CTH Bill for Refunds of Charges and Other Measures for Education Providers Awaiting Assent
Tuesday 2 March 2021 @ 8.42 a.m. | Legal Research
On 11 November 2020, the Education Services for Overseas Students Amendment (Refunds of Charges and Other Measures) Bill 2020 (Cth) (‘the Bill’) was introduced to the House of Representatives by the Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts ('the Minister'), Mr Paul Fletcher. The Bill was passed by the House of Representatives on 18 February 2021. Subsequently, on 25 February, the Bill was passed by the Senate and is currently awaiting assent.
The Bill seeks to amend the Education Services for Overseas Students Act 2000 (‘the ESOS Act’) in two main ways:
- To allow the Secretary to refund charges paid to the Commonwealth under the Education Services for Overseas Students (Registration Charges) Act 1997, in special circumstances from 1 July 2021, and
- To amend the definition of ‘course’ in the ESOS Act, with the intention of allowing overseas students to access certain types of education and training without requiring registration under the Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students (‘CRICOS’).
In his second reading speech in the House of Representatives, the Minister said that overall, the Bill will “reduce red tape, simplify the regulatory environment and create flexibility to respond to special circumstances with regulatory relief."
Background of the Bill
The Bill was introduced in response to the effects of COVID-19 on the international education industry in Australia. The Minister stated that international education is Australia’s fourth largest export, with the industry contributing $40 billion dollars to the economy and supporting approximately 250,000 jobs in 2019. However, border closures and other restrictions have hampered the ability of international students to either return to Australia to continue studying after travelling home, or travel to Australia in the first place to begin their studies.
Under the Education Services for Overseas Students (Registration Charges) Act 1997, education providers must pay to the Commonwealth an Annual Registration Charge (ARC) and Entry to Market Charges (EMC). The ARC charges consist of a $1,505 base fee, a $10 charge per overseas student, a $115 charge per course by location, and other charges depending on whether the provider has had sanctions imposed on it. The EMC charges must be paid in the first three years of a provider’s registration, and involves an initial charge of $8,676, followed by second and third charges of $5,784 and $2,882 respectively. The challenges faced by international education providers brought about by COVID-19 have resulted in financial loss, which is estimated by Universities Australia to total $16 billion by 2023.
Schedule 1 of the Bill proposes to reduce costs for international education providers given the declining numbers of overseas students since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, by allowing refunds of ARC and EMC charges in special circumstances. The Bill provides no definition of such circumstances, but the Minister, in the second reading speech, details that circumstances “characterised by unexpected events or situations … creating undesirable or anomalous outcomes that could be improved or remedied by refunds of charges” would generally be included.
The proposed definition of ‘course’ in Schedule 1 Part 2 of the Bill outlines specific courses of education or training which fall under the ESOS Act, and therefore are subject to the CRICOS requirements. Certain courses may then have the potential to be deemed exempt by the Minister responsible for international education from registration with CRICOS. The Minister suggested that low cost courses and those which are short in duration do not need to be subject to the extensive CRICOS requirements, such as “first aid and barista courses, responsible service of alcohol, hygienic food preparation, infection control and construction white cards”.
While the proposed amendments are intended to address current COVID-19 pandemic, the amendments are also intended to establish a framework for the quick response to any similar crises for the sector that may arise in the future.
Effect of the Proposed Amendments
In the Bill’s second reading speech, the Minister noted that the Bill “will enable education providers to provide access to a wide range of supplementary courses, including short duration courses and microcredentials for overseas students” and will “create opportunities for Australian education providers to expand their business and boost the availability of skilled workers”. All of this, the Minister added, will increase “the attractiveness of Australia as a study destination”.
The Minister emphasised that an amended definition of ‘course’ would mean that should overseas students want to upskill in areas which supplement their education, increase their employability, or better their welfare while studying in Australia, they can do so without the need for registration with CRICOS. The Minister noted that this will “reduce the regulatory burden on education providers”, while at the same time, supporting and protecting international students while they study in Australia.
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Education Services for Overseas Students Amendment (Refunds of Charges and Other Measures) Bill 2020 (Cth), second reading speech, bills digest and explanatory memoranda available from TimeBase’s LawOne service