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TEQSA Corporate Plan 2017-21

1 July 2017

Introduction

As the accountable authority of the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA), we are pleased to present the TEQSA Corporate Plan 2017-21 as required under paragraph 35(1)(a) of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 and s160(1) of the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Act 2011. The Corporate Plan is prepared in accordance with the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Rule 2014 and covers four reporting periods from 2017-18 to 2020-21.

Professor Nicholas Saunders AO
Chief Commissioner

Professor Cliff Walsh
Commissioner

Dr Lin Martin

Commissioner

From the Chief Commissioner

I am pleased to present the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) Corporate Plan for the years 2017-18 to 2020-21.

This Plan sets out TEQSA’s priorities for the next four years in the context of a dynamic higher education sector and TEQSA’s projected human resource, financial and infrastructure capabilities. One key goal continues to be to ensure that we maximise the efficiency of our regulatory activities in order to deliver our functions in a timely, measured and responsive manner.

TEQSA has integrated the performance indicators of the Government’s Regulator Performance Framework into this Plan, and we continue to focus on improving our performance and increasing our engagement with the sector to guide and validate those improvements.

TEQSA continues to strengthen and expand its guidance and support for providers. A key part of this is to provide support to the sector in meeting the requirements of the 2015 Higher Education Standards Framework which came into effect on 1 January 2017.

Building and strengthening mutual trust is a key element in achieving effective and efficient regulation. This Plan commits us to continued communication and consultation about our approach to quality assurance and what we expect of providers in meeting their responsibility for self-assurance.

Protecting and promoting the quality of Australian higher education is a key goal for TEQSA. In addition to maintaining a strong focus on the educational experience and outcomes for students, we are seeking to strengthen our engagement in consultation with student and their representative bodies.

This Plan, and its performance indicators and targets, reflect our commitment to targeting the risks to the quality and reputation of the sector and reducing the regulatory burden on low-risk providers including shortening the time taken to complete assessment processes wherever possible. TEQSA will continue to identify and scrutinise higher risk providers and to maintain a high front gate for entry to the sector. In this context, the increased interest of prospective entrants to the sector and the implications of policy changes in the VET sector will be of key concern to TEQSA in the coming period.

The Higher Education Standards Panel plays an important part in consultations on TEQSA’s approach to quality assurance over the period of the Plan. TEQSA will continue to work closely with the Panel, particularly with its work on the transparency of higher education admissions processes and outcomes from the review of the impact of the TEQSA Act.

TEQSA continues to engage with the Department of Education and Training, overseas higher education quality assurance agencies and other regulators such as the Australian Skills Quality Authority to inform the ongoing development of its approach and to share information and intelligence.

This Plan is a living document and will be revised as TEQSA adapts and responds to changes in Australia’s higher education sector and to TEQSA’s operating environment.

Professor Nicholas Saunders
AO Chief Commissioner

TEQSA’s role

TEQSA’s purpose

To safeguard student interests and the reputation of the higher education sector by assuring the quality of Australian higher education through a proportionate, risk reflective approach to regulation which allows higher education providers to pursue their individual missions and encourages diversity, innovation and excellence. Our work is underpinned by the intention of encouraging, supporting and recognizing effective internal quality assurance in providers.

We have three key goals in delivering our purpose:

  1. effective oversight of the quality and reputation of Australian higher education
  2. efficient, effective, responsive, risk-based quality assurance and regulatory activities, and
  3. constructive and collaborative relationships with governments, higher education providers, students and other stakeholders.

TEQSA’s remit

TEQSA is Australia’s independent national quality assurance and regulatory agency for higher education. All providers that offer higher education qualifications in or from Australia, universities and non-universities alike, must be registered by TEQSA. Providers that have not been granted self-accrediting authority (almost all of the non-university providers at present) must also have their courses of study accredited by TEQSA.

TEQSA’s guiding legislation is the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Act 2011 (the TEQSA Act). The Act confers powers and functions on TEQSA, among other things, to:

  • register regulated entities as registered higher education providers and accredit courses of study
  • conduct compliance assessments and quality assessments
  • conduct re-accreditation assessments of courses developed by providers without self-accrediting authority
  • provide advice and make recommendations to the Commonwealth Minister responsible for Education on matters relating to the quality and regulation of higher education providers
  • cooperate with similar agencies in other countries, and
  • collect, analyse, interpret and disseminate information relating to quality assurance practice and quality improvement in higher education.

TEQSA also has responsibility under the Education Services for Overseas Students Act 2000 (ESOS Act) for providers of English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students (ELICOS) if they have an entry arrangement with a registered higher education provider, and for providers of Foundation Programs.

TEQSA’s engagement with stakeholders

TEQSA has five key principles to guide stakeholder engagement activities. The principles set the standards to which we aspire in building consistent, open and respectful working relationships. The principles are consistent with stakeholder engagement standards and practices across the public and private sector, locally and internationally. TEQSA’s principles for stakeholder engagement are:

  • Purposeful – We begin every engagement with a clear understanding of what we need to achieve
  • Collaborative – We work with our stakeholders in partnership
  • Informative – We provide our stakeholders with the information they need to work with us
  • Transparent – We are open and honest in our engagement
  • Respectful – We acknowledge and respect the expertise, perspective and needs of stakeholders.

Quality assurance and regulation of higher education

TEQSA’s principal role is to ensure that quality standards are being met by all higher education providers so that the interests of students and the reputation of Australia’s higher education sector are promoted and protected. The standards are set out in the Higher Education Standards Framework (Threshold Standards) 2015, which came into effect on 1 January 2017. The Threshold Standards are made by the Minister for Education and Training based on advice from the independent Higher Education Standards Panel. TEQSA takes a risk-reflective approach to assessing whether providers meet the Standards in the Framework.

TEQSA’s work is guided by three principles – regulatory necessity, reflecting risk and proportionate regulation. TEQSA has gained considerable insight into risks faced by the higher education sector as well as the most common risks to provider quality assurance practices. TEQSA differentiates between providers with positive track records and at low risk of future non-compliance with the Standards and those with poor or limited track records and a substantial risk of future non- compliance. TEQSA not only takes a provider’s track record and risks of future non-compliance into account, but also ensures that any exercise of its powers is proportionate to actual non-compliance and/ or risk of future non-compliance, taking only those actions which are necessary to achieve effective regulation.

TEQSA works toward safeguarding students and the reputation of Australian higher education by assuring the quality of higher education providers.

TEQSA’s approach to quality assurance and regulation

TEQSA continues to refine its approach to quality assurance in the light of feedback from the sector and the views of the Minister, the Commonwealth and other stakeholders. This approach currently involves:

  • allocating case managers to every provider to maintain communication and cooperation and, where necessary, advise providers about effective self-assurance practices
  • providing guidance about TEQSA’s processes, insights and experiences for achieving and maintaining effective self-assurance
  • providing information for students and the public about registered providers and their courses through the National Register of Higher Education Providers
  • engaging with all providers on TEQSA’s annual risk assessments, where we identify significant risks to students and/or risks to financial viability and sustainability of providers, and
  • consulting and working with peak bodies in the sector about TEQSA’s approach and receiving their feedback and the perspectives of their members.

Ongoing consultation with key sector bodies, including the Australian Council for Private Education and Training, the Council of Private Higher Education, the International Education Association of Australia, TAFE Directors Australia, Universities Australia and the organisations representing groups of universities and students, is crucial to strengthening and improving TEQSA’s processes.

Operating environment

The environment in which TEQSA undertakes its core activities and the scope and scale of these activities are highly likely to change in the years ahead.

TEQSA closely follows those developments among national and international providers, made in response to the changing context of the higher education sector that are likely to influence its activities over the course of this Corporate Plan. These developments, including those listed below, may also affect the quality of student experiences and outcomes, and the reputation of the Australian higher education sector.

Legislative change

The updated Higher Education Standards Framework (Threshold Standards) 2015 came into effect on January 1 2017. TEQSA is responsible for the implementation of the new Standards and will continue to assist providers in making the transition. The updated Standards introduce a framework to facilitate a culture of effective self-assurance and also introduce some new requirements in important areas such as learning and teaching, research and information for students.

The Tertiary Education and Quality Standards Act 2011 (TEQSA Act) was reviewed during 2016-17 to examine the impact of the Act on the Australian higher education sector. This review was overseen by the Higher Education Standards Panel. TEQSA provided submissions in accordance with the terms of reference of the review. The review is awaited at the time of writing and its outcomes will be taken into account in the further development of this Corporate Plan.

The outcomes of changes arising from the review of the Education Services for Overseas Students Act 2000 (ESOS Act) and the National Code of Practice for Registration Authorities and Providers of Education and Training to Overseas Students 2007 (National Code) by the Department of Education and Training are currently awaited. The ELICOS National Standards are also currently under review by the Department. TEQSA has provided input into these reviews.

Changes to the student loan scheme for the vocational education and training sector in late 2016 have impacted on the financial position of some dual sector providers and TEQSA has had to increase monitoring of the resulting risks. There are plans to support this increased scrutiny through legislative amendment to the TEQSA Act. The amendments will: enable TEQSA to take account of the history of related entities as well as that of providers; increase financial viability and transparency requirements; require all key personnel of providers to be fit and proper persons; expand the scope of matters that TEQSA must be notified; clarify which qualifications must be accredited under the TEQSA Act.

New entrants

TEQSA has received a significant increase in applications from prospective entrants and notifications of intention to enter the sector. The majority of applicants are either operating in the vocational education and training sector as registered training organisations (RTOs), or are related to RTOs. TEQSA’s maintenance of a ‘high front gate’ for entry to the HE sector will continue to require prioritisation of resources over other regulatory work.

Budget considerations

TEQSA’s departmental allocation and operating budget for 2016-17 was maintained at $11.4 million, along with maintenance of a capital budget of nearly $0.9 million. The 2017-18 Budget announced an additional $3.3 million over 4 years and an increase in Average Staffing Level from 48 to 51 APS staff for TEQSA to assist in the implementation of improved transparency of admissions processes. Each year, TEQSA adjusts its resource allocations to reflect the funding available as well as our statutory mandate, purposes and focus.

Emerging issues for the sector

TEQSA is positioning itself to respond to the many challenges, known and unknown, that it faces as a result of issues emerging in the sector. These external factors include:

  • the preparedness of providers seeking partial or full self-accrediting authority
  • trends in student attrition, the most frequent cause of unfavourable risk assessments
  • threats to academic integrity, in particular through the availability of contract cheating services
  • greater number and variety of partnership arrangements, domestically and internationally
  • changes in ownership, mergers and reorganisation of providers
  • innovation in learning and teaching such as, increasing online and blended modes of delivery, disaggregated learning environments, micro-credentialing and MOOCs • changes in provider off-shore activity
  • the need for coordination with other regulatory and standards bodies such as ASQA, AITSL and professional bodies
  • availability of online courses by providers from other countries, and • developments in higher education policy.

Emerging issues for students

TEQSA is particularly focusing on those providers exhibiting the greatest risks to the quality of students’ learning experiences and outcomes.

A range of external factors can affect students, including the adequacy, accuracy and transparency of information available to help students to make informed decisions about their choice of course and provider, complaints handling (particularly access to independent third parties for resolution of grievances for all domestic and international students), and employability – a student’s confidence in the value of their qualification and that it will lead to gainful, relevant employment. Recent unexpected closures of providers have also highlighted the need to safeguard records for affected students.

In relation to the clarity of information about admission processes, TEQSA is working closely with the Higher Education Standards Panel in their drive to improve the quality TEQSA Corporate Plan 2017-21 12 of information available to students. The Panel has recommended that TEQSA support providers in complying with those parts of the Higher Education Standards Framework relevant to information about admissions processes in the light of the Panel’s recommendations.

TEQSA will seek to increase its engagement with student and other peak bodies to address these risks.

Planning overview and performance

TEQSA works toward safeguarding student and provider interests by assuring the quality of Australian higher education. TEQSA’s strategies during 2017-21 are to:

  • identify, monitor and respond to significant trends, incidents and risks to higher education that is delivered in or from Australia
  • promote the role, importance and effectiveness of Australia’s quality assurance and regulatory system in maintaining the reputation of Australian higher education nationally and internationally
  • maintain a strong focus on the educational experiences and outcomes for students
  • continue to implement a program of improvement of quality assurance and regulatory approaches involving key stakeholders
  • strengthen the collaborative relationship with ASQA, AITSL, the Higher Education Standards Panel and other agencies with mutual interests in Australia and internationally
  • optimise TEQSA’s application of the Higher Education Standards Framework to enhance internal quality assurance of providers.

TEQSA’s work is guided by three principles – regulatory necessity, reflecting risk and proportionate regulation.

Goal 1: Effective oversight of the quality and reputation of Australian higher education

Performance indicators

Targets for 2017-18

1.1 TEQSA has effective mechanisms to identify, monitor and respond to risks to the quality and standards of higher education across the sector

  • New mechanisms are implemented to manage out-of-cycle regulatory work, including responding to emerging risks to quality and the assessment of applications received from prospective entrants.
  • An approach is established on enhanced monitoring, sector intelligence gathering and analysis of risk, with a correspondingly targeted approach to assessment.
  • Further integration of risk analysis and regulatory decision making is achieved, through the use of comprehensive datasets to inform risk analysis and regulatory interventions.

1.2 Enhanced levels of information about the sector are made available to the stakeholders and sector.

  • Aggregate observations of performance and risks are published including: annual statistics on registered higher education providers, key financial metrics, assessment outcomes reporting, and the role of risk analyses in assessment outcomes.

1.3 TEQSA engages in regular, constructive dialogue with international quality agencies to contribute to the development of transnational policy

  • Cross border regulatory activity is strengthened and streamlined through engagement with international quality agencies.
  • TEQSA’s understanding and effectiveness in international higher education, and contribution to development of transnational policy is increased through signing or re-signing MoUs for the sharing of information with international quality agencies including provider visits and staff exchanges.

 

Goal 2: Efficient, effective, responsive, risk-based quality assurance and regulatory activities

Performance indicators

Targets for 2017-18

2.1 Quality assurance and regulation does not unnecessarily impede the efficient operation of higher education providers.

  • Tailored and proportionate approaches are applied to all assessments undertaken during the year, based on risks and performance data about providers.
  • TEQSA’s efficient and effective administration of regulatory functions is reflected in the positive results of the 2017 survey of providers.

2.2 TEQSA’s decisions are provided in a timely manner, clearly articulating the reasons for decisions, and TEQSA gives all higher education providers a reasonable opportunity to address matters relevant to a decision by TEQSA before TEQSA makes a decision that affects the provider.

  • Decisions are made in a timely manner and providers are informed in accordance with legislative timeframes.
  • Where an adverse decision is proposed, a draft summary of findings is sent to providers to allow providers a reasonable opportunity to respond.

2.3 Quality assurance and regulatory actions undertaken by TEQSA are proportionate to the risks being managed.

  • The risk framework and risk analysis process is publicly available, and changes undertaken in consultation with providers.
  • The risk status of providers is identified and timely and meaningful responses to risks are determined and actioned.
  • The three principles of necessity, risk and proportionality are applied in the tailoring of the scope of assessment and regulatory decisions, resulting in reduced burden for low-risk providers.
  • For providers ready to seek self-accrediting authority, support and guidance is made available.

2.4 TEQSA’s compliance and monitoring approaches are streamlined and coordinated.

  • Collaboration with the Department of Education and Training continues to be strengthened, data collection from providers is automated and data access and sharing is enhanced.
  • Collaboration with industry professional bodies to share data reduces the burden of regulatory requirements.
  • Cooperation with international quality agencies is utilised where necessary for regulation of Australian providers operating internationally.

2.5 Effective implementation of the requirements of regulatory responsibilities is achieved, including the TEQSA and ESOS Acts.

  • Respond to outcomes of the review of the impact of the TEQSA Act.
  • Implement changes to support transition to the revised National Code in the ESOS Framework.

2.6 The quality assurance framework continues to be improved in consultation with stakeholders.

  • Specific consultation with the sector is undertaken before proposed changes to TEQSA’s practices are made.

Goal 3: Constructive and collaborative relationships with governments, higher education providers, students and other stakeholders

Performance indicators

Targets for 2017-18

3.1 TEQSA’s communication with higher education providers is clear, targeted and effective.

  • Information is conveyed to stakeholders regularly and is readily accessible including via an improved TEQSA website.
  • Issues of concern to the sector and stakeholders are included in the program of annual TEQSA Conference.
  • The majority of providers surveyed rate TEQSA’s communication as good or excellent.

3.2 TEQSA has enhanced engagement with students in consultation with peak student bodies, and other stakeholders.

  • Direct communication and consultative links with peak student bodies are established.
  • Engagement with TEQSA experts is enhanced.
  • Consultative channels to employers are opened up and developed.

3.3 TEQSA’s dealings with higher education providers are open, transparent and consistent.

  • Providers are kept informed of the approach to assessment through the publication of the assessment framework, application guides and guidance notes.
  • The National Register of Higher Education Providers is enhanced as a public record of regulatory decisions.
  • Increased engagement with private providers and their peak bodies takes place in response to the findings of the stakeholder survey undertaken in 2016.

3.4 Increased synergies are developed with other agencies and contributions to collaborative goals.

  • Information relevant to risks to quality, protection of students and reputation of the sector is shared with Commonwealth agencies and the regulatory agencies of other countries.
  • Work is undertaken with the Higher Education Standards Panel to implement the Government response to Report on the Transparency of Admissions Processes for Higher Education, including a formative evaluation of the current position and good practice guidance on meeting the Standards in this area.

3.5 Providers are supported in implementing the 2015 Higher Education Standards Framework.

  • Further support material is developed for providers in the transition to the requirements of the 2015 Higher Education Standards Framework.

TEQSA’s capability

TEQSA’s workforce helps to maintain and enhance quality, diversity and innovation in the higher education sector through consistent regulation and quality assurance.

TEQSA employees understand higher education quality assurance and regulation, and are experienced in the delivery of higher education. They are highly skilled with a wide range of knowledge and expertise in higher education, quality assurance, regulation, risk management and public sector administration.

Workforce planning

TEQSA’s positions its workforce to meet current and future demands, aligned with the strategic directions and organisational goals outlined in the Corporate Plan. The workforce plan will continue to align TEQSA with whole of government workforce planning strategies.

2017-18 workforce capability requirements

TEQSA requires a workforce of highly skilled people with a commitment to quality higher education who can contribute to TEQSA being a professional, responsive and innovative regulator.

Specific areas which will be enhanced and developed include:

  • leadership and management skills to deliver capability and performance improvements
  • seamless collaboration between APS staff, contractors and external experts • research, risk and information analysis capabilities
  • reinforcement of case management and workload management
  • improved alignment of processes and systems with regulatory and technical requirements.

Future workforce capability requirements

To meet the future requirements of TEQSA, capabilities in the following areas will be enhanced:

  • stakeholder engagement and collaboration to support regulation development and implementation
  • resource and relationship management, to strengthen the ability of the Agency to effectively manage external and contract resources
  • risk and evidence-based decision making in accordance with the principles of the TEQSA Act.

Strategies and initiatives

The following strategies will be used to address current and future capability requirements:

  • develop appropriate succession plans and talent management strategies to mitigate loss of critical capabilities through natural attrition
  • develop a retention strategy to ensure TEQSA retains critical skills and individuals
  • develop a more flexible and responsive recruitment model to address resource gaps in key capabilities including developing strategies to broaden TEQSA’s recruitment market
  • improve internal and external communication through redevelopment of the Agency’s intranet and website
  • improve support for management of regulatory assessment through a redeveloped CRM system.

Risk management and oversight systems

TEQSA has developed systems of risk oversight, management and internal control within the Agency, and is committed to the continuous improvement of risk management practices in line with the Commonwealth Risk Management Policy and the Australian and New Zealand Risk Management Standard ISO31000:2009, Risk Management-principles and guidelines.

TEQSA’s Enterprise Risk Management Framework incorporates a Risk Management Policy, Enterprise Risk Register and Risk Appetite Statement, and is supported by a Fraud Control and Anti-Corruption Plan as well as arrangements for consultation, communication and performance reporting. TEQSA’s risk management objectives are also aligned with the Agency’s strategic objectives and embedded into key business processes.

TEQSA’s Audit Committee provides independent assurance to the Accountable Authority on TEQSA’s financial and performance reporting responsibilities, risk oversight and systems of internal control. This includes reviewing the proposed internal audit coverage to ensure the approach taken is focused on TEQSA’s key areas of financial and operational risk.

TEQSA has now fully revised its corporate risk register. In 2017-18, TEQSA will focus on improving its risk culture, maintaining risk management capability and promoting awareness of risk management across TEQSA. This will include providing appropriate risk management awareness training to all staff, implementing a risk culture survey, communicating and consulting with staff on changes and updates to TEQSA’s enterprise risk management framework, and including an overview of TEQSA’s risk management framework in the Agency’s induction program.