to innovation! It's an extraordinary concept, isn't it? It's an impediment to crooks! This is a perplexing remark at best, since we're given no examples of what he means. Incorporating standards into primary legislation would not prevent changes being made to them, but it would allow a higher level of parliamentary scrutiny and oversight than is possible in delegated legislation.

        The minister has advised that the Scrutiny of Bills Committee had a long period of consultation and has undertaken a review of standards. That shows just how important the standards and their impact on the sector should be. It is a reason for including a requirement for a regular review of the standards in primary legislation. The lowering of standards will undermine Australia's ability to develop research excellence. It will weaken our international research collaborations and make this country less attractive to international students. The application of provider category standards is not an abstract or obscure policy matter; it is not just a technical question. And, in fact, if we repeat the failures of regulatory disasters like Greenwich University or repeat the previous farcical international policies we've seen—new entrants cannot be allowed to dilute the quality or the reputation of Australia's higher education system.

        The government's decision to remove research funding from the allocation of Commonwealth supported places has made the problem even more acute. And so, despite the government's stopgap measure providing extra money for one year, the long-term funding crisis of our research system in this country remains. The spreading of limited research funding too thinly across the system endangers our international reputation. ERA remains the best means of judging performance against those standards.

        The Australian Research Council should do its job properly. I am deeply disturbed that, at the moment, it is not. It should ensure that the ARC focuses on ensuring that it is able to build the research capability of this nation and protect the reputation of our researchers and their place within Australia's international research contribution. (Time expired)

        10:18 am

        Photo of Perin DaveyPerin Davey (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

        I rise to speak on the Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Provider Category Standards and Other Measures) Bill 2020. Before I get into the details of the bill, I do want to pick up on an issue that was raised by my colleague Senator Chandler. It's not an issue; it's actually a success story. It is a success story of this government's commitment to higher education and reform.

        Because of changes that this government passed last year, we are already seeing the results of those changes. The ABC reported this week that the enrolments in agriculture courses in the university sector are booming, and this is good news. This is good news not just for our agricultural sector but for our regional communities and for our young people, because they can see a career path in agriculture. They can see a future. My friend and former colleague Professor Jim Pratley said it's great because agriculture is no longer 'plough and cow'. I thought that was a great quote! Agriculture is all-encompassing. It is now high skill, high technology and a real career option for young people who don't want to spend their futures locked in an office working nine to five. They want the challenge, they want the excitement and they want the variety that agriculture provides.

        Agriculture, in particular, is so exciting. There are so many innovations happening in agriculture at the moment. And it is all encompassing. You can work in agriculture and IT. You can work in agriculture and climate change. You can work in agriculture and product innovation. So I am very pleased that, as a result of this government's reform, we are already seeing real outcomes on the ground, and these are practical outcomes. And I am sure that we will see further results from our reform in higher education: more job-ready graduates and more people going through the higher education system and coming out the other side actually qualified to work and ready to work. I think it is fantastic and it is proof also that our government is absolutely committed to trying to reduce the education gap between regional and urban students.

        Our government will be spending more than $400 million over the next four years, including for more university places for Australian students. The fastest-growing part of that will be in regional universities. We know that, if you learn in the regions, you earn in the regions. We have seen it time and time again. If people go out to the regions and experience regional living, they love it out there. So I'm very proud of our government and the National Party's commitment to regional education. We are increasing the Commonwealth Grant Scheme funding to regional university campuses by 3.5 per cent per annum. Our annual grants for regional universities to enable them to develop research partnerships with other education providers and/or industry collaboration is going to be over $48 million, and that's really important. The industry collaboration part of that is so vitally important, because that is research that will make a difference. It is research that industry knows is needed to fill the gaps.

        We've also got the new Regional Partnerships Project Pool to support activities aimed at young regional school students to increase their participation in university. We've allocated $21 million to establish additional Regional University Centres, and the education and employment committee heard last year from Mr Duncan Taylor, from the Country Universities Centre, just how important it is for people to be able to progress a university course from their home base. We know access to university is one of the biggest impediments for regional people seeking higher education. We're spending almost $178 million from 2021 over four years to support higher education students from outer regional and remote areas who have to relocate to undertake full-time study, and, early this year, we hope to establish a regional education commissioner to monitor the government's regional education strategy and to provide further advice to address the barriers that regional and remote students face to access higher education.

        All of these are critical initiatives that make a difference to the education attainment and opportunities for people who live in country Australia. To complement all of that work, we need this bill to pass. It simplifies university classifications. I always thought a university was a university. Who knew that we had multiple classifications of 'university'? It is common sense to streamline that and just have a single category of what an Australian university is, and to be able to identify the highest quality higher education institutions that don't do research so don't fall into the university category and allow them to be called 'university colleges'.

        This will result in very good outcomes in regional Australia. We all know that, when it comes to education, one size does not fit all. We also know that being able to undertake university-quality research and development, research in particular, is not a simple process. By allowing university colleges to exist, we are allowing people to access high-quality education without also having those increased burdens and allowing our universities to concentrate and focus and be the pre-eminent institutions of research that they are. The university college category will allow a pathway for institutions to grow and develop and, if it is their goal, then progress to becoming a university.

        Another change included in this amendment bill is the ability for students to access their records going forward. The bill also allows universities and higher education providers to use Indigenous student assistance grants not just for existing Indigenous students but also to promote and encourage new Indigenous students. These are all a positive for our university sector and our higher education sector more broadly. It is for that reason that I commend this bill to the chamber.

        10:27 am

        Photo of Tim AyresTim Ayres (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

        As with so many of these smaller pieces of legislation before the Senate, Labor comes to this debate not with a deep hostility to the bill before us, the Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Provider Category Standards and Other Measures) Bill 2020, but a sense of disappointment about the coalition government's approach to higher education and the university sector in total and a deep sense of the inadequacy of the opportunity provided by this bill to do some of the things that it should have done.

        So many of this government's approaches to issues are driven by the bigotry and prejudice of dominant members of its backbench to particular sectors of society. We saw that last night in the passage of a bill that abolished the Family Court of Australia, which has been a mainstay of modern Australia's approach to family law, to treating men and women equally and to looking after the interests of children. More broadly in the area of higher education, because of the prejudice of some, the scepticism of others and the ignorance of the bulk of the coalition backbench, we see that hostility borne out in a legislative agenda that is hostile to the university sector. You only have to listen to the bellowing out during question time, the scepticism towards experts, the hostility to expert advice and research, and the weird muttering about cultural Marxism.

        I've hung around with a lot of Marxists in my life. I've never really known what a cultural Marxist is, but apparently it's a bad thing. It's part of the sneering of those opposite about the university sector as if it is some kind of privileged elite, instead of what it actually is, which is people who have worked hard all of their lives to get the qualifications that are necessary, to have done the actual research based upon the evidence, to have engaged in a battle of ideas, to deliver research that matters, whether it's in agriculture, science, business, commerce, law or, indeed, foreign relations or defence—a whole range of matters that are vital to the future of our country and the communities that we seek to represent in this place, and vital to our national interest.

        Of course, universities also do teaching. That matters to domestic graduates and, as my colleague Senator Davey pointed out, that matters in particular in a regional context. She is right to say that, if you learn in a regional university, you are much more likely than other school leavers to continue to work in the community that you got your higher education in. Universities are of immense economic, cultural, research and teaching and learning benefit to the communities that they are in, none more so than those universities that exist in our regional centres.

        Senator Davey is also correct to point to the vital role of agricultural research in our publicly funded universities. It is a shame, of course, that, under successive governments over the last 30 years, the amount of publicly funded agricultural research in Australia has declined significantly and that the uptake of the private sector of privately funded agricultural research and product development research has not filled that gap. What that means is that, in agriculture, we've got much more short-term research focused on the interests of business, rather than the long-term public research that is required to deliver a long-term benefit for Australian farmers and Australian agriculture more broadly and to anticipate the kinds of threats and the kinds of challenges that our agricultural sector faces.

        The government's legacy in higher education is a disgrace. It will be regional universities that will be the hardest hit. This bill does nothing to develop a stronger policy platform in universities. Regional universities support 14,000 jobs. They are critical to the future development of regional Australia, and they are already reeling from the impact of government cuts. Charles Sturt University has an $80 million revenue decline, a nearly $50 million projected budget deficit and up to 110 full-time equivalent jobs gone in June, second round in September; an estimated $73 million worth of extra debt under the fee changes that this minister has presided over, and 63 per cent of that additional debt will be paid by female students; 48 courses cut, seven revitalised and 61 modified—not modified to make them better; modified to make them worse.

        At the Wagga Wagga campus of Charles Sturt University, there have been cuts to psychology, business, IT and creative industries. Psychology courses have been moved to different campuses or gone online. The Wagga Wagga campus has a proud tradition of theatre. Their community has had to come together to save theatre at Charles Sturt University and, in particular, the CSU Riverina Playhouse. Dr Dominique Sweeney said: 'Creative arts have been slowly wiped out in Wagga over the last 15 years. It feels like we're getting closer to losing it altogether. But we're an integral part of the community. We're not a waste of money.' The response of the local member, Mr McCormack, who as I understand it is still the Deputy Prime Minister, said: 'I would not expect any institution or business to offer services or goods which are not financially viable. In this case, taxpayers' money should not be wasted to support a course which is not adequately patronaged.' Until today I wasn't aware that 'patronaged' was a word.

        He went on to say, 'Psychology degrees and others besides will still be offered online, which will mean students looking to study these degrees will stay in Wagga and look to seek employment here when they complete their degree.' What a mean-spirited, shallow response. The richness of country communities is in no small part due to a capacity—sometimes leveraging off the university system, sometimes leveraging off people in our high schools and sometimes leveraging off the endeavours of local creative arts people—to bring life to country towns. Here we have a federal government delivering cuts that have taken this away.

        In Dubbo, the Bachelor of Education (Early Childhood and Primary) and the Bachelor of Educational Studies have been cut. In Port Macquarie, exercise science and the Bachelor of Human Services have been axed. In Orange there have been cuts to science, and postgraduate sustainable agriculture and courses have been axed. A report on the roundtable meeting with regional universities says, 'Increasing the cost of studying social work, behavioural studies and psychology may have adverse impacts on the rural and regional mental health workforce, and the community.' Mr Gee, in response, said he would take all the issues back to the Nationals party room to get the viewpoint of other country MPs on what their position should be. What a stimulating discussion that must have been, if it ever in fact happened.

        Southern Cross University is in the electorate of Mr Hogan. In fact, I notice Mr Hogan was the only MP who wasn't on the list of who was for or against nuclear power. He often goes missing when the hard questions are asked, Mr Hogan. We saw Senator McGrath there—a long-term proponent of expensive nuclear power stations in coastal areas in Queensland. He's always blowing hard on these issues, particularly when there's a preselection coming up in Queensland.

        Southern Cross University had a $58 million shortfall. Over 25 per cent of students in 2019 were international. There has been no action from the Commonwealth government to deal with this. Job losses across the Lismore, Coffs Harbour and Gold Coast campuses are inevitable. All of these are in tourism-dependent economies, which have been hardest hit by the coronavirus. Staff have voted to forgo a pay rise to try and sustain the financial position of the university. The academic calendar has been changed to a six-period calendar, creating an intensification of work for staff. They are putting an effort into that university to try to sustain as many courses as possible and have closed the Liverpool Football Academy in Lismore. Southern Cross University has the lowest enrolment cap of any university.

        The University of New England, in the area where I grew up, had a $25 million shortfall. Last year, UNE announced a plan to cut costs with job cuts for 218 people, which was absolutely devastating for the country community of Armidale. Have we heard much from the member for New England? Not much. He is one of the characters who are most vocal in their hostility to science and the university sector. In response to the cuts, he said: 'You can't give as much to everyone as you'd like on every issue. If you go down that path, you'll run out of access to credit and there'll be no money to give to universities at all.' I mean, what mumbo jumbo. It makes more sense than many of the things that the member for New England says, I suppose, but indeed it is a very low bar to get over.

        Regional universities should be the future of regional economies. Last year, a survey by the Regional Universities Network revealed that regionally headquartered universities are a driving force in those communities. The University of New England, Charles Sturt and Southern Cross are all members of that group. A study by Nous, who we hear quite a bit about from time to time, and the Centre of Policy Studies into the economic impact on the network showed that universities contributed $2.4 billion to real GDP in regional Australia and created 11,300 jobs.

        Scenario modelling has demonstrated that the greater the investment in regional universities, the greater the benefits to regional Australia—

        said Professor Helen Bartlett, the network chair. I suppose some of these characters on the coalition's backbench would be hostile to her views as an expert as well! She said: 'The Job-ready Graduates legislation'—which made its way through this parliament—'will have a positive impact in the regions through funding for more places and regional research.' If more students are denied places in our universities because of the actions of this government, if more jobs are lost, if more courses are cut, if our approach to the university sector continues in the direction that this government has set us on, it will do irreparable damage not just to regional communities but to the national interests.

        Finally, I might say, nowhere more emblematic is the government's failure in this area than in its treatment of students from overseas. I will never forget the food queues that I saw of foreign students who we should have been looking after. It was a solemn contract really, between Australia and the parents of those young people who've come here for undergraduate or post-graduate study. A solemn contract is, 'We will look after your kids.' I don't know how it is possible for anyone to conceive of their own kids studying in a foreign university being forced into food queues to sustain themselves. But the enormous damage that has been done by the last minister for education, the new minister for education, the Prime Minister and this government to the reputation of Australia's higher education sector and its capacity to do its job on behalf of all Australia will be long-lasting and very difficult to reverse in what I hope is a future Albanese Labor government.

        10:42 am

        Photo of Matt O'SullivanMatt O'Sullivan (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

        I rise today to speak on the Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Provider Category Standards and Other Measures) Bill. I intend, unlike speakers before me, to actually speak about the particular subject of the bill and to really focus on what the Morrison government is intending through this bill, and what we'd like to see achieved to continually improve the university and education sector more generally.

        This government is incredibly focused. Everything that this government, the Morrison Liberal government, does has one identifiable goal—that is, to make life better for Australians. Whether that be lowering the cost of living, making it easier to find a job, keeping Australians safe or supporting the country, as we're doing right now through this once-in-a-century pandemic, the Morrison government stands with and for Australians. That is why we are introducing this bill.

        Working in concert with existing legislation, this amendment will future-proof Australia's higher education system, cut red tape and simplify regulation. This bill complements the other reforms to higher education undertaken by this government, including steps to ensure free speech is protected on campus and adjustments to fee structures to ensure that our universities are training Australians for jobs of the future—for jobs that actually exist and not just jobs that are in the never-never, aren't actually practical and aren't actually going to lead somewhere—jobs that exist and jobs that we're predicting will exist into the future. We are setting Australians up for the very best opportunities in their lives. The Morrison government wants to ensure that we support school leavers, international students and those looking to gain new skills or to re-skill through higher education in Australia.

        Our education system is of course an extremely important pillar of our national economy. Pre COVID, it was one of our largest export industries, with hundreds of thousands of international students enrolled in Australian universities and an increasing number of Australian school leavers enrolling in courses to improve their employment prospects and their horizons. Over 50 per cent of Australians now hold some form of tertiary education, with over 30 per cent gaining their qualifications at university. Nothing is more important to Australia's future than a resilient and diverse economy, and our education sector is both a part of this economy and an enabler of economic diversification. Now, I'm a product of the vocational educational system. I didn't go to university; I completed a trade once I had finished school. I went to Midland College of TAFE and did my electronics servicing training there. Not having gone to university might put me in a minority in this place—

        Senator Sterle interjecting

        Thank you, Senator Sterle. I'll take that. But its benefits certainly do not escape me, because in Australia we certainly bat way above our average. I point to the success in seeing the long history of many students, many people, going through university, and you can think about the research and the developments that have occurred as a result of a highly educated nation. But we owe it to future generations to make tertiary education efficient, robust and effective. This will not only benefit future generations who enrol in courses but answer our obligations to the broader tax-paying public who fund the system.

        This bill will amend the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Act 2011 to implement recommendations of the Review of the Higher Education Provider Category Standards. It will introduce a measure preserving the academic records of students whose higher education provider has ceased to exist. This is very important so there's portability of that record and that information. It will better recognise high-quality non-university providers. This is also an important reform in enabling specialised, boutique and unique providers to get the status so they are able to provide a quality education. Through this bill, we will formally recognise and include the new undergraduate certificate qualification type in the higher education system.

        We'll be making a small number of other adjustments to the legislation intended to improve the regulation of Australia's higher education sector by strengthening the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency registry role. Also, through this bill, we will give effect to an outstanding recommendation from the report of the Review of the impact of the TEQSA Act on the higher education sector, referring to the threshold standards as a single, unified framework. We'll be replacing references to 'Indigenous students' with the term 'Indigenous persons' to provide clarity around the scope of Indigenous student assistance grants. This final change really is just a simple administrative change, referring to an existing definition that is already defined in the Indigenous Education (Targeted Assistance) Act 2000. This definition is the standard legislative definition of 'Indigenous persons' used across the Commonwealth statute book, so it is a very minor change, but nonetheless important.

        The government is confident that our universities will have little trouble in demonstrating the quality and significance of their research against the benchmarks laid out in the threshold standards. The government has ensured that research of national standing in fields specific to Australia is also considered within this benchmark. This will encourage research to and in the national interest and not unfairly penalise smaller, regional universities. Regional universities form integral parts of our regional economies, as they are, among other things, drawcards for younger people who are vital for flourishing local economies. It is of utmost importance that these smaller campuses are considered in any changes to higher education legislation. Having sat on the Senate committee that this legislation was referred to, I'm reassured that the government has undertaken this due diligence. We heard from the regional university sector, and their support of this bill was made very clear.

        I had the privilege last year of visiting the Pilbara Universities Centre. In Western Australia, as Senator Sterle my colleague from Western Australia knows, our population is very much centred down in the south-west corner. Over 80 per cent of Western Australians live in the south-west corner. We have this enormous state that takes up more than a third of the continent and yet our population is centred in that bottom corner. So there is not the ability for communities, towns and cities around the state to establish a university in their own right, because we don't have the sort of scale you see in places in New South Wales and Queensland. But the Morrison government has backed the Pilbara Universities Centre, which is enabling multiple universities—not just Western Australian universities but universities from across the country—to offer courses there in a supported format, in Karratha. Karratha is quite a booming little city. It has city status now. It didn't about 15 years ago. It has grown and it has a great future, with enormous potential going forward. Almost a third of Australia's GDP comes from exports out of ports like Karratha. It's a thriving place. But the Pilbara Universities Centre, run by Susan Grylls, is just a fantastic example of where, through collaboration, through community-driven approaches, you can really see some big change. It's been running now for two years almost and it really is having a significant impact. This bill goes to supporting these kinds of initiatives, supporting regional universities, supporting regional education so that young people don't have to leave and go to their capital city or elsewhere and they can actually stay resident in their home towns, in their home regions, and, importantly, give back once they have finished their studies in that area.

        Universities sometimes face difficulty in adhering to new standards, but these universities are going to be supported, because there is quite a long runway before any kind of enforcement action will be undertaken. There will be support provided to universities, but there is a 10-year runway to enable those universities to put in place the necessary procedures and standards. Then there will be enforcement action if standards haven't been met by that time. This is an extremely generous runway, ensuring that no abrupt changes to our research and education system can occur. I think that ought to provide an enormous amount of comfort to providers, in the understanding that the role of TEQSA is to be supportive and to help shape and guide. With that 10-year runway, there certainly shouldn't be any reason why an organisation couldn't adjust to meet these new standards.

        The bill will facilitate important innovations that will enhance the design of the higher education system, fostering provider aspiration, increasing research quality and all the while increasing regulatory flexibility within the Australian higher education sector. These improvements are needed now more than ever for us to keep producing high-quality graduates and world-class research, even in times of global pandemic and economic turbulence. Perhaps now we will start to see a reduction in taxpayer funding of research of questionable benefit like, for example, the University of Sydney study to work out whether or not having colleagues chatting in an open-plan office creates a noise and affects productivity, which cost taxpayers $405,000. I'm pretty sure employers and businesses can figure this stuff out on their own. We don't need to be spending such large sums of taxpayers' money on these sorts of research projects. Hopefully we'll see, through this, some improvement in that regard.

        Some will attack these amendments as moving the goalposts on universities, but it's simply not the case. These amendments simply clarify already existing requirements for taxpayer funded university research—that is, universities already have a requirement to demonstrate that they undertake research that leads to the creation of new knowledge and original creative endeavour. This requirement, however, is not currently defined, so these amendments will remedy this. Stakeholders have expressed strong support for the direction of these proposed clarifying changes, no doubt.

        Finally, I want to assure Australians that there will be no change to their privacy with TEQSA collecting and holding their records. This change will, in fact, centralise the database for Australians to access their education records. It will mean Australians who attended now defunct institutions will still be able to access their transcripts. TEQSA will undertake a privacy impact assessment as part of its implementation of this measure, and it will ensure that this handling of personal information under the new provisions in the bill complies with the Privacy Act. I think that should provide good comfort to Australians wondering about this. You're not going to have a whole heap of different organisations holding different records. When an organisation is no longer operating, you won't be wondering whether you can still access a record. It will be stored in a central repository, which will have a big impact.

        This comprehensive amendment to our higher education legislation will streamline and improve the sector. It's pivotal to our future economy. It is for that reason that I commend this bill to the Senate.

        10:56 am

        Photo of Marise PayneMarise Payne (NSW, Liberal Party, Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

        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.

        Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

        The question is that the second reading amendment moved by Senator Faruqi be agreed to.