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Speech: Overseas Students legislation

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 15 Sep 2011

Education Services for Overseas Students (Registration Charges) Amendment Bill 2011, Education Services for Overseas Students Amendment (Registration Charges Consequentials) Bill 2011, Thursday 15 September 2011

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (13:05): I rise to speak on the Education Services for Overseas Students (Registration Charges) Amendment Bill 2011 and the Education Services for Overseas Students Amendment (Registration Charges Consequentials) Bill 2011. In 2010 overseas full-fee paying students contributed $18.5 billion in export income to the Australian economy. That is certainly an impressive number and, to listen to Senator Mason, it sounds like he gets excited by these figures.

Senator Mason: I do.

Senator RHIANNON: I acknowledge that. Education services is our largest services export industry and every sector of education, from secondary schools to English language intensive courses for overseas students, from VET to the higher education sector, benefits from the enrichment and diversity international students bring. They provide an important social capital for Australia, whether they stay to keep directly contributing to our country's prosperity and wellbeing or whether they return home, providing a bridge for us to connect with our region and with the rest of the world. As Professor Glyn Davis, Vice Chancellor of the University of Melbourne, noted in a 2009 article in the Campus Review, education is a:

… barometer of our relationship with Asia…and an indirect measure of Australia's reputation internationally.

and

… strong education flows reflect wider flows in ideas, people and trade.

PricewaterhouseCoopers Melbourne Institute Asialink Index 2009—a multi indicator measure of engagement between Australia and Asia—confirms that:

International education and conference attendance correlates with tourism and migration in the short term and investment and trade statistics in the years to come.

With the violent attacks on Indian students during 2009, and the many tragedies that occurred there, Australia's reputation as a safe and inclusive country for overseas students was severely damaged, as we know. Claims of disregard for the quality of education available in Australia for international students quickly followed. Evidence of education agents misleading students about their courses and work opportunities surfaced. And unethical providers linking education with migration outcomes led to a growth in students willing or misled into looking for a smooth pathway to permanent residency.

It is important to make clear that these series of events were not indicative of the excellent quality of experience provided by the large majority of our education providers, with Australian Education International's International Student Survey 2010 Overview Report confirming generally high levels of satisfaction with their Australian education experience. However, as we know, there was a series of events that revealed a certain neglect by Australian governments to properly oversee the care of those young people outlaying substantial costs to receive a quality education by Australian providers.

This bill before us, and its consequential bill, implements some of the recommendations of the 2010 education services for overseas students review by adopting a risk assessment and management approach to the registration and monitoring of education providers who deliver courses to international students. It also seeks to improve processes, ensuring the accountability of international education and payable by all Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students, registered providers of courses to overseas students, with a new fee structure: the annual registration charge. This is made up of a base fee, a charge per student enrolment, a charge per registered course and the risk profile of the providers. Providers routinely offering courses of less than 13 weeks may count those enrolments as a quarter of an enrolment charge, where currently they count as half a charge for courses less than 26 weeks.

Low-risk providers, such as those with an established history of quality provision, will pay less, with the majority of our education providers to pay less than the existing charges. Higher risk providers or those with a history of non-compliance will pay more—with fairness provisions allowing the opportunity for those providers to appeal prior to being charged higher charges. The charge is designed to recoup the administrative costs of the registration process and the extent of supervision, compliance or enforcement activity needed to ensure that only reputable providers are permitted to operate.

The entry to market charge replaces the current initial registration charge payable by education providers seeking their first CRICOS registration and those whose registration has been cancelled or expired. It is higher than the previous charges and is payable for each of the first three years of CRICOS registration, diminishing in cost over those three years. Exemptions from these charges are allowed through regulation for certain providers with low-risk profiles and quality controlled processes, such as established universities and TAFEs. Overall there will be a reduction of about $81 million in costs to the sector as a whole, with most existing international providers seeing their annual registration charge reduced.

There are still issues that need to be addressed, however, to ensure international students in Australia receive the education and training for which they have paid and a quality experience in all aspects of their time here. Lower quality services relating to standards of accommodation and careers advice still need to be addressed, and, as for most Australian students, the cost of living for students is a struggle. Their housing, their cost of living and their transport needs have to be addressed.

The Greens support these bills, as part of a suite of legislation that provides greater care and responsibility in looking after students, by adopting a risk assessment of providers in the registration process. 

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