I rise to make some remarks regarding the Higher Education Support Amendment (No. 1) Bill 2011. As people would be aware, FEE-HELP is available to eligible full fee paying higher education students and VET FEE-HELP is available to eligible full fee paying and certain state government subsidised VET students studying in higher level education or training, and provides a loan for all or part of a student's tuition costs. I think we all know in this chamber how important it is that we do continue to support our students in disadvantaged areas where they need that assistance and particularly in regional areas.
VET FEE-HELP was introduced under the former Howard government in 2007 recognising there was a need to encourage students to take up higher level skill qualifications by reducing the financial barriers associated with study. I am sure that colleagues would agree that over time the recognition of the VET sector has indeed increased and does play a very significant role in educating our young people today.
The bill will introduce a number of streamlining measures to the Higher Education Support Act 2003. This will streamline the process for the providers, improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the program. There has been some concern in the sector that the difficulty in being able to access the program has acted as a disincentive. As I understand it there have only been a relatively small number of providers that have been part of this program and this piece of legislation aims to improve that accessibility. The coalition supports the bill, its effect being to improve the process and allow for a significant increase in quality education providers who apply for and are approved as providers under the act to be able to offer that FEE-HELP and VET FEE-HELP assistance.
I also note in the legislation the addition of the new requirement that bodies corporate seeking approval as either a higher education provider or a VET provider are 'fit and proper' for that purpose, which provides the appropriate level of scrutiny. I note also that the minister must specify, by legislative instrument, the criteria which must be taken into account in deciding whether a person is a fit and proper person before the body is approved. I think there is, on both sides of this chamber, the recognition that there was some need for streamlining this legislation. The efficiency that we will see as a result of the introduction of this legislation will make the process more workable and will allow more of those providers to be able to access this program which in turn is going to benefit the students. The priority for the coalition is to ensure that students are able to access that help as and when they can, and this legislation will certainly improve the efficiency and streamline the process in order for that to happen.