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Education and Employment Legislation Committee: Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Amendment Bill 2014

Estimates & Committees
Lee Rhiannon 6 Jun 2014

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you very much for your evidence. Firstly, it would seem as though what we are grappling with, and I think it is what you were working on too, is that we have this challenge in that universities have a wealth of experience, we want to make the system work and the standards need to be kept high, but we do not want to just bog things down. It is about getting that balance right, and often that is when quality can be lost. I would be interested in your comments on some of the specifics in the legislation, like the removal of TEQSA's quality assessment function. You were talking a bit about that, I think. If we lose the non-threshold standards—it seems as though that is the way it would play out—is that an issue of concern? How do you think that would play out, and what protections can be put in place? I am referring there to the loss of the learning, teaching, research and information standards.

Prof. Lee Dow : I have been consulted on more than one occasion by Professor Alan Robson, who is leading some work which will soon become public for discussion, on the revision of the standards framework, which is in fact the base of the criteria TEQSA uses for making its judgements about adequacy for registration and for accreditation. So I believe that we are in the process of strengthening the standards and the standards framework, making them more relevant and making them more easily worked on within the institutions. So I am not anxious about that.

On the matter of the removal of the clauses in the act about quality assessment, what I was saying to you is that those elements are important, but what they need to be focused on are the institutions themselves. The regulator needs to simply test that the institutions are in fact conducting that work, rather than getting into the very detailed work that it was doing in 2012 and in the early months of 2013 that was just taking inordinate amounts of time and really tying up both it and the institutions in what could genuinely be called red tape.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. We have this contradiction between overseeing the standards and the quality of universities and overseeing those of higher education providers, many of whom have only just come into this field of work and sometimes have limited experience in delivering education. One of the National Tertiary Education Union's suggestions was that, if the amendments to this bill were adopted, a version of the Australian Universities Quality Agency with the independent authority to review all higher education providers in a transparent, efficient and proportional risk based manner would be needed. Have you given any attention to that; is that something that you think is worthwhile considering?

Prof. Lee Dow : I think that we have reached the point where we have a regulator as identified in the Bradley review as now necessary in our current context, and how that body operates will be, in part, from the legislative requirements of section 134. But in many parts, as Senator Carr was saying earlier, there are cultural elements here, and some of us believe that many of the aspects that the earlier Universities Quality Agency had were valuable—for example, peer review. But the new body began life changing the orientation very substantially. I think that a more moderate position is evolving at the moment. I believe you have to start from where you are. We have this body. We have to make this body work effectively and that will incorporate some of the very things you have been mentioning, Senator Rhiannon.

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