Commonwealth News | 5 August 2013
On the cusp of going into caretaker mode, pending the election outcome, the Commonwealth government has released the report of a review examining how red tape can be reduced for universities while also supporting the quality and excellence of Australia’s world class university system.
Releasing the report by professors Kwong Lee Dow and Valerie Braithwaite – Review of Higher Education Regulation: Report – minister for higher education Kim Carr noted that while the report supports the continuing role of the national regulator – the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) – it also finds that the burden of higher education regulation on universities can be reduced without compromising quality standards.
… the report … points clearly to an unnecessarily heavy reporting burden imposed on higher education providers by TEQSA in particular, but also [the] department, and the need to look at short and longer term strategies to reduce this.
Carr said that a key component of future strategies will be to ensure that all actions to improve the legislation applied to universities and higher education providers are aligned to streamline legislative requirements and reduce duplication in regulation and associated reporting of unnecessary information and data.
Universities have enthusiastically endorsed the recommendations of the report.
The National Tertiary Education Union welcomed the findings of the report , with national president Jeannie Rea saying:
The NTEU shares the concern of the authors … that the operation of TEQSA does not reflect the regulatory principles of risk, proportionality and necessity as outlined in the legislation, but rather constitutes a data collection and audit model where all institutions are treated as equal regardless of their size, history or reputation.
The review made 11 recommendations and specifically noted that “the intention of the principles enshrined in the TEQSA Act in fact envisage a model of earned autonomy.”
Most higher education institutions have a long history of achievements before TEQSA’s establishment. Within the legislative framework governing TEQSA, we believe it is possible and desirable to recognise autonomy of such institutions. The quality and relevance of the higher education standards and the AQF are critical to this autonomy.
The Government should reduce TEQSA’s functions to focus on its core activities as a regulator; to reduce the number of Commissioners over time and revise their roles and responsibilities to allow greater decision making-responsibilities to be assigned to case managers or other TEQSA staff as appropriate.
The Government should establish mechanisms for TEQSA to consult with stakeholders and receive sector advice; for example by creating an overarching advisory council with stakeholder representatives and subject experts. Such a council could also provide advice to the Minister on how TEQSA is progressing against its Strategic Plan.
TEQSA should detail how the principles of risk, necessity and proportionality apply to different types of providers, for example, publicly funded institutions, for profit providers and/or not-forprofit. This could be effected through a set of legislative guidelines.
TEQSA should identify how existing regulatory processes such as Mission-based Compacts, funding agreements and the Institutional Performance Portfolios could be used to streamline the re-registration processes for established providers.
TEQSA should prioritise improved timeliness in delivering TEQSA’s key activities of initial provider registration and course accreditation. This could be effected through a Ministerial direction to the TEQSA CEO regarding allocation of resources.
The Government must reduce duplication across within the regulatory architecture by requiring specific consideration of how any matter in question, for example the ESOS National Code, aligns with its other regulatory components and partners. This could be enacted through structured MoU and letters of arrangements between TEQSA, the department and other regulatory bodies to cover such items as:
- Financial viability assessments for providers approved under HESA;
- Risk assessment priorities;
- Consultation forums.
The Government must align better the work of existing players, such as the Higher Education Standards Panel and the Australian Qualifications Framework Council and how they are structured to support a quality tertiary education system. Government also needs to address and manage concerns for the sector regarding the role of the AQF and the outcomes of the review of higher education standards in a way which usefully guides their implementation by higher education providers in support of a quality system.
The Government must reduce duplication between the four Acts. This could be commenced by formalising, and extending the roles of information sharing / policy advisory groups, such as the National Advisory Group on Higher Education Data and Information (NAGHEDI), the tertiary education standards setting agencies and meetings of the regulators and the department. Any requirements related to the business nature of providers must be considered against the principle of ‘collect once, use multiple times’, such as:
- Corporate governance; and
- Financial reporting.
The Government must identify and agree the alignment of activities between the Acts with ASQA and TEQSA that can be undertaken (i) without legislative change; and (ii) with legislative change, such as:
- Improving information sharing provisions through identifying what data and information is available and how constraints are applied
- Aligning the registration periods; penalty processing, nature and format of national registers and fee structures; and
- Assigning responsibility for registering dual sector providers, fit and proper persons, and financial viability assessments.
The Government engage with TEQSA to agree where duplication, reporting or otherwise, can be addressed immediately.
The Government identify as soon as possible how NAGHEDI’s role can be formalised and strengthened with the aim of creating a single national higher education data collection agency; and include a role for NAGHEDI as the data clearinghouse / survey advisory body for TEQSA.