I fear I may be, unintentionally, partly responsible for a minor piece of protectionism currently on its way through federal parliament.
The story started last year when I was researching for a paper on private providers of higher education (like many of my research projects, it has fallen victim to the daily bombardment of urgent tasks). These providers have been assisted by the extension of the FEE-HELP loans scheme, which lets their Australian students borrow money on similar terms to HECS students in Commonwealth-subsidised places at public universities.
However, the Higher Education Support Act 2003 requires that in order to be eligible these providers must (among other things) have their ‘central management and control in Australia’. This was always a strange provision, since there could be many benefits from having foreign higher education providers set up in Australia.
Indeed, not very long after the Act came into force the government itself came to the same conclusion, but instead of changing the law passed a special amendment permitting the students of the Adelaide campus of the Pittsburgh-based Carnegie Mellon University to get FEE-HELP. In the process, it added another strange ideological qualification, with the provision reading:
Carnegie Mellon University, a non-profit organisation established under Pennsylvania law. (emphasis added)
But I digress. In the course of researching the ownership of private providers, I came across two that had, since becoming eligible for FEE-HELP, been taken over by foreign companies. In the case of one of them, the government’s own higher education institution website is advertising this as a positive:
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