Forward impact of COVID-19 on Australian higher education – report

Wells Advisory was commissioned by TEQSA in July 2021 to undertake the analysis presented in Forward impact of COVID-19 on Australian higher education. The purpose of the analysis was to broaden understanding of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on Australia’s higher education system.

The analysis provides TEQSA with a contemporary snapshot and additional contextual information to complement TEQSA’s own information sources and existing work, including the extensive data collections analysed through TEQSA’s risk assessment activity. 

The analysis confirms our understanding of the role that the pandemic has played in accelerating many of the trends and changes that were already occurring in Australia’s higher education system, in particular the shift to blended and online delivery of programs. These have combined with other structural impacts of COVID, including moves to diversify international student delivery away from the dominance of inbound (and substantially on-campus and face-to-face learning) to hybrid models that will increasingly incorporate the delivery of Australian higher education awards online, offshore and through third party arrangements. In part, this shift has been driven by the desire to support and retain students who have been unable to enter Australia, but has also been viewed as an opportunity to reach additional cohorts of students. With this diversification comes heightened risks related to the rigour of third-party arrangements, the management of agents and the quality of the delivery and the student experience.

These trends and other issues discussed in the report, including impacts on the short to mid-term ongoing financial viability of providers, highlight emerging and additional risks to the quality of higher education and the integrity of the sector. For example, TEQSA is already seeing emerging behaviours within the sector around competition for students and admission practices which may undermine recent gains made through the admissions transparency work of the Higher Education Standards Panel and TEQSA.  

TEQSA considers that the report provides useful insights into trends and developments in Australia’s higher education sector as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, setting these in the context of higher education policy reforms that have recently taken place or been announced.  

The issues identified in the report raise the likelihood of a period of ongoing uncertainty for the sector with the potential for increased risks to the delivery and quality of higher education and its consequent impact on students and the reputation of the sector. It is also incumbent upon TEQSA to consider the impacts and challenges for its regulatory model and practice in assuring the government and community of ongoing excellence in Australian higher education.

TEQSA publishes the Forward impact of COVID-19 on Australian higher education in the interests of further engagement with the sector, government and broader community.