Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (11:39): My question is to the Minister for Higher Education, Minister Tierney. There are approximately 20 000 student accommodation placement places in greater Melbourne, and we do not expect our international students to be coming back at the fulsome numbers that we had in the past. So I am wondering if you could tell me what percentage of international students Melbourne can expect back in our schools and in that student accommodation by, say, the end of next year.
Ms Tierney: On a point of order, President, international students per se are the responsibility of Minister Pakula, not me.
The PRESIDENT: Ms Patten, you can direct the minister to get an answer. Your question was directed to the Minister for Higher Education.
Ms PATTEN: It was, and it was specifically in regard to the student accommodation that is available at our universities in Victoria, obviously with the understanding that international students generally tenant those places.
The PRESIDENT: Minister Tierney, I am looking at Mr Pakula’s portfolios. Can you explain what it would fall under?
Ms Tierney: It is under the trade portfolio.
Ms PATTEN: I wonder if I could reword the question so it is specifically about the accommodation. Minister, I am specifically interested in that accommodation that is available in those universities.
The PRESIDENT: Order! Do you want to direct your question to Minister Pulford? She represents Mr Pakula.
Ms PATTEN: If it is just about the accommodation, is that with Minister Tierney or is that with Minister Pakula?
Ms Pulford: On a point of order, President, we are very happy to try and find the right person to answer the question. It is a little hard to do without having heard the question, so with your forbearance perhaps Ms Patten could ask her question and we could seek a response.
In a general sense, organisations like universities and their accommodation arrangements are not something the government has direct remit over, but we are happy to undertake to follow up or to inquire as best we can in that context. I am sort of guessing where you are going because we do not know where you are going.
The PRESIDENT: Ms Patten, can I ask you, please, to repeat your question? I believe it will be to Ms Pulford, but repeat your question.
Ms PATTEN: Thank you. As I mentioned earlier, there is going to be significant accommodation empty in our universities for the next probably 12 months to two years as more students choose to learn online but also because we will not have our international students.
So my question is: have there been any conversations with the universities about repurposing that accommodation?
Ms TIERNEY (Western Victoria—Minister for Training and Skills, Minister for Higher Education) (11:44): The reason there is hesitation is that international students do fall under the domain of trade, and that is Minister Pakula.
In terms of general advocacy issues in relation to higher education, that is me. In terms of borders and foreign students or international students, obviously those decisions about the opening of borders are very much part and parcel of the federal government’s remit, and of course funding for higher education and general policy settings primarily are the commonwealth as well. But going to the point that you have asked—
The PRESIDENT: Order! I want to hear the minister.
Ms TIERNEY: Going to the question you have asked, Ms Patten, in terms of student accommodation, I meet with the vice-chancellors on a fairly regular basis. We also have a forum that I participate with.
There are also meetings with the department on a weekly basis with the vice-chancellors. At the moment they have predominantly been dealing with the immediate, immediate impacts of COVID and also of course issues around international students and advocacy around that.
In fact I have a meeting scheduled with Minister Tehan fairly soon. The actual specific issue of student accommodation and any possible repurposing has not been an issue that has been raised directly with me at this point in time, but I am happy to have a further conversation with you offline in terms of other things that are happening in the sector.