HE standards bill: not perfect but passable

Senators have had multiple looks at the government’s bill on higher education provider category standards. Reviews are mixed

The bill basically enacts (nearly all )the Coaldrake review of the standards (CMM October 12 and 26) and was expected to sail through the parliament. But senators had other ideas, with the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee holding an inquiry. The scrutiny of bills committee also had a look.

The scrutiny committee was not convinced by Education Minister Dan Tehan’s assurance that the Tertiary Education and Quality Standards Agency, in consultation with stakeholders and the states has oversight and assurance covered so that there is no need to specify requirements in the text of the bill (CMM November 27).

The legislation committee’s report (released Friday) on its inquiry was more relaxed. “Many submitters who raised concerns or recommended changes to the bill did not object to its passage; some even expressed explicit support for the bill and its aims.”

Overall the committee recommends the bill be passed, agreeing with the government that, “the use of delegated legislation will allow the standards to be more responsive as circumstances evolve and change over time. The committee is also further reassured by TEQSA’s evident commitment to consultation—including with the Higher Education Standards Panel and other experts in the field of research evaluation.”

However, Labor senators Louise Pratt and Kim Carr want the government’s chosen term for not-quite unis “university colleges” replaced with “institute of higher education” as the Coaldrake review proposed. They also share the scrutiny committee’s concern that specifics on the standards should be in the primary legislation, warning, “as it currently stands the safeguards that ensure standards are adequate and sector specific are not provided in this bill.” But they do not reject the bill outright.