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HESF Domain 6: Governance and accountability

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Scope and intent of the Domain

This Domain (Sections 6.1-6.3) of the Higher Education Standards Framework (Threshold Standards) 2015 (HES Framework) encompasses:

  • specification of an accountable governing body with some elaboration of its key governance roles
  • specific corporate accountabilities to be demonstrated by the provider, which the governing body also assures itself are met
  • requirements for academic governance oversight of a provider’s higher education activities.

This Domain represents an collection, at corporate level, of the provider’s accountabilities, both as a responsible corporate entity and as a provider of quality higher education, including responsibility for compliance with the requirements of the other six Domains of the HES Framework. Some of these accountabilities reside solely with the governing body, although most rely on delegations of authority from the governing body to various parts/officers of the provider. 

Because of its overarching nature, the extent to which a provider demonstrates its capacity to meet the Standards of this Domain (along with Domains 5 and 7) as part of its ordinary business will be a significant factor in building TEQSA’s confidence about the provider’s capacity to meet and continue to meet the requirements of the HES Framework overall.

Our commentary

6.1       Corporate Governance

This Section requires a provider's governing body to be formally established by a legal instrument (e.g. by a specific Act or under the Corporations Act or State Act unless the provider is an individual operating from a Territory). The Standards do not prescribe the model of governance (e.g. Board/CEO or Board/Executive Director) but at least two members of the body must be independent and, consequently, could not be executive directors (the concept of an independent director is elaborated on in the Guidance Note for Corporate Governance).

The Standards require the governing body to exercise governance functions and to hold the organisation accountable, which TEQSA would expect to see reflected in the entity’s instrument of establishment, constitution, a board charter or the like and/or delegated authorities put in place by the governing body. Standard 6.1.3 specifies a number of key governance roles for the governing body. Provided these are carried out as contemplated by the Standard, we would not seek to specify how these roles are undertaken. Notable among these roles is the conduct of periodic independent reviews of the effectiveness of the governing body and the academic governance processes the provider has implemented. For an established provider, we will require reports of these reviews and evidence of improvements arising, or planned to arise, from them. In addition, we will also need to be satisfied that arrangements to meet contingencies including cessation as a provider are available and likely to be effective.

6.2       Corporate Monitoring and Accountability

This Section of the Standards specifies a series of critical accountabilities that the provider must be able to demonstrate, and that the governing body, as part of its governance role, must be able to satisfy itself are being met. The governing body should set in place delegated authorities required for effective governance, and TEQSA will review these (including their effectiveness). The governing body must also be able to demonstrate that it has assured itself that these accountabilities are being met as part of its ordinary business, for example, as recorded in its business agendas, confirmed minutes and actions arising such as compliance monitoring, risk management and monitoring of delegated authorities.

Management of risks must include risks to quality. We will expect the provider to be able to demonstrate how the governing body remains abreast of any occurrences of academic misconduct, serious complaints, critical incidents and actual or potential lapses in relation to the HES Framework (see Standards 6.2.1 j and k) through its reporting framework. The evidence required to demonstrate financial viability and the financial capability to meet the Standards and sustain the quality of higher education is detailed in the Application guide for new providers.

Reference Points

  • ASX Corporate Governance Council (July 2014, or as amended), Corporate Governance Principles and Recommendations (3rd Edition)
  • Universities Australia (July 2011), Voluntary Code of Best Practice for the Governance of Australian Universities.

6.3       Academic Governance

This Domain represents the highest level of academic governance oversight mechanisms established by the provider. Neither the Standards nor TEQSA prescribe the structures that may be employed (such as an Academic Board or Senate). However, the outcomes that are to be achieved are specified by the Standards and we will expect a provider to demonstrate that its chosen mechanisms for academic governance achieve these outcomes. A provider’s academic governance systems represent a critical oversight link between the provider’s detailed internal quality assurance arrangements (see Domain 5), the accountability of the governing body for the quality of the higher education it offers and for meeting the requirements of the HES Framework (see Domain 6).

We will expect to see evidence of high level academic oversight (e.g. policy development and review, performance analyses, review findings and actions arising) as contemplated by Standards 6.3.1-6.3.3 as part of the provider’s normal business, including reports and analyses presented to the governing body. A provider’s capacity to maintain effective academic oversight of its higher education activities will be critical to our confidence in the provider and their ability to meet the rest of the Standards.

Relevant guidance notes

The following guidance notes can be accessed at our Guidance notes page:

  • Academic Governance
  • Academic Integrity
  • Academic Quality Assurance
  • Corporate Governance
  • Financial Assessment (under development)
  • Financial Standing
  • Third-Party Arrangements