Australia’s higher education sector plays a crucial role in providing students with the skills that the 21st century workforce requires, undertaking basic and applied research and contributing to the common good of society through the scholarly mission to expand human knowledge. The sector is viewed as an engine of economic prosperity and innovation, a producer of human capital and professional skills, a driver of regional growth, skilled migration and global competitiveness, and a contributor to equality of opportunity. Beyond these important economic and socio-economic rationales, higher education institutions are valued also for the way they advance scholarship and learning for their own intrinsic value.
The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Act 2011 (Cth) (the TEQSA Act) established the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) in 2011 and a new national regulatory and quality assurance environment for Australian higher education (which largely took effect from January 2012). The aim was to establish a national system of regulation to assure the quality of all higher education providers as the sector went through a period of expansion arising from the move to a demand-driven system.
Section 203 of the TEQSA Act requires that a review of the impact of the Act on the sector be commenced before 1 January, 2016. On 12 December, 2015 the Minister set six Terms of Reference (set out in the Introduction to this Report) and agreed that the Higher Education Standards Panel should oversee the Review.
Deloitte Access Economics was commissioned to undertake this Review. This Report presents its findings.
These findings have benefitted significantly from consultations with the sector and written submissions made by higher education providers and other stakeholders. The consultations were based on questions put to providers that sought to isolate the ways in which the TEQSA Act, or the standards-based framework established pursuant to the Act, had changed behaviour in ways that may materially impact on quality. The Review has also benefitted from numerous discussions with TEQSA and information that it provided. The Review has also analysed a suite of indicators of quality at the sector level based on data provided by the Department of Education and Training. The findings of the Review are based on an assessment of the information collected.
While the Review seeks to assess the impact of the TEQSA Act on the higher education sector, the experience of the sector with the new regulatory system in part reflects the Threshold Standards, how these are interpreted and administered by TEQSA and by the sector, and how TEQSA exercises its functions under the Act. The content of the 2011 and the 2015 Threshold Standards, and TEQSA’s interpretation and administration of them, are outside the Terms of Reference for this Review. Instead, the Review considers the general nature of a system of quality assurance based on regulation against standards, as established by the TEQSA Act, and what this has meant for the sector.
TEQSA’s governance and operations are also beyond the scope of this Review, although it has at times been difficult to ignore them, especially since the stakeholders with whom the Review consulted were challenged in separating the Act from its administration. This Review has sought to remain within the Terms of Reference by focusing on amendments to the Act that would improve its impact or administration.
*Please note: the Australian government response to this report can also be accessed via link provided