The Prime Minister’s daughter was hand-picked to help lobby a federal government regulator for course accreditations worth potentially millions of dollars on the basis of her “merit” as a student, a prestigious Sydney design college has confirmed.
Frances Abbott, the middle daughter of Tony Abbott, was attending the Whitehouse Institute of Design on a secret $60,000 scholarship, the existence of which had been withheld from other students, and even senior staff at the college.
Leaked documents obtained by New Matilda reveal that late last year, Ms Abbott was one of just a handful of students from more than 400 put forward by Whitehouse to be interviewed by assessors from the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency. TEQSA is the federal government regulator responsible for approving or denying an application from Whitehouse to launch a new Masters of Design course, and the re-accreditation of existing courses.
That application was ultimately successful. Ms Abbott has since moved to Melbourne to enroll in the course, securing a job at Whitehouse’s Melbourne campus while she waits for it to begin later this year. Ms Abbott appears to be the only one of 74 employees with no defined role, according to leaked documents.
Whitehouse Chief Executive Officer, Ian Tudor has strongly rejected any suggestions of impropriety.
The revelations come at an awkward time for the Abbott Government, with the recent federal budget set to cause university fees to sky-rocket, and substantially advantage private colleges like Whitehouse.
New Matilda revealed earlier this week Ms Abbott paid just $7,500 for the $68,000 degree. Details of the benefit were never disclosed by Prime Minister Abbott on the parliamentary Register of Members’ Interests. Les Taylor - chairman of the college, a close family friend of the Abbott’s and a prominent Liberal Party donor – helped organise the scholarship by pursuing Ms Abbott to study at Whitehouse, rather than a competitor.
In the latest twist, assessors from TEQSA visited the Sydney campus of Whitehouse in November 2013 - two months after the Prime Minister won office - to view the facilities, and to interview staff and students selected by Whitehouse.
Ms Abbott was one of eight students from a body of more than 400 chosen to be interviewed.
An internal Whitehouse document obtained by New Matilda, titled ‘TEQSA Staff & Student profiles’, provides assessors with detail about their experiences at the prestigious design school.
In her profile, Ms Abbott heaps praise on the Whitehouse Institute and describes her experience at the school as “life-changing”.
“This year has been a whirlwind experience for me,” Ms Abbott wrote.
“I thought that it was going to be life changing and it has been, although for all the reasons I didn’t expect.
“Through completing my major project, I am beginning to understand what I want to do. Many opportunities have emerged, and doors have opened.
“I am currently reflecting on my creative practice, and looking forward to the future – including working with the many talented creative I have met in the past few years.”
New Matilda makes no assertion that Ms Abbott's comments were not genuine, nor that she was not a student of merit. However the Whitehouse Institute declined to comment on the appropriateness of the Prime Minister's daughter being put forward, nor would it comment on claims from Whitehouse insiders that assessors were not informed Ms Abbott was attending the design school on the secret $60,000 scholarship.
Chief Executive Officer of Whitehouse, Ian Tudor, yesterday told New Matilda that he was confident the students were chosen on the basis “of merit”.
“As part of its re-accreditation process with the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency (TEQSA), the Whitehouse Institute of Design was required to put forward a number of students to show their portfolio of work and be interviewed about their experience at the Whitehouse,” Mr Tudor said.
“Eight students were selected, one of whom was Frances Abbott.
“All the students were selected based on the merit of their portfolio of work and their ability to articulate their perspective.
“We are confident that we selected the best students and any suggestion that the Institute has acted inappropriately is completely unfounded.”
A spokesperson for TEQSA has strongly refuted any suggestion the normal processes associated with accreditation have been subverted.
TEQSA is currently the subject of a federal government review, and legislation has been introduced to Parliament by Education Minister Christopher Pyne aimed at stripping the agency of much of its powers.
“TEQSA is an independent Agency. TEQSA rejects the suggestion that its processes and final decisions are influenced by government pressure,” a spokesperson told New Matilda.
“The final decision on the accreditation of the courses for Whitehouse Institute of Design was the culmination of work that began in February 2013 when the Institute submitted their application. The TEQSA Act provides legislated deadlines for accreditation of new courses.”
New Matilda will update this story with fresh revelations during the week.
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