Back to All News

Estimates: Education and Employment Legislation Committee (Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency)

Estimates & Committees
Lee Rhiannon 25 Feb 2015

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you, Professor Saunders. I noted you said that the staff numbers are currently 56, down 10. What were the staff numbers when TEQSA started?

Prof. Saunders : We had a staff level of about 100—not when we started, but we built up to staff level of about 100.

Senator RHIANNON: In what year, please?

Prof. Saunders : We started in 2012, so it would have been sometime during 2012 that those numbers built up.

Senator RHIANNON: So it was in the year that TEQSA started?

Prof. Saunders : Yes, when TEQSA started. I think that would have included—I would have to go back and check—the five commissioners and other sorts of staff that were brought on in the start-up phase.

Senator RHIANNON: So about 100 full-time positions?

Prof. Saunders : About 100 full-time positions.

Senator RHIANNON: So we are now down to 56?

Prof. Saunders : No. I have not counted in my 56 the commissioners, the public office holders, people on leave without pay, people who are on maternity leave. Those 56 staff are people on the ground, working in the agency at the moment.

Senator RHIANNON: Could you give us comparable figures, even if you have to take it on notice, of what it was initially, what you built up to and then maybe on a yearly basis—it is not that many years—to see what the changes are, for full-time positions?

Prof. Saunders : Sure, I would be happy to take that on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you very much. Could you also explain to me the relationship between core and threshold standards?

Prof. Saunders : The threshold standards are the standards that make up the framework, and there are close on 100 standards. They were promulgated in 2011 and are still the standards today. They cover provider registration, course accreditation, provider categories—whether a university or a non-university, those sorts of things—and the qualification standards, which relate to the Australian Qualifications Framework. They are the threshold standards. The core standards are what I was talking to Senator Carr about—

Senator RHIANNON: They are the ones that have gone from 40 to seven?

Prof. Saunders : The provider registration standards, which we have reduced down to a core set of seven standards.

Senator RHIANNON: Sorry, I thought you just said provider registration was in the threshold standards?

Prof. Saunders : Yes, they are.

Senator RHIANNON: And they are also in the core standards?

Prof. Saunders : Yes, some of them are in the core standards.

Senator RHIANNON: What is the difference? Can you explain why that is the case, please?

Prof. Saunders : So, for example, in the provider registration standards we have 42 threshold standards in the provider registration standards, and seven of those 42 have been chosen to be the core. That is what we apply to all low-risk providers unless there is something in their prior history or in their risk assessment that suggests we should have a broader examination.

Ms Paul : And this is what comes out of the review, which is not letting poorer providers off the hook, but taking a risk managed approach.

Prof. Saunders : Yes, exactly.

Mr Griew : So it is not just the core.

Ms Paul : So you are not abandoning all these other standards.

Prof. Saunders : No, absolutely not. What we are saying is that, if you are low-risk provider and we do not have any flags against you, then we believe—in fact we know—that those seven standards will give us a fair and accurate assessment of the quality and will give us confidence then that you would complying with all the other provider registration requirements.

Senator RHIANNON: So, if you are confident in this provider, do you always look at the seven that come under the core standards, but you would not look at the 35 provider standards that come under threshold? Is that correct?

Prof. Saunders : We would routinely, or can?

Senator RHIANNON: You would not. I thought you were saying that if you have got a provider and you are confident in them and you have not had any trouble, you have seven standards that you would look at, but there are 35 that make up the 42 that would not look at?

Prof. Saunders : Would not? That is correct.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. What else comes under core standards, please?

Ms Paul : I think the phrase that was used arising from the review was 'risk based and proportionate', wasn't it?

Prof. Saunders : Yes.

Ms Paul : So you might look at all 42 for a provider that was not rated risk-free, but rather rated as higher risk.

Prof. Saunders : That is correct. Indeed, for initial registrations—this is for a new provider we have no experience with; they are coming in to seek registration—we apply all 42 standards to the assessment of that provider. We are just talking here about reregistration.

Senator RHIANNON: Right. Can we get back to core standards. We have provider registration. We have seven for that. What are the other ones please?

Prof. Saunders : That is all the core we use at the moment.

Senator RHIANNON: That is the only core!

Prof. Saunders : We are only using the core for reregistrations at the moment. We have a process in place, which we are taking out to consultation next month, about course accreditation and reaccreditation. And there we are going to be taking a similar approach whereby we will take the provider course accreditation standards, of the threshold standards, and we will use a core of those—roughly one third of those standards—when we look at individual courses for accreditation or reaccreditation.

Senator RHIANNON: With regard to staffing standards, we do not have any staffing standards under core standards. Is that—

Prof. Saunders : No. Staffing standards are under 3.8.

CHAIR: It is in a public document—available.

Prof. Saunders : It is in a public document and we do have staffing considerations in that.

Senator RHIANNON: In the core standards?

Prof. Saunders : Yes.

Senator RHIANNON: So that is within the provider registration—those seven. And part of that covers staffing standards?

Prof. Saunders : Yes.

CHAIR: Any further questions?

Senator RHIANNON: Yes; sorry. In the threshold standards section relating to ensuring teaching and learning of a high quality, the term 'equivalent professional experience' is used.

Prof. Saunders : Yes.

Senator RHIANNON: You would know that term because it is used a number of times. I picked that up in 4.2 in chapter 3. How is equivalent professional or research experience determined?

Prof. Saunders : That comes from the Australian Qualifications Framework, which requires a provider to have teachers who are qualified one level above the course that they are teaching. If they are teaching a bachelor's qualification they need to have a master's qualification to teach it, or professional experience that is equivalent to achieving what you would expect from a master's graduate. There are no hard and fast definitions about what that professional experience must be. The agency requires, first of all, to see that the provider has a policy in place and that the policy looks to be reasonable. It would require somebody to be performing in the workplace at a level that would give you confidence that they have outcomes and experience equivalent to a master's qualification. That experience might include prior teaching experience.

We require the provider then to demonstrate not only that they have a policy that looks reasonable but that they also have evidence that they apply the policy. For example, when we seek information about staff we require abbreviated CVs or some document that shows the person and their qualification, and, if they are claiming professional equivalence, what that professional experience is and the level of the courses they are teaching.

Senator RHIANNON: Is that something that would vary from provider to provider?

Prof. Saunders : There would be variation from provider to provider?

Senator RHIANNON: Are you saying that what constitutes equivalent professional experience at one university is difference to another?

Prof. Saunders : It may well be, in minor shades; yes.

Senator RHIANNON: But how does that constitute a threshold standard, with that variation? You have a variation between institutions. How does it constitute a threshold standard? 'Threshold', in people's minds, is that you have a threshold, and that is where you work it out from.

Prof. Saunders : I think one has to accept, though, that policies across higher education providers vary. The minimum expectation is about five years equivalent experience in work for a masters qualification.

Senator RHIANNON: I suppose I am still trying to understand how that would vary, considering you are saying we have these threshold standards. It seems as though the argument falls down when you get to that point.

Prof. Saunders : Some would say three years professional experience and seeking a qualification at that level. So if you are enrolled in a masters or a doctorate degree and you have three years professional experience that would be considered acceptable to teach a bachelors course. Don't forget that, for example, quite a lot of tutoring and that sort of thing in universities goes on by PhD students, so there is some flexibility, and that will vary from institution to institution.

Senator RHIANNON: I totally understand that range within institutions, but we have the variation in standards between institutions.

Prof. Saunders : I do not think they are variations in standards. We are talking about the equivalence of a variety of different experiences.

Senator RHIANNON: Okay, I will have a think about that one. Are these standards meant to apply to all staff, including those employed on a casual basis?

Prof. Saunders : Yes, they are. But one has to be realistic—for example, students studying in professional courses, say, in the health sciences, will often be tutored in the clinical experience by tutors who do not have postgraduate qualifications but have lots of professional experience.

Senator RHIANNON: In an earlier comment I think you were talking about 'risk based and proportionate', that they came out of the review.

Prof. Saunders : No, 'risk based and proportionate' is in our legislation.

Senator RHIANNON: Yes, it is. I thought so. Going back to the numbers: you spoke about how it has reduced the 'scope and scale'—that was the term that you used when you spoke earlier. Is that correct?

Prof. Saunders : Yes.

Senator RHIANNON: Obviously, when you hear about the reduction in numbers that illustrates that. Therefore, reduced scope and scale, less work is being done, but you are saying that it is concentrating on certain areas. Ms Paul, you said that it is a refocus of the work—that was the word you used?

Ms Paul : It may have been. What I was talking about was the fact that the—

Senator RHIANNON: It was.

Ms Paul : Yep, that is probably true. The work that TEQSA now undertakes arises from the former government's review into TEQSA undertaken by Val Braithwaite and Kwong Lee Dow, which had many recommendations which this government accepted, including a move to the risk based and proportionate approach. What I was talking about when I used the word refocus was—I think I said narrower focus—to a narrower focus on its core business and, for example, moving away from doing their thematic reviews which they had been doing before. Some activities ceased—we have moved away from them—but of course Professor Saunders can talk about this more than I. The remaining activities were recommended by the review to be done in a more risk based approach, which is what Professor Saunders has been describing: some providers might have only seven standards supply; some might have all 42 in that particular area.

Senator RHIANNON: My question was specifically about that word refocus that you used. Clearly, refocus means that you are going back to a focus one had before. With everything I have heard, even your answer then, you seem to be trying to move away from the word refocus, so I ask you: will you withdraw the word refocus so we are not misled? The professor's description, as it has been before, is that it is about reducing the scope and scale. That is not refocusing.

Ms Paul : Okay, I am happy to withdraw if you think it is confusing.

Senator RHIANNON: It is not what I think; if you are to be accurate, surely that is not the word that is consistent with what has happened and what the professor has just described.

Ms Paul : Well, I have withdrawn it.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you.

Back to All News