Proposed changes to the publication of TEQSA’s decisions

The IRU supports the proposals for fuller and earlier publication of TEQSA decisions, including rejections.
A more open approach to the publication of TEQSA’s decisions, is the most effective way to ensure greater scrutiny of all aspects of the system, including of the regulator itself.
The creation of TEQSA was an intentional balance to the potential risks of a significantly larger higher education sector, both as universities have grown but also the growth in other providers, including a greater number of for profit bodies.
To assess how well the quality arrangements supporting higher education are working it is essential to understand what TEQSA is doing, how often higher education providers are deemed by it not to meet requirements for registration or for courses to be accredited, and whether those judgements stand up to later scrutiny.
Hence the proposals from TEQSA are not just concerning the individual provider about which decisions have been made, but about TEQSA’s good operations and the strength or not of the quality system.
Fairness is important in a model that releases decisions as they are made, where a review from the affected providers remains possible. It should be managed through the use of categorization or classifications.
When a decision is being formally challenged, TEQSA should indicate this in the public record, so that a dispute from the provider on the decision is clearly recorded and the outcome of appeals can also be listed. A half way point would be to await the outcome of an appeal internal to TEQSA which has set time frames to be complete.
The risk from waiting for the full appeal processes to be complete is that any organisation whose operations are threatened will be advised to pursue all legal means to defer sanctions. That can mean, as the discussion paper indicates, that a final decision can be several months and potentially a question of years.
The use of media releases to highlight decisions would assist in making the system more accessible and visible. It is not an easy system for students to engage with. Many prospective and current students would be unaware of its existence. Media releases, proclaiming decisions about providers would build public awareness and empower prospective students and ultimately assist them to make better and more informed choices. Equally, media releases should also be used to highlight where decisions have been overturned and the regulator has got it wrong. TEQSA would need to ensure that releases focussed on provision of information about decisions and were not inflammatory in cases at dispute.
Consultation Questions

Read the full submission attached.

Indigenous Student Success Program: designing to improve outcomes

IRU supports the aim of the new Indigenous Student Success Program (ISSP) to raise outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students through integration, simplification and better use of three current programs.  We are very concerned that the draft Guidelines do not support the latter two of those aims.

There is no sense of simplicity or flexibility that would support the aim of a performance focussed program encouraging universities to improve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student outcomes. The performance basis integral to the new program, whereby university funding is dependent on their success in enrolling Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and supporting then through to completion, is buried within extensive rules about how funds can or cannot be used. The ISSP Guidelines are more prescriptive than any other under the Higher Education Support Act.

Read IRU feedback in full below.

Impact of the TEQSA Act on the higher education Sector: IRU submission

The IRU considers that the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Act 2011 has worked effectively since the 2014 amendments to the Act as the legal basis for Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) and the Higher Education Standards Panel.

The area for improvement to legislation is to streamline the Education Services for Overseas Students (ESOS) Act and the supporting National Code to remove duplication of the Higher Education National Standards and to make registration of courses for international students an administrative listing not a distinct legal decision.

The 2014 amendments followed concerns that the initial operations of TEQSA were not consistent with the principles set out in part 2 of the Act of regulatory necessity, reflecting risk, and proportionate regulation.  The amendments were in response to the Lee Dow and Braithwaite Review of higher education regulation which strongly argued the importance of an effective partnership among the relevant bodies – providers and quality agency – for a quality assurance system to work well in practice.

That requires a constructive tension across:

  • higher education providers, notably universities, which are responsible for determining how to provide higher education to students, with a strong future focus for how higher education should be delivered to meet prospective needs;
  • the Higher Education Standards, which attempt to define the key threshold requirements for good higher education without dictating in detail how it should be delivered.  The Standards inevitably have a current day feel; and
  • TEQSA, charged with using the Standards as the guidance marker to test whether higher education providers are living up to their responsibility, in which it should both avoid constraining new developments of value and be effective in acting where delivery is clearly not effective.

The following sections consider the six questions the Discussion Paper asks. Read full submission below.

TEQSA’s proposed External Reporting program: IRU Submission

The IRU supports the intention of the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) to use its data sets to provide:

  • better information about its actions; and
  • evidence of broad trends about how higher education providers are achieving or not quality outcomes.

Done well, it will:

  • assist universities understand where they stand against other universities and providers, making any adjustments considered useful; and
  • provide an insight to TEQSA’s thinking and assumptions.

It is essential that the release of information by TEQSA is designed to improve understanding of quality strengths and potential weaknesses across providers while avoiding creating unfounded concerns or targeting any individual provider.  Issues with individual providers should be addresses through TEQSA’s formal regulatory activity in response to any concerns about achievement of standards by a provider.

The consultation paper proposes five kinds of information for release. Read the response in full attached.

Driving Innovation, Fairness and Excellence in Australian Higher Education

The experience of the past three years, 2013 to 2016, shows the great difficulty for implementing major changes to higher education funding and regulation as a single package.

The need for change is driven by the impact of making university an integrated part of the education system, accessible by any Australian with the aspiration for university study and the capacity to gain from it combined with expectations for change in how higher education is delivered over the coming decade.

The way ahead is to concentrate on achievable, useful changes where each can be considered and its impact assessed.  Changes should be directed at ensuring an effective Australian university system that meets the needs of all Australians for well-educated graduates and valuable research.

The Government’s fiscal challenge remains clear.  Expenditure on universities and students will be examined as much as other areas.  However, without the necessary resources from Government, students and business, universities will struggle to continue to deliver excellence in teaching and learning and research.  A major cut to funding is not a useful way ahead.

In contrast to many areas of Government expenditure, investment in education, including higher education, is about improving longer-term economic and social outcomes, with a return to Government revenue.

Recent graduate outcomes confirm that graduates remain better positioned than those without a degree while showing the impact of slow economic growth and sluggish employment opportunities.  Studies of graduates over the longer term confirm the advantage and suggest that the opportunities for each individual following a degree are better than if they had not undertaken it.

The IRU proposed seven actions consistent with three objectives to guide changes for the medium term.

Objectives

  • demand driven funding as the core funding mechanism for supporting all aspirants to gain the higher education that they need including where they opt for an initial ‘sub-bachelor’ degree;
  • base university revenue sufficient to maintain universities’ core capabilities to deliver student learning outcomes and research to meet future needs; and
  • a focus on allowing universities to opt in to changes with long term significance, testing out changes and encouraging incremental take up.

Actions

  1. A commitment to support each Australian achieve their potential with an initial expansion of sub-degree places, targeting regions of under attainment.
  2. Maintenance of an effective HEPP program with sufficient funding that it encourages universities to focus on enrolling students from all backgrounds and rewards those who do so best.
  3. Targeted support for universities with ‘outer metropolitan’ and ‘regional’ bases to support the effective Australia wide access to university education and research without propping up failing aspects of a university.
  4. Further exploration of mechanisms that encourage universities to develop some areas of high achievement, without constructing complex interventionist approval mechanisms.
  5. Extending and improving information about student and graduate outcomes.
  6. Reworking of the standard Commonwealth Grant Scheme (CGS) and student payments based on:
  • fewer, clearly distinct, funding bands driven by an assessment of the reasonable resource standards targeted at future requirements to deliver expected learning outcomes;
  • simplified student charges in which no student pays any more than the current highest charge;
  • a factor addressing student background, to reward enrolment of a diverse student population; and
  • consideration of an additional factor targeting student outcomes against university level targets tied to accessing higher levels of revenue from Government and student combined.
  1. Adjust HELP repayment arrangements in ways that speed up repayment but which do not affect the core elements of HECS-HELP.

Let’s focus on achievable, useful changes

Innovative Research Universities (IRU) congratulates the Liberal National Coalition on its return to government following the 2016 election.

IRU looks forward to continuing to work with Senator Simon Birmingham, whose reappointment will allow continuity in developing a revised Government approach to supporting an effective Australian university system that meets the needs of all Australians for well-educated graduates and valuable research.

We also welcome the newcomers to the Industry, Innovation and Science portfolio namely Minister Greg Hunt and Assistant Minister Craig Laundy as well as Senator Nigel Scullion who retains the Ministry for Indigenous Affairs.

The next three years will continue to be challenging.

The Government’s fiscal challenge remains clear.  Expenditure on universities and students will be examined as much as other areas.  However, without the necessary resources from Government, students and business, universities will struggle to continue to deliver excellence in teaching and learning and research.  A major cut to funding is not a useful way ahead.

We need to concentrate on achievable, useful changes that improve how universities operate, and step back from articulating major reform packages that cause much debate but little change.

For this to occur, all sides of the Parliament need to focus on constructive consideration of potential changes.

Sharper Incentives: proposed changes and rules for Research Block Grants – IRU submission

The essence of the 2015 Watt Review of Research Policy and Funding Arrangements proposals for research block grants is that universities should be responsible for the use of funds against the two prime purposes of supporting the universities’ research output and supporting research students.

The consultation paper ‘Sharper Incentives for engagement: New research block grant arrangements for universities’ poses many options that would diminish the simplification the Watt report proposes, particularly for the new Research Training Program.  Many of the options raised hold back from giving universities the responsibility to use the resources provided in the way they consider best to generate future research outcomes, with further funding dependent on success.

The IRU approach on the new programs’ requirements is to oppose rules that only express conservative good practice and to support those integral to achieving key policy aims for the two programs. The areas where we agree that full university flexibility for the Research Training Program should be moderated by other considerations are:

  • to maintain the focus on research degree completions by limiting the period of support a student can receive;
  • to ensure that student stipends ensure both a minimum reasonable level of support and also avoid the appearance of unnecessarily generous levels of support for some individuals.

On program reporting, the IRU approach is that it should be structured around the collection of relevant research outputs through an agreed regular national data collection with minimal collection of expenditure uses.  The draft guidelines also require amendments.

Read full submission attached (6 pages).

IRU Responds to Labor’s Plan for Budget Repair

The Labor ‘Plan for Budget Repair’ maintains Labor’s pledge to reverse any reductions to the base Commonwealth Grant Scheme crucial to universities’ education and research delivery. This will maintain base funding at the 2012 levels indexed.  This commitment is fundamental to Labor’s argument that Government should be the major funder of universities.

The statement includes several items that affect universities and students.  These are:

  • changes to the annual indexation measure to use the Consumer Price Index (CPI) only rather than a mix of CPI and professional wage growth;
  • reduction to the threshold for repayment of Higher Education Loan Program (HELP) amounts;
  • accepting tightening of the Research and Development (R&D) Tax incentive; and
  • reducing funding to Industry Growth Centres and abolition of the Innovation Xchange.

The change to indexation will toughen the challenge for universities to deliver at the standard required through tightening the funding available.

The change to the HELP repayment threshold is of less concern. The base threshold has been reduced and raised several times without effect on university participation. In the balance of ensuring all potential students follow their aspirations and having reasonable levels of HELP repayment these changes can be supported.

The changes to the R&D Tax Incentive sidestep the key issue about the Incentive. We need to move on from the constant battle between tightening and loosening eligibility to focus the Incentive at research that uses the research capability in universities and other research agencies.  If elected to Government, Labor should look to the yet to be released report from the Chief Scientist and Head of Innovation and Science Australia which addresses how to make the Incentive work to optimum effect.

IRU supports the Industry Growth Centres as potentially valuable means to link smaller businesses to research and management support that will assist them prosper. It is too early as yet to tell how effective they will be.  Reducing the small amount of funds for the Centres will make it harder to determine what impact they could have.

Overall the changes allow Labor to prioritise funding without doing major harm to university education and research.
Download the statement below.

The Transparency of University Admissions: IRU Submission

The consultation on the Transparency of Higher Education Admissions Processes is an opportunity to improve potential university applicants’ understanding of tertiary admission processes in Australia. The outcome should be to ensure applicants are clearer about their likelihood of an offer for the courses that interest them, encouraging them to apply.

To achieve this each university and other higher education provider should, where it does not already, makes available information about:

  • the different bases for applying for entry and the way in which an applicant’s capability will be assessed; and
  • the number and success of applicants from previous periods.

The information and data should apply to each common basis of entry and related assessment mechanism. It should apply to all courses from sub-bachelor through to postgraduate coursework.

The target for the information and data is the individuals considering university or other higher education, to assist them to convert their interest into application to a course suitable to them with a reasonable expectation of being accepted. It is important that national level evaluation perspective does not compromise the clarity of information for the individual applicant each of whom will need access to a small set of the admission information and related data.

The IRU submission addresses in turn:

  • how changes in higher education change the admission process;
  • the areas of potential confusion about admission processes as the basis for clarifying pubic understanding;
  • the principles proposed in the Panel’s discussion paper; and
  • the actions needed to improve understanding of admission processes to ensure suitable transparency.

Read the full submission below.

Successful HEPP faces death by a thousand cuts

This article by IRU Executive Director, Conor King was published in The Australian newspaper 11 May 2016

The federal government’s flagship equity program has never been allowed to become what it was meant to be.

When the latest round of cuts hit, the Higher Education Participation Program will have been turned back into the small, well-meaning but ineffective equity program it replaced.

Since its inception, HEPP has been the go-to program when governments of both sides wanted savings. The $152 million hit in last week’s budget will remove 40 per cent of its funding by 2019-20.

The outcomes from HEPP have been positive, if not as high as predicted.

While the growth in low socioeconomic status students has been faster than for others — they will reach 18.1 per cent of all students in the coming year — it is still way short of 25 per cent but shows progress towards the initial target of 20 per cent.

So why do we need HEPP and how should it operate? To be effective, it needs to be a program with scale, so it avoids being well-meaning but piecemeal.

The 2008 Bradley review argued that its predecessor was too small, over-regulated and caught up in worthy but small projects. It was not driving significant change. Denise Bradley combined the new demand-driven system with a key funding element, equal to 4 per cent of base funding, to create incentives for universities to improve participation and completions of students from all under-represented groups.

The argument was that if universities received serious money for each low-SES student, they would have the incentive to increase enrolments and the flexibility to allocate resources as necessary to ensure retention through to graduation. Action would be university-wide, not limited to the efforts of equity units. It was a comprehensive approach.

The key issue now is whether universities responded in the anticipated way. One sign of success would be that students from all backgrounds enrolled in similar proportions and that universities ensured support was available for students who needed it. Read the full article attached or read here (subscription based news source).

Conor King, Executive Director, Innovative Research Universities 10 May 2016