UA is the peak body representing Australia’s 39 comprehensive universities. Together, they educate around one and a half million students each year, undertake significant research and development activities, and engage globally to grow Australia’s and the world’s knowledge base while supporting our nation’s economic and social wellbeing.
UA acknowledges the stated remit of this review as being distinct from the Higher Education Support Amendment (Response to the Australian Universities Accord Interim Report) Bill 2023. However, clarity on the regulatory responsibilities of the Department of Education and TEQSA, including the intersection of authorities, should be resolved to avoid contrasting assessments, and should clearly articulate the boundaries of responsibilities and powers.
In response to a 2017 review of the HESF by Deloitte Access Economics, the government noted (p.2) that “TEQSA’s purpose is to safeguard student interests and the reputation of Australia’s higher education sector by assuring the quality of higher education through a proportionate, risk reflective approach that allows higher education providers to pursue their individual missions and encourages diversity, innovation and excellence”.1 This purpose should similarly underpin the intent of any related policy and regulatory condition. Specifically, there are questions around accreditation, the imposition of conditions, and the regulation of student issues for the sector that should be clarified by this review.
These key issues must be resolved for the stability of the sector as well as for ensuring students receive the best possible communication and support from universities and the government. Resolving this discrepancy between regulatory authorities and how the HESF – the regulatory and compliance mechanisms – relate to the Support for Students Policy and amendments to HESA, must be a priority of this review. Part of this resolution should also acknowledge the significant external factors that affect students, which include financial pressure, stress, wellbeing issues etc. Each of these, and others, all contribute to a student’s decision to continue or discontinue their studies, and many of these factors may, at times, be beyond the scope of a provider to resolve.
Accordingly, any discussion around higher education governance should be considered within the broader context of governance reform and recommendations arising from the Universities Accord and other major reviews impacting the sector.