University colleges and undergraduate certificates: here to stay

And lo, there was rejoicing in the tribe of the NUHEPS

Non-university higher education providers are  said to be pleased indeed with Commonwealth legislation, passed late Thursday that establishes a path for them to become “university colleges” (university lobbies loathe the title) if they meet TEQSA assessed standards.

But this is not all NUHEPs have to be happy about. One of the other measures in the Provider Category Standards (and Other Measures) Act is the inclusion of “undergraduate certificates” in the definition of a “higher education award.”

Independent Higher Education Australia told a Senate Committee inquiry that such certificates are a splendid idea, allowing people to quickly re-skill.

Which was then education minister Dan Tehan’s idea when he announced what were originally called “diploma certificates” at the height of pandemic-panic – short on-line courses for people, “who have lost their jobs or are looking to retrain in national priority areas.”

Universities piled into providing the federally funded certs last year, and they will now be a new permanent product for both public and private HE providers.  The latter of which alarms the National Tertiary Education Union, which told the Senate’s scrutiny of bills committee, UG, “will open up Commonwealth Supported Place funding to providers other than universities including private for-profit providers.”

But there is also anxiety from deep in the policy weeds about the ad hoc arrival of a new qualification, originally planned for the pandemic, but now permanent, subject to state ministers agreeing, expected at the end of the year.

The Commonwealth agreed to all the recommendations in the Australian Qualifications Framework review in December 2019 but there is not much evidence of anything being implemented. Which is a problem, “the AQF Review was seen as critical to both higher education and VET, being foundational to national qualifications and training products, funding and financing, HE/VET boundaries and institutional positioning,” an adept in the (very) dark art of cross-sector qualifications told CMM in December (CMM December 8).

IHEA suggests the arrival of undergraduate certificates creates “a structural opportunity for the recognition of micro-credentials,” – which rather relies on governments acting on the AQF review.