HESF Domain 1: Student participation and attainment

Scope and intent of the Domain

This Domain (Sections 1.1-1.5) of the Higher Education Standards Framework (Threshold Standards) 2021 (HES Framework) encompasses:

  • the basis for admission of students to a course of study, including requirements for adequate academic preparation for the course and formal explicit contractual arrangements between the provider and students
  • assessment of credit granted for prior learning is consistent with the credit and recognition of prior learning policy in the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) 
  • assurance that any credit granted for prior learning does not disadvantage the student concerned or compromise the integrity of the course of study
  • orientation to a course of study, support for transition to a course of study, early feedback on student performance, detection and support for students at risk of unsatisfactory progress and monitoring of success rates at cohort level
  • equivalence of opportunities for success irrespective of a student’s background or mode of participation
  • specification, assessment, achievement and external referencing of expected learning outcomes
  • legitimate issuing and certification of qualifications. 

Our commentary

1.1 Admission

TEQSA will need to be satisfied that students who are admitted are equipped to succeed in their chosen course of study (e.g. level of academic preparation, learning skills, proficiency in English) and that ill-prepared students are not knowingly admitted. Factors taken into account in selection (such as prior qualifications or the use of the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank [ATAR]), and all information needed by students before applying for a course must be disclosed transparently (see also Domain 7 – Representation, Information and Information Management). Students must be able to readily access all information needed for them to estimate realistic prospects for admission to each course. 

Prospective students must be made aware of any inherent requirements for undertaking a course, or parts of a course, that may affect those students in special circumstances or with special needs (such as a particular type of practicum), especially where a course of study leads to a qualification that may lead to registration as a professional practitioner by a registering authority. On a related topic, where a course must be accredited by a professional body as a requirement of professional registration of graduates (particularly where registration is required by law), this accreditation must be obtained and sustained, as required by Standard 3.1.5. Information about the current accreditation status must be made available to prospective and current students, as required by Section 7.2.

Where individual students or cohorts are initially at some known risk of not succeeding (e.g. those engaged in an initiative that is targeting an educationally disadvantaged group of students), such risks need to be not only identified but also managed, for example, by targeted support. Relevant evidence at the provider level will include organisational policies and procedures, while at the course level, specific selection criteria should be included in course documentation.

We will also need to be satisfied that the provider’s arrangements with students are based on adequate disclosure and informed choice, particularly on key matters such as fees and charges, specific obligations placed on students, arrangements and implications for withdrawal from enrolment and particular obligations for international students where applicable. Providers seeking help in assessing overseas qualifications may refer to the Australian Government’s Country Education Profiles, available on a subscription basis.

Reference points

  • Australian Council of Graduate Research Inc., Australian Graduate Research Good Practice Principles. 
  • Australian Government, Country Education Profiles.
  • Australian Government, National Code of Practice for Registration Authorities and Providers of Education and Training to Overseas Students 2018.

1.2 Credit and Recognition of Prior Learning

TEQSA supports granting of credit for prior learning, and will need to be satisfied that this is guided by institutionally approved policies and evidence-based procedures that are applied transparently and consistently, with explicit (written) outcomes for credit decisions provided to students. The relevant policy framework is required by Section 7.2. We expect providers to take a positive attitude to the award of credit wherever practicable, but we must also be satisfied that the granting of credit will not disadvantage students (e.g. by admitting students who are insufficiently prepared to undertake the level of higher education required) or diminish the integrity of the qualification awarded. This could occur, for example, where the award of credit would result in a disproportionate amount of the program representing levels of education/experience below that of the qualification offered, such as a Masters degree program comprising, in effect, predominantly undergraduate content.

Reference point

  • Australian Qualifications Framework Council, Australian Qualifications Framework Pathways Policy.

1.3 Orientation and Progression

TEQSA expects a provider to be able to demonstrate that students are not only assisted in their transition into their course of study but also that the arrangements for transition are sensitive to the needs of particular cohorts of students, including:

  • students enrolled in different modes of participation (for example, online-only)
  • students with special needs
  • international students, where applicable.

Early assessment of progress, early detection of students at risk of poor progress and targeted support programs are given high priority by the Standards for all courses of study (this includes research training where offered).

The Standards also require a registered provider to be able to demonstrate and internally report rates of retention, progression and completion for all cohorts of students over time (as a basis for detailed analysis and improvement, as also required in Domain 5) and we will expect to see reports containing the relevant data and analyses (typically in relation to Domain 5, in the case of registered providers) including analysis of the factors that might be driving any variations. New applicants should be able to demonstrate that they have made provision for such monitoring and reporting.

Reference points

  • Australian Council of Graduate Research Inc., Australian Graduate Research Good Practice Principles.
  • Australian Government, National Code of Practice for Registration Authorities and Providers of Education and Training to Overseas Students 2018.

1.4 Learning Outcomes and Assessment

The Standards in this Section present detailed requirements for the specification and assessment of learning outcomes and include a requirement for credible external referencing of the outcomes against national and international comparators, for example, by comparing the provider’s learning outcomes and methods of assessment with those of comparable programs at a reputable Australian higher education provider and (for learning outcomes) an international higher education provider. TEQSA will need to be satisfied that the processes of course accreditation employed by self-accrediting providers meet these Standards and, in the case of non-self-accrediting providers, the providers will need to demonstrate to our satisfaction that the requirements of the Standards have been met for each course. In practice, learning outcomes and methods of assessment are likely to be considered in conjunction with the overall design of the course of study (see Domain 3 [and Domain 4 if research training is undertaken]).

In particular, we will seek to confirm that the specified learning outcomes are consistent with the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) level of the higher education qualification offered and that student achievement of the course learning outcomes is credibly assessed, whether through:

  • aggregations of assessments at unit level
  • specific assessments of general course learning outcomes such as a capstone unit
  • a combination of both.

To demonstrate that the course is designed in a way that these Standards are met will require at a minimum, some form of mapping of where expected course learning outcomes are taught, practised and assessed and how they are aligned with unit learning outcomes and assessment. We may engage external discipline experts to assist in its deliberations about learning outcomes and assessment and may also have regard to an accreditation of the course of study by a professional body where applicable. The expected learning outcomes for research training (1.4.5–1.4.7) only apply where research training is offered through higher degrees by research.

Reference points

  • Australian Council of Graduate Research Inc., Australian Graduate Research Good Practice Principles.
  • Australian Qualifications Framework Council, Australian Qualifications Framework Second Edition January 2013.
  • Learning outcomes statements developed for the field of education or discipline by discipline communities or professional bodies.
  • The requirements for professional accreditation of the course of study and registration of graduates where applicable.

1.5 Qualifications and Certification

The Standards in this Section provide detailed specifications for the issuance of qualifications, the way they are certified and secured and the records of attainment that are available to students. The issuance of qualifications links to the corporate responsibility of the provider to issue qualifications legitimately (see Paragraph 6.2.1h). TEQSA has a particular interest in the onus the Standards in this Section place on the provider to ensure that any qualification awarded within the Australian Qualification Framework (AQF) is positioned at a level that corresponds with the level of the AQF it purports to meet.

Once a provider has demonstrated that it is able to manage the issue of qualifications competently and legitimately, we may give less emphasis to the administrative process but will remain concerned that course(s) of study are appropriate to the level of qualification issued (see also 1.4.1). In the case of self-accrediting providers, we will need to be satisfied about the adequacy of internal approval processes to meet this requirement, and may test selected course documentation in a sample of courses.

Providers should take steps to ensure the security of digital records and certification of qualifications.

Reference points

  • Australian Government (November 2013), Guidelines for the Presentation of the Australian Higher Education Graduation Statement.

Relevant guidance notes

The following guidance notes can be accessed at our Guidance notes page, or from the links below:

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