Pace of IHEA’s Advocacy Continues – Message to Members from IHEA CEO Simon Finn

The pace of IHEA’s advocacy and sector collaboration continues as we head towards the end of 2021.

The end of the year is always busy in higher education with governments seeking to complete their legislative program and prepare the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) statement. This year it’s busier than ever as we advocate for government supports essential to the ongoing viability of Australia’s high-quality independent higher education sector.

While we welcome the rising optimism for international education recovery next year, 2022 will be a tough year for independent institutions. Rebuilding student enrolments and staffing levels will begin in 2022 but it will take several years to recover fully. We’re concerned that TEQSA Cost Recovery charges and the return of the FEE-HELP Loan Tax are both scheduled for implementation on 1 January 2022 – just six short weeks away. TEQSA cost recovery will apply big cost imposts on institutions in 2022 creating upward pressure on tuition fees while return of the 20 per cent FEE-HELP Loan Tax will drive big increases in student debt for students pursuing their education and career goals at independent institutions.

This week unemployment has been reported at 5.2 per cent. CPI was reported at 3 per cent for the year to September, with many analysts projecting cost of living rises during 2022. On top of this, Australia is in the grip of labour and skills shortages with experts estimating between 600,000 and 1,000,000 students and skilled migrants will be needed over the next 18 months.

IHEA’s view is that that given this economic situation, this the wrong time to be reintroducing an education tax on students and imposing new regulatory levies on institutions. The Australian economy needs greater higher education incentive and stimulus, and removal of barriers to skilling, reskilling and upskilling Australia’s current and future workforce.

During September IHEA commissioned a State of the Sector analysis of independent higher education which included research into the impacts of COVID-19 both current and forecast, and the policy settings and supports essential to support the sector’s ongoing viability.

Australia’s independent higher education institutions were unequivocal in identifying reforms that are essential to energising higher education, supporting students and growing the national economy including:

  1. Deferring implementation of TEQSA Cost recovery;
  2. Abolition of the inequitable and unfair FEE-HELP Loan Fee; and
  3. Entrenching the Undergraduate Certificate in the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) to stimulate rapid skilling, re-skilling, and upskilling opportunities for the Australian workforce.

IHEA continues to advocate these reforms to the Morrison government, and we welcome the access we have had to Ministers Tudge (Education), Birmingham, (Finance) Frydenberg (Treasury) and Robert (Skills). We know there is considerable support in government to energise higher education, remove barriers to participation and address labour and skills shortages. The December MYEFO statement provides an important opportunity for government to set the path to achieve this in 2022. IHEA members can access our submission to Minister Tudge here.

Recovery of Australia’s international education industry is central to the growth of the post COVID economy and independent providers will be critical to ensuring sector recovery. Consider the following:

  1. In 2019-20, the international education sector contributed $37.5 billion in exports.
  2. Of this, $25.4 billion, or 68 per cent, came from the higher education sector.
  3. In 2019, 51,600 (or 15 per cent) of the 337,000 international higher education students (EFTSL) were enrolled in the independent sector.
  4. The independent higher education sector contributes approximately $2.64 billion to export revenues.
  5. For 2019-20, this would make independent higher education Australia’s 21st largest export.

IHEA members are eager to rebuild their contribution to the Australian economy. We are heartened by the possibility that student visa holders who are vaccinated with a recognised vaccine will be able to enter Australia without a quarantine requirement in time for the 2022 academic year. We know there are substantial issues to resolve including vaccination verification protocols and domestic vaccination rates, but it is exciting that industry recovery will likely commence at pace in 2022.

We’re working closely with the federal government, state jurisdictions, travel agencies, quarantining entities, and universities to ensure our members can benefit from the opening of borders at the first opportunity. In early December we will be delighted to join with IHEA members to welcome the first arrival of international students through the NSW pilot project. IHEA members will be the first independent higher education institutions to bring international students into Australia since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic! We look forward to that exciting development in the beginning of the new year.

In early 2022, will also have the next Australian federal election and it looms as a critical opportunity for major parties to commit to tangible reforms that will deliver a direct benefit to independent providers and their students. At the 2019 election IHEA launched the Students First platform which outlined essential reforms for the next term of government. We’re delighted with the success of this platform with the achievement or substantial progress of all reforms. The four pillars of the 2019 Students First platform and their success can be outlined as follows:

  1. Abolition of FEE-HELP Loan Fee (partially achieved - reduced to 20% and 21-month exemption).
  2. Expand access to CSP funding to independent sector (achieved).
  3. Introduction of a Domestic TPS (achieved).
  4. Access to QILT for all providers (achieved).

We are currently preparing our 2022 Students First platform that will outline essential reforms for independent sector students and our members to energise Australian higher education, tackle skills shortages and drive economic growth during the next term of Australian government. I know that the best ideas for reform come from IHEA’s members, and we need your advice! If you have any suggestions for reforms to include in our 2022 Students First election platform, please contact me directly.

There’s always a lot going on at IHEA and I particularly thank you for participating in the member networks and leaders groups which guide our advocacy, policy submissions, member services, and sector impacts analysis. As always please don't hesitate to contact me or the IHEA team at any time you need advice, support, or assistance or to give feedback or suggestions for future activities.

Simon Finn, Chief Executive

Independent Higher Education Australia (IHEA)

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