Domestic students in a deregulated higher education market should have the same protection from fly-by-night operators as international students, Shadow Higher Education Minister Senator Kim Carr has warned.
“The Government will court disaster if it fails to ensure that a proper regulatory framework is in place before scores of new entrants rush to claim government funds,” Senator Carr said in an address today to the Australian Council for Private Education and Training in Sydney.
“I’m concerned that the Abbott Government hasn’t spelt out what measures, if any, it will take to protect domestic students and to ensure that quality private providers are not undermined by unscrupulous operators coming into the market.
“We would not want to revisit the era before 2009, when unsavoury practices caused overseas media and students to question the quality of an Australian education.”
Fragmented and ineffective regulation had allowed criminals to operate shopfront degree mills and purported universities out of diving shops, whisky wholesalers and post office boxes, he said.
Senator Carr said he was acutely concerned that the Abbott government’s plans for deregulation came at the same time as it was halving the budget of the independent national regulator, the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency, and dismantling its quality assessment role.
For this reason, Labor had initiated a Senate inquiry into the proposed TEQSA legislation, he said.
“Today, the higher education sector faces a new round of deregulation. The mistakes of the past must not be ignored.
“Poorly regulated, or unregulated, markets allowed charlatans to flourish, tainting the reputations of genuine educators and threatening Australia’s international education industry.
“Quality is the key to our international reputation. It’s our most precious asset.”
Senator Carr said it might be necessary to provide domestic students with the same protections as international students, such as the Tuition Protection Service.
However, the Abbott Government had given no indication of how it might deal with regulating a fully deregulated higher education sector.
“This Government's plans, if realised, would represent a seismic shift in the way this country functions.
“We are entering a brave new world — a world we did not vote for, and still cannot see in any detail.
“A brave new world, moreover, that looks curiously akin to the failed experiments of the Cameron Government in the United Kingdom.
“I think we can be forgiven for some misgivings.”
THURSDAY, 22 MAY 2014