Education Legislation Amendment (Startup Year and Other Measures) Bill 2023 – Second Reading

Mr CLARE (BlaxlandMinister for Education) (16:32): I thank all members for their contributions to this debate on the Education Legislation Amendment (Startup Year and Other Measures) Bill 2023. As I said in introducing this bill, it will support the development of skills needed to drive the businesses and technologies of the future. It will extend up to 2,000 income-contingent loans each year to eligible students participating in higher education based accelerator programs when it is fully implemented after a pilot program that would start on 1 July this year.

Accelerator programs are where our universities are nurturing startup ideas from concept to commercial application. The programs under this new loan type will build skills in entrepreneurship and connect students with the support, mentorship and facilities that they need to develop their startup ideas. Universities are ideas factories, and these measures will help support our bright young innovators to generate the game-changing ideas and jobs of the future. Places will be prioritised for courses which help under-represented groups to be part of our startup community, among them female entrepreneurs, Indigenous Australians, people with a disability and community-based startups that are working on regional and rural issues.

The bill also amends the Higher Education Support Act to list Avondale University as a table B provider, following its recent registration as an Australian university by the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency, or TEQSA. It also amends the Australian Research Council Act 2001 to apply current indexation rates to funding for the 2022-23, the 2023-24 and the 2024-25 financial years and inserts a new funding cap for the 2025-26 financial year, resulting in an additional appropriation to the ARC of just over $1 billion.

The member for Bradfield raised a few issues in his contribution to this debate on behalf of the opposition. Let me use this opportunity to respond to those. The member for Bradfield said that the underlying purpose of the Startup Year program was very vague. The bill and its explanatory memorandum make clear what the purpose of the Startup Year program is. Section 128B-25 sets out clearly that the Startup Year loans will be available for courses developed by higher education providers which develop a student’s skills, capabilities and connections so that they can build and participate in startup businesses. The member for Bradfield said that it was unclear whether a student who participates in an accelerator course would receive any academic credentials. The bill also makes clear that a key requirement for a course to be eligible is that it must result in the award of a qualification. The member for Bradfield said that it was unclear who would receive the funding from a Startup Year loan. Section 128D-1 makes clear that payments are to higher education providers for providing these courses, as is the case for other HELP loans. It does not, of course, mean that students cannot accept capital investment from a university or another source alongside their accelerator course.

The bill provides for guidelines which will further detail course requirements and the application process for higher education providers. I referred to these during my second reading speech following the bill’s introduction. In particular, as I have mentioned, the guidelines will prioritise course applications which support underrepresented groups. The guidelines will also include requirements for guidance around the management of intellectual property rights for students in eligible courses. As the explanatory memorandum states, the guidelines will be legislative instruments and, as such, will be subject to the usual scrutiny of parliament.

The member for Bradfield also said that it was important that this program be piloted first and that this was a recommendation of the consultation process which we had ignored. It was indeed a recommendation from the consultation process, but not one that we have ignored. As I said in my second reading speech, this will start as a pilot program in July of this year. This is an innovative policy, and it only makes sense if it commences with a pilot program. This will allow us to test aspects of the program design, monitor the success of the program and give universities time to develop their accelerator courses prior to a full rollout in July of 2024.

On the topic of consultation more broadly, this bill was introduced following a broad industry consultation process. An open submission process resulted in 38 submissions. Of those, 24 submitters have agreed for their submissions to be published on the Department of Education’s website, and I directed the Department of Education today to publish those submissions on its website. This is something that the shadow minister for education has raised with me, and I think she is right that we need to make sure that all of this information is available to the Chamber and to the parliament to help us in our deliberations both in this Chamber but also in the Senate as it considers this bill over the course of the next few weeks. There are another 14 submissions where we don’t have in-principle approval for publishing from the people we have consulted with, but I have asked my department to consult with them and seek their permission to publish their submissions as part of this process. All of that feedback informed the content and the development of this bill.

On the day this bill was introduced to the House, Universities Australia issued a media release welcoming it. This is what they said:

Universities welcome the introduction of legislation to establish the government’s Startup Year program, bringing much-needed financial support for university entrepreneurs a step closer.

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“Unfortunately, financial barriers sometimes hinder the progress of these innovations and their transformative flow-on effects, including the creation of new jobs and economic opportunities.

“Universities support the Albanese Government’s commitment to breaking down these barriers and supporting the commercialisation of new ideas and solutions to the challenges and opportunities facing our nation.”

…   …   …

I have also had a discussion with the Shadow Minister for Education about the opposition’s proposal that this bill be referred to a Senate committee for review, and I support that. I think that that would be a wise and prudent thing for us to do. It will give a further opportunity for us to pressure test this bill and see what further amendments might be recommended or suggested to the parliament that could improve this bill. I would hope that that process might occur in April while the parliament is not sitting so that, when we return for the budget sitting, we can consider the bill in the Senate and any amendments in the House, and that the legislation would be ready to commence in July of this year. The measures in this bill deliver on our election commitment and further the government’s dedication to supporting our higher education sector. I commend the bill to the House.