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

Estimates & Committees
Lee Rhiannon 26 Feb 2014

Education and Employment Legislation Committee

26/02/2014

EDUCATION PORTFOLIO - Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency

CHAIR: Senator Rhiannon, we will go to you for questions.

Dr Nicoll : Senator Rhiannon, may I say thank you for returning to ask questions now; I appreciate it very much.

Senator RHIANNON: As I am only just coming back, I apologise in advance if I should repeat questions that have already been put to you. The Dean of the Williams Business College is quoted in today's paper as saying:

There has been no concern (from TEQSA) regarding our academic standards at all. I think probably it is our administrative structure.

Does that mean that the dean has not been made aware of what the issues are?

Dr Nicoll : No, the dean has been made well aware of all the issues, and I am not prepared to comment on the statement that the dean made in the paper today.

Senator RHIANNON: But he has been made aware?

Dr Nicoll : Absolutely.

Senator RHIANNON: So, if they were administrative issues, he would know?

Dr Nicoll : He would know if they were issues relating to academic standards or administrative issues.

Senator RHIANNON: I am happy to be corrected, but TEQSA's reports do not seem to analyse regulatory infractions according to profit and non-profit institutions?

Dr Nicoll : That is correct senator, they do not.

Senator RHIANNON: So, there is no way of determining if the non-profit sector has a lower percentage of infractions?

Dr Nicoll : No. We can look at that. Were TEQSA to release an analysis, which is our intention, of the results from provider information requests, our analysis of regulatory activity may be a dimension we would look at but we have not made that decision as yet.

Senator RHIANNON: Could I request that that information is provided, because I imagine—possibly in separate databases—you have the information of the whole sector, and then you also have what are profit and non-profit. So, if in this era of databases, if that could be collated—

Dr Nicoll : We will note your request.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. Have regulatory infractions been mapped onto proportions of international students? What I was trying to understand was do institutions with higher proportions of international students tend to be worse at abiding by regulations?

Dr Nicoll : My answer to you is that we have not released any such information publicly. The TEQSA administers two acts: it administers under the TEQSA Act and it administers under the ESOS Act. The ESOS Act is the protection for overseas students that is uniquely in place in Australia to provide protection for international students. We have the data to separate the level of regulatory activity under each but there are two areas of regulatory activity that we would need to look at. We have not released any of that at this point but all of that is possible.

Senator RHIANNON: Could I put the request in that it be considered to be released?

Dr Nicoll : We will note your request.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. So I think you may have explored some of these issues in previous answers but I will go to the comment that the minister made in October last year when he said that there is a need to simplify the paperwork and deregulate. There is also obviously, you would be well aware, the report from Lee Dow-Braithwaite. I would ask you to comment because when one reads that—sitting on the outside as we are—one is left wondering if TEQSA still has a purpose.

Dr Nicoll : What is your question?

Senator RHIANNON: The question is: does TEQSA still have a future when the minister and the report that he has commissioned gives so much emphasis to a self regulation system?

Dr Nicoll : It is not my place to comment on that. You would have to ask the minister or the department what the views are there.

Senator RHIANNON: Can you provide any statistics regarding the number of registration renewal rejections it has decided on since the last annual report?

Dr Nicoll : Yes, I have all of that here, but I will take it on notice to give you that information in a tabular form.

Senator RHIANNON: Could I just ask that it be done in a timely fashion, not when we get to May, so that we have time to look at it?

Dr Nicoll : We normally respond very promptly.

Proceedings suspended from 13:03 to 14:00

 

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Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. Ms Paul, in order to offer Commonwealth-supported student places, what conditions must a higher education provider listed on table A meet for courses delivered through third-party contractual arrangements under the Higher Education Support Act?

Mr Warburton : If a higher education provider is delivering courses under a third-party arrangement, it has to be fully responsible for all aspects of the course—the quality of the course, the services that are provided to students and so forth. That is in the broader framework. There are not specific conditions in HESA to that effect.

Senator RHIANNON: So there are no specific conditions they have got to follow?

Mr Warburton : No, that statement is not correct. These are matters to do with the regulation of higher education providers, so this is a question about TEQSA and the regulatory framework.

Senator RHIANNON: Are you telling me that there are conditions but I have asked about them in the wrong section?

Mr Griew : The conditions are all the conditions that the university is responsible for, whether it delivers them itself or whether it contracts a third-party provider to provide them. They must meet exactly the same conditions and they are responsible for the delivery and the quality of their delivery. If they are to be delivered at a different site, that must be approved as well. Essentially, it has to be to the same standard and to the threshold standards for higher education.

Senator RHIANNON: They are the same. Okay. Therefore, you are saying that they do not differ between, say, a TAFE college like Holmesglen institute or Navitas or Swinburne Online; they are all the same?

Mr Griew : That is right.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you.

Mr Warburton : Those providers are registered higher education providers in their own right.

Senator RHIANNON: Do you have data for the Commonwealth-supported places per university for programs being offered by a third party?

Mr Warburton : No, Senator.

Senator RHIANNON: So you do not collect the data? In this day and age, when data seems to dominate the world, you do not have that data?

Mr Warburton : Within Commonwealth funding agreements, we know the campuses that providers are delivering from. We also have a general arrangement where, when they are delivering them through the site of another higher education provider, they come to us to seek our approval. So we broadly know the distribution of the provision of higher education places. The providers themselves are responsible for the course. The students have to be enrolled with the provider, and the provider does all of the reporting and the provider receives the funding. There are a variety of different types of arrangements that providers may enter into. They may deliver Commonwealth-supported places from a TAFE and they may have their own employed staff there and they may just pay for premises, or they may have casual staff. We do not intrude into those commercial arrangements. The main thing we are interested in is who is responsible for the course, and then we know who is accountable for it. We do not interfere in commercial arrangements that may be necessary to put in place whatever particular delivery arrangement it is that we are talking about.

Senator RHIANNON: To summarise what you have said, if I understand correctly, you do not have quantities of CSPs per program.

Mr Warburton : I can tell you which TAFEs and which small providers are directly allocated Commonwealth supported places—

Senator RHIANNON: Good.

Mr Warburton : but I could not give you the exact number of places that a provider—

Senator RHIANNON: Can you provide any information at all? I thought you said in your earlier answer that you could give the amount of money that went to them, I think, under the program.

Mr Warburton : No.

Senator RHIANNON: No? I misunderstood that?

Mr Griew : Perhaps we should take on notice whether we have any information—but it will not be administrative data, for the reasons that Mr Warburton said. A third-party provider could be on campus, they could be off campus; the staff could be employed by the third-party provider or they might be employed by the principal organisation. But, if we have any information that has been collected, for example, through small studies or anything like that, we could take that on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: Okay. And, within that, if you have the CSPs by state or by institution—my initial question was about programs, but if we have to go higher up—that would still be appreciated.

Mr Griew : We will take on notice to find whether there is anything we are not immediately thinking of, but, given the limitations in the administrative data, it is not going to be the case that we know across the whole nation.

Senator RHIANNON: It will be a start. Thank you. I understand each funding agreement states that universities must obtain written permission to deliver a course in a facility not listed in its funding agreement for courses that are delivered exclusively online by a third party. We have spoken about this before. I am still trying to understand how the department interprets this requirement in relation to Swinburne Online.

Mr Warburton : There has been a longstanding arrangement about reporting distance-education students. I think I am correct here. If I am not, I will make sure that you do get the correct information. Normally, distance education students are reported at the home campus of the provider. That also applies to online delivery, and that is the arrangement that is in place with Swinburne. Their online students are reported as though they are at the Hawthorn campus.

Senator RHIANNON: You do not think there needs to be any change to capture this new form of delivery?

Ms Borthwick : It is a complicated issue—to correctly capture how much is online and how much is part of mixed-mode learning and so on. It has not been something that can be done easily or that can give us very effective information.

Senator RHIANNON: Do you think there is a need for it, considering the work you undertake? I would have thought you would have needed that level of detail.

Ms Borthwick : As I said, it really does not give us very useful or meaningful information, so we have not pursued collecting it.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you.

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Senator RHIANNON: I want to move on to the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement to try and understand how it may impact on some of our higher education work. Is one of the likely outcomes of the TPP to be that international universities operating in Australia will become eligible for Commonwealth support grants and related funding?

Mr Griew : There is no way that would happen under current policy settings unless they were individually approved.

Senator RHIANNON: Are there any talks going on to either change the settings or make individual arrangements?

Mr Griew : Following on from the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement?

Senator RHIANNON: Yes.

Mr Griew : We have not been engaged in discussions about opening the higher education market as a result of that. The approval processes for eligibility involve access to table A under the Higher Education Support Act, and that has not been considered in relation to that agreement.

Senator RHIANNON: What about Australian students who enrol in a MOUC offered by overseas universities? Will they be eligible for Commonwealth supported student status?

Mr Griew : It is the same answer.

Senator RHIANNON: Since the commission of audit began, have you been asked to provide any advice to that process, particularly around the issue of HELP debt securitisation but also more generally?

Ms Paul : As we have previously answered in this evidence, anything requested by the Commission of Audit would be a cabinet-in-confidence matter so we cannot answer the question.

Senator RHIANNON: In response to a question on notice, you did state that you had no knowledge that the government's commission of audit would be examining the issue of HELP debt securitisation prior to reading an article on the topic on The Western Australian newspaper on 16 October last year. Is it normal for the department to find out from newspapers that the government is commissioning reviews into something so intrinsic to your work?

Mr Griew : I think that was before the Commission of Audit started.

Senator RHIANNON: Yes, it was.

Mr Griew : The Commission of Audit has a wide mandate and, to some extent, it is up to the Commission of Audit what it looks at. The question we have been answering is about what we have been asked to provide, which is covered by the answer Ms Paul gave you.

Senator Payne: I do not think we have the benefit of the particular article, Senator Rhiannon. But I always operate on the basis of not immediately believing everything I read.

Senator RHIANNON: I was asking because reference was made to it in the answer to the question on notice. I will put the question on notice.

Mr Warburton : The answer is correct.

Senator RHIANNON: Which answer?

Mr Warburton : The answer to the question on notice that we tabled.

Senator RHIANNON: I was building on that. Do you have the number there? Then I might be able to continue.

Mr Warburton : I think it was 000665.

Senator RHIANNON: Minister, I take your point about being wary of the newspaper. But, considering that reference was made to it in your response to that question on notice, I was just taking up the issue of whether it is normal for the department to find out from newspapers that the government is commissioning reviews into something that is clearly so integral to your work.

Senator Payne: That is not how I read the answer. Perhaps Mr Warburton can explain.

Mr Warburton : The Commission of Audit was given very broad terms of reference. There are people out there in the community who have put this idea forward, and some articles were thrown up around that time that this would be a good thing to consider. Our minister made a comment at the time that it was within the terms of reference, they had been given broad terms of reference and, if they wanted to consider it, that was fine. But nobody has said anything about the actual deliberations of the Commission of Audit in all of that.

Ms Borthwick : I think the answer goes to Mr Griew's previous comment that this was perhaps the first time officers in the department had been alerted to a possible consideration by the Commission of Audit, but it was before any terms of reference had been made known to us.

Senator RHIANNON: Moving on, have you had any discussions with either individual universities or any organisations about FIDI regulation or anything similar?

Mr Griew : With universities, our interactions are about the policy that exists. If you ask the question, 'Have we thought about it?' that is another matter that is covered by the answers we have been giving. We have not had discussions with universities, that I am aware, of about FIDI regulation.

Senator RHIANNON: So you are not aware. Is it something you need take on notice to check with others or you are confident—

Ms Paul : No, we have given an answer already for this.

Senator RHIANNON: Okay. Thank you. What would be the practical consequence of the federal government taking on currently unfunded superannuation schemes? I am trying to find out if that is something you have given any attention to and whether there is any analysis regarding what the cost would be?

Mr Griew : I presume you are referring to an issue which has received some public attention in New South Wales. Yes, we have been in discussions with the New South Wales government, and both the New South Wales government and ourselves, with universities in New South Wales, are working together to find a solution to the situation where some superannuation schemes are unfunded at present. That is a matter that is in discussion between two governments and the universities, and, other than to reassure you that both governments are keen to find a solution, I cannot really tell you more about that yet.

CHAIR: Thank you. That is a good spot to leave it, if we can. Senator Rhiannon, if you have further questions on that program, you could put them on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you.

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