by CLAIRE FIELD
Both regulators faced tough questions on serious issues
While not nearly as popular as the latest Netflix hit or Stanford University’s Machine Learning MOOC (3.7 million learners), Senate Estimates hearings are nonetheless important viewing.
Last week we learned that both TEQSA and ASQA are dealing with serious staffing issues.
Australian Skills Quality Authority officials faced a range of difficult questions about staffing (watch online, starts at 16.07.47). The questions were particularly concerning given they come at the same time that ASQA is implementing a very different self-assurance regulatory model.
Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency officials were asked about staff reporting higher than average levels of workplace bullying and witnessing of corrupt behaviour when compared with other Commonwealth agencies (watch online, starts at 10.36.16).
Both CEOs gave explanations and undertook to provide further answers to a raft of questions on notice.
For TEQSA these questions come at the same time they are introducing a new fee schedule. Regrettably, particularly for smaller providers, we also learned in the hearings that TEQSA has not modelled the financial impact of the charges.
A small, not-for-profit, CRICOS provider offering five qualifications faces fees for re-registration and re-accreditation of up to $200,000, in addition to a new annual levy.
There are four not-for-profit CRICOS providers with re-registration currently “pending” because TEQSA has been unable to conclude their audits on time. Three have been pending since 2020, indicating significant delays.
While there is no regulatory issue for a provider in having their re-registration “pending” – the delays signal that TEQSA can find audits of small not-for-profit providers to be complex; hence providers cannot assume they will not pay the maximum in the new fee regime.
To afford the increased fees smaller providers will need to scale up, potentially by offering fewer niche courses and switching to more popular/generalist degrees, which seems extraordinary when the minister wants to open a conversation about “greater differentiation and specialisation in the university sector”.
TEQSA’s new fees could end up reducing diversity in the higher education sector.
With COVID-19 bringing significant stresses to the international VET and higher education sectors and billions in government subsidies going to domestic VET students – now more than ever Australia needs well-functioning, well-resourced regulators to ensure the quality and diversity of the sector.
Claire Field is an advisor to the tertiary education sector. She was contracted by ASQA in late 2020 to facilitate preliminary consultations with VET sector stakeholders on ASQA’s new self-assurance model