Legislation that will ensure Australian students can get the best higher education in the world was introduced into the House of Representatives today.
The Higher Education and Research Reform Amendment Bill 2014 contains reforms announced in the 2014-15 Budget to expand opportunity and choice for Australian students.
For the first time in Australian history, Commonwealth financial support will be provided to all those studying higher education diplomas, advanced diplomas and associate degrees, as well as those studying bachelor degrees, with all registered higher education institutions, whether in the city or the bush.
Minister for Education the Hon Christopher Pyne MP said the Abbott Government is determined to ensure Australia’s higher education system is not left behind.
“This historic Bill gives effect to some of the greatest higher education and research reforms of our time,” Mr Pyne said.
“This Bill will spread opportunity to more students, including disadvantaged and rural and regional students, equip Australian universities to face the challenges of the 21st century and ensure Australia is not left behind intensifying global competition and new technologies.
Mr Pyne said and an additional 80,000 students per year will be supported by 2018.
The Bill also establishes a new Commonwealth Scholarship scheme to which universities will contribute $1 of every $5 they receive from additional revenue. This will increase access for disadvantaged students across Australia.
“Students will not have to pay a dollar upfront for their course because they will have access to the HECS Higher Education Loan Programme,” Mr Pyne said.
The Bill also removes loan fees for undergraduate students for FEE-HELP and VET FEE-HELP; ensures graduates will only begin repaying their HELP debt when they are earning a decent income; and provides a fair interest rate on HECS HELP where the Government lends to students at a rate that broadly reflects the cost of Government borrowings to fund their student loans.
“The amount of funding the Government provides through HELP loans is going to double over the next few years. In 2017 we will be lending students $10 billion.”
“The Government’s measures will result in a much fairer situation. In 2016 higher education students - who benefit from having tertiary qualifications - will be contributing, on average, around 50 per cent of the cost of their higher education,” Mr Pyne said.
“Australian university graduates on average earn up to 75 per cent more than those who do not go on to higher education after secondary school. Over their lifetime graduates may earn around $1 million more than if they had not studied at university. It is only fair that graduates pay an equal share of their costs.”
As part of the higher education reform package, the Government will invest $11 billion over four years in research in Australian universities, including $139 million for the Future Fellowships scheme and $150 million in 2015-16 to continue the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy.
Mr Pyne said the Government’s changes will give Australian universities the freedom and autonomy to work to their strengths, be internationally competitive and manage economic and social changes to the best of their abilities.
“The Government will support students studying a wider range of higher education qualifications at TAFEs, private universities and private higher education institutions.
“Students will enjoy improved teaching and learning from higher education institutions offering innovative and creative courses to compete for students’ interests. Students will be able to choose from a wider range of courses and will have better information to help them make decisions about where and what they will study.
“The passage of the Bill will spread access and opportunity to higher education to more Australians, including disadvantaged and rural and regional students.
“Its passage is essential for the future prosperity of our nation,” Mr Pyne said.