House of Representatives Speech-Higher Education Support Amendment (VET FEE-HELP and Providers) Bill 2009

It is a privilege to be able to speak today in support of the Higher Education Support Amendment (VET FEE-HELP and Providers) Bill 2009, which is part of a large range of measures this government is taking in every sector of the education system. I was sorry to hear the previous speaker refer to the ‘so-called’ education revolution, because in truth there is an education revolution led by the Rudd Labor government, which is being felt in every sector of the education system throughout Australia. We have reforms taking place in early childhood, in the primary and secondary systems and in the higher education system. What we see in this bill is assistance directed at the VET system to provide fee help. Of course, VET FEE-HELP at present assists students who are studying diploma, advanced diploma, graduate certificate or graduate diploma courses by providing a loan for all or part of the tuition costs.

It is a privilege to be able to speak today in support of the Higher Education Support Amendment (VET FEE-HELP and Providers) Bill 2009, which is part of a large range of measures this government is taking in every sector of the education system. I was sorry to hear the previous speaker refer to the ‘so-called’ education revolution, because in truth there is an education revolution led by the Rudd Labor government, which is being felt in every sector of the education system throughout Australia. We have reforms taking place in early childhood, in the primary and secondary systems and in the higher education system. What we see in this bill is assistance directed at the VET system to provide fee help. Of course, VET FEE-HELP at present assists students who are studying diploma, advanced diploma, graduate certificate or graduate diploma courses by providing a loan for all or part of the tuition costs.

The bill is targeted at certain higher level skills and, as such, it is limited to these advanced diplomas. Under current arrangements, there are no provisions that expressly limit a student’s access to assistance under the scheme to those VET units of study which are essential and directly relevant to the completion of the student’s VET course of study. As such, it is possible that a student may be entitled to VET FEE-HELP assistance for a unit of study even where that unit of study is additional to, and not directly required for, the completion of the course. What these amendments do, and it needs to be recognised that they will be particularly useful, is ensure that access to VET FEE-HELP assistance is appropriately targeted to those VET units of study which are essential in that they are required to be undertaken by the student in order for the student to receive the relevant award for that VET course of study.

This amendment has particular relevance for my home state of Victoria because it relates to the Australian government decision to support the Victorian government’s VET reform agenda by allowing for the extension of the VET FEE-HELP assistance scheme to subsidise diploma and advanced diploma students in Victoria. As of 1 July this year, a greater number of VET providers will be offering access to VET FEE-HELP to their students, increasing the risk that funding may inappropriately support students undertaking non-essential VET units of study. So what we have with these legislative amendments is a targeted provision which will ensure that the support for fees is directly targeted to the purpose for which that assistance is created.

The bill also makes some minor technical amendments to provide for appropriate protections for the minister and the Commonwealth in the event that a VET provider no longer offers any eligible VET courses, is no longer appropriately established under a law of the Commonwealth or a state or territory, or no longer carries on business or has its central management and control in Australia. These amendments mirror those made to HESA in 2007 in relation to higher education providers and, therefore, ensure consistency between the FEE-HELP and VET FEE-HELP assistance schemes.

These reforms to an important part of the education structures of our country are consistent with the reform agenda of the Rudd Labor government, which is to look at every single part of the education system in this country. The fact that we are focusing here on vocational education and training for the future is consistent with the understanding that we have that people find different pathways to their educational ends. We are ensuring that all pathways will be supported. I commend the bill to the House.