I want to thank all Members for their contributions to this debate.
When I introduced this bill, I encouraged everyone in this place to use this opportunity to have their say on the Australian Universities Accord Interim Report.
I’m pleased to see how many Members took up that invitation and I thank them for the quality of their contributions.
Because this is important.
We have a big challenge ahead of us.
Today 36 per cent of the workforce has a university degree.
The Accord team estimates that by 2050, that number could jump to 55 per cent.
If that’s right, that means over the next two and a half decades, the number of people at university would increase significantly.
And the Accord team tells us that to meet that skills challenge we need more Australians going to university from groups that are currently under-represented in higher education.
Students from our outer suburbs and the regions.
Students from poor backgrounds.
Students with a disability.
And Indigenous students.
It’s a big challenge.
And the measures in this bill take the first steps towards meeting it.
The bill delivers on priority recommendations two and three of the Accord Interim Report.
It removes the punitive “50% pass rule” and replaces it with stronger support for students.
This rule has seen too many students forced to leave university before they had a fair crack at it.
And far too many of those are the very students the Accord team says we need to be getting into university.
We need to help students succeed, not force them to quit.
And that’s what this bill does.
It puts in place requirements for a Support for Students Policy which every university and provider must have to help spot the students who are struggling and give them the support they need.
A consultation process on the content of those policies is currently underway and will be completed before this bill is debated in the Senate in October.
I have instructed my Department to have the draft Guidelines amendments prepared for release prior to that Senate debate.
At the end of the year the Accord team will provide a final report which will address a number of key issues flagged in the interim report, including the former Government’s Job Ready Graduates Scheme.
But the Accord team have singled out the 50% pass rule which is part of that Scheme and have recommended that it go now, because of the impact that it is having on disadvantaged students.
Students like the ones the Member for Gippsland spoke about in his contribution – regional students who relocate for university and, to use his words, “might not necessarily excel in the early days of their career”.
Mr Deputy Speaker, this not about stopping every student from ever failing a subject.
This is about not cutting off students unfairly when they are struggling and can be helped.
It’s about supporting them by identifying them early and connecting them to the help they need.
That might be check-ins from academic staff, and targeted course support.
It might be access to trained academic development advisers who can help a struggling student identify what’s holding them back.
Or proactively offering “special consideration” arrangements where a provider is aware of a significant life event for a student.
I won’t pre-empt the outcome of the consultation process on the final content of the Support for Students Policy Guidelines amendments but we want all universities and providers to really engage on providing appropriate student support.
What we heard in the Senate Committee on this bill last week is that many universities already have these kinds of policies in place.
The Support for Students Policy requirements will make sure that appropriate policies apply to all universities and providers.
The other priority recommendation implemented in this bill is expanding the demand driven system to all Indigenous students.
Previously that system has only applied to Indigenous students in regional and remote areas. This bill expands it to take in metropolitan areas as well.
It means that all Indigenous students can access a Commonwealth Supported Place and a HELP loan if they meet the entry requirements for a bachelor’s degree – other than medicine – at a Table A university.
We know that the number of Indigenous students at our universities grew with the introduction of the demand driven system. And by expanding it, the Department of Education estimates that we can double the number of Indigenous students within a decade.
What a difference that would make.
This won’t close the gap. Not on its own.
As I told the Parliament yesterday in Question Time, about 45 per cent of young Australians have a uni degree today and only 7 per cent of Indigenous Australians do.
If this legislation works, that will help increase that from 7 per cent up to 12 per cent within a decade.
There’s a lot more we need to do to close the gap.
But it’s a start.
These are the two priority recommendations delivered in this bill.
As I said when I introduced the bill, the other three priority recommendations in the Accord Interim Report are also being implemented by the Government.
The panel recommended we increase the number of university study hubs.
We are doubling them – from 34 to 68.
Up to 20 more in the regions, and for the first time up to 14 in the outer suburbs.
The Suburban University Study Hubs will be established in outer suburban areas without a significant physical university campus, and where the percentage of the population with university qualifications is low.
These hubs will provide spaces to support students, including those from low-socio-economic backgrounds, Indigenous students and people with disability.
On Sunday, the Department of Education released a consultation paper seeking feedback on the design of the new suburban university study hubs and I encourage participation in that process, which is open until 2 October.
There will be further consultation and engagement leading to a competitive application process to establish suburban university study hubs in areas with an identified need for additional higher education support.
And we will soon be announcing the first round for the new Regional University Study Hubs.
This is a really important initiative.
Bringing university closer to where students live will encourage more people who otherwise might decide not to go to university at all to give it a crack.
In response to priority recommendation four, the Government is extending the Higher Education Continuity Guarantee into 2024 and 2025.
And a working group is already underway on the fifth of the Accord panel’s priority recommendations.
That is – that the Federal, state and territory governments work together to improve university governance.
1. Ensuring that universities are good employers.
2. Ensuring that university governing bodies have the right expertise.
3. Making sure that universities are safe for students and staff.
That last area of focus is particularly important.
Making our universities safe.
It’s a duty our universities owe to all their students and staff on every campus.
The working group has representatives from each state and territory. That’s important because each jurisdiction is going to play a role in addressing this problem.
And the working group includes an expert in the prevention of and the response to sexual assault and sexual harassment – Ms Patty Kinnersly, the CEO of Our Watch.
She is bringing her expertise in governance, health and prevention to the working group.
The group has already held two meetings and I encourage our universities to continue to work with us on this very important task.
The working group is also engaging with student groups like End Rape on Campus, STOP and Fair Agenda.
I want to thank the Members from the cross-bench who spoke in support of this bill, particularly in this area.
To the Member for Indi, who spoke so inspiringly of the positive impact of university hubs in her electorate.
The Member for Fowler, who shared with the chamber her mother’s belief in the power of education – a belief underlined by her own experience as a refugee.
The Member for Curtin, who welcomed the bill and its support for first year students who might struggle with university.
The Member for Mackellar, who had this to say:
“Starting university can involve significant adjustment for students, especially those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds who have never been in an environment like university before and who don’t have the family financial resources to fall back on. These are the very students whose participation in tertiary education we should be fostering, rather than impeding.”
And I want to thank the Member for Warringah, who said of the Demand Driven changes:
“Access to higher education has many positive flow-on effects on broader First Nations families and communities, as well as individuals, embedding generational accessibility to tertiary education.”
I thank the Government Members, so many of whom have taken this opportunity to discuss not only this bill but the impact that education has had on their lives and on the lives of the constituents they represent.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I want to welcome the Member for Barker’s confirmation that the Opposition will facilitate passage of this bill and his commendation of it to the House.
And I want to welcome the contributions from Members like the Member for Nicholls, who spoke about five Indigenous women who achieved PhD places at the University of Melbourne. Here’s what he had to say:
“They completed those, and some of those Indigenous women have told me that when they were in year 9 at school the thought that someone would call them ‘Doctor’ one day never occurred to them. It’s great, and I really believe in encouraging Indigenous people who, as with all of us, are ready to go to university to be supported. I’ve seen some really good outcomes in my patch. I couldn’t be prouder of those women who did that, and I’m also proud of the University of Melbourne for making it happen.”
I thank the Member for Gippsland too, for his contribution on the importance of education in the regions.
“As much as there are economic barriers that we need to deal with in this place through things like the tertiary access allowance and supporting disadvantaged students to give them the opportunity to go to university, there is also a challenge, for those of us who live in rural and regional communities, to make sure we’re doing everything we can to build aspiration amongst young people.”
The Government will oppose the second reading amendment offered by the Member for Bradfield.
But I’m hopeful that we can work together on getting this bill through the Parliament efficiently so that we can start helping the students whose lives it will improve.
I’m also hopeful that we can work together on implementing some of the other work the Accord team have set out plans for.
On improving university governance.
Making our campuses safer.
But also in taking the next big steps once the Accord team has delivered its final report.
There will be great opportunities in that report to shape the future of higher education in this country.
Reforms that will give more young Australians a crack at getting a university education.
For now, I again thank the Members for their contribution to the debate on this bill.
And again, I commend it to the House.