New bill aims to cut red tape around international student payments to boost competitiveness of Australia’s multi-billion dollar education industry
Oct 14, 2015 | News
New laws governing the way international students pay for their tertiary courses will go before parliament today.
The laws relax the requirements for Australian education providers to keep prepaid tuition fees in a designated account - so giving them greater flexibility on how and when they can access funds.
Education Minister Simon Birmingham said the amended laws would enhance the global competitiveness of Australian educators and were developed following lengthy consultation with the sector and with international students.
They come amid growing concern at the quality of Vocational Education and Training (VET) providers in Australia and just two days before the Turnbull Government introduces legislation to crack down on unscrupulous VET providers.
The National Tertiary Education Union argues the watering down of the Education Services for Overseas Students (ESOS) Act weakens important safety net provisions introduced in 2012 specifically to protect international students.
“Removing the requirement that providers keep prepaid fees in a ‘designated’ account until students commence their studies, would literally be giving unethical providers an invitation to ‘take the money and run’ before students even arrive in Australia,” said National President Jeannie Rae.
“Proposing, as this amendment Bill does, that individual agreements between providers and students spelling out study periods and tuition fees no longer be required, is like arguing that mortgage contracts no longer need to specify the size of the loan, the interest rate and the schedule of repayments.
“If Senator Birmingham is genuinely concerned with protecting the rights of students and the reputation of Australian tertiary education, rather than pursuing an ideological deregulation agenda, he should not proceed with the ESOS Amendment Bill.”
Mr Birmingham dismissed NTEU concerns as “disingenuous”, saying education providers would still be required to pay a tuition protection levy for each student.
“Those funds are managed by the government’s Tuition Protection Service, the only such scheme in the world enshrined in legislation,” he said.
“The Tuition Protection Service will continue to place students in alternative courses or provide refunds where a provider ceases to operate, just as it does now. Nothing in the Bill changes these unique safeguards.
“Removing a requirement on some providers to keep prepaid tuition fees in a designated account allows them greater operational flexibility, but does not change their obligations to protect students and pay their fees through the TPS.”
He said the reforms would also allow students greater choice in when they paid their tuition so they could choose, for example, take advantage of favourable exchange rates or make a single upfront payment.