On 27 April 2021, the updated Higher Education Standards Framework (Threshold Standards) 2021 was published on the Federal Register of Legislation.
This is the first update to the Threshold Standards since 2015.
The Threshold Standards were revised in response to the review of the Provider Category Standards conducted in 2019. The Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Provider Category Standards and Other Measures) Act 2021 gave effect to the Australian Government’s decision to implement all 10 recommendations arising from this review.
The updated Threshold Standards, which incorporate the revised provider categories came into effect from 1 July 2021.
Further amendments to Threshold Standards were made on 1 December 2021 to include a definition of Academic Freedom and update three standards.
What’s new in the 2021 Threshold Standards?
Part A: Standards for Higher Education
With the exception of minor amendments to Standards 1.2.1, 1.2.2 and 7.3.2, Part A is unchanged from the 2015 Threshold Standards.
Updated standard 1.2.1 and 1.2.2
Amendments to standards 1.2.1 and 1.2.2 clarify that these standards are intended to reflect the credit and recognition of prior learning policy in the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF).
Updated standard 6.1.4
Amendments to standard 6.1.4 require higher education providers’ governing bodies to take steps to develop and maintain an institutional environment in which freedom of speech and academic freedom are upheld and protected.
Updated standard 7.3.2
New item (g) in Standard 7.3.2 ensures that information about the provider’s credit and recognition of prior learning policy, and any articulation or credit arrangements applicable to each course of study, is readily and publicly accessible.
Part B: Criteria for Higher Education Providers
This part of the Standards has been rewritten to incorporate the recommendations of the 2019 review of the Provider Category Standards. Among the changes are the replacement of the six previous provider categories with four new categories.
Updates to Part B1: Criteria for Higher Education Provider Categories
- Part B1 sets out the criteria for each of the four higher education provider categories listed in section 6 of the Threshold Standards.
- B1 explains that all providers of higher education must meet the requirements of Part A and satisfy the requirements set out under the ‘Institute of Higher Education’ category in order to gain registration by TEQSA. It further explains that higher education providers may seek approval within a particular provider category under subsection 18(1) (applying for registration) or section 38 (change of category) of the TEQSA Act, and states that the provider category of each higher education provider will be included on the National Register of Higher Education Providers (administered by TEQSA).
- B1 also introduces a new requirement for a higher education provider to feature their TEQSA Provider Identification and provider category on relevant public material.
Institute of Higher Education
- B1.1 sets out the requirements that a higher education provider must meet to be registered in the Institute of Higher Education category, including a clearly articulated higher education purpose that includes a commitment to freedom of speech and academic freedom.
- B1.2 sets out the requirements that a higher education provider registered in the University College category must meet.
- A note explains that providers registered in this category do not need to adopt the ‘University College’ branding if the name does not suit their mission or purpose.
- There are two pathways into the University College category, these being:
- an existing provider that demonstrates a mature level of development and a track record of compliance against the criteria for this category (criteria B1.2.1-12 apply to this pathway); or
- a new provider (greenfield) that demonstrates the capacity, resources and credible plans to satisfy the University College category criteria within category criteria within five years of commencing teaching and the Australian University category criteria within five years of commencing teaching (criteria B1.2.13-18 apply to this pathway).
- A note explains that where a newly established higher education provider can already demonstrate that it meets all of the requirements of the ‘Australian University’ category, including mature development and a track record of compliance, TEQSA may consider approving direct entry of the new entity to the ‘Australian University’ category if it is satisfied that the corporate and academic governance arrangements established for the new entity will ensure continued compliance and performance to the required standard for that category. It is expected this could only occur in very limited circumstances – for example if a large existing university were separated into two smaller entities that could demonstrate appropriate levels of corporate and academic governance and quality assurance.
- B1.3 sets out the requirements that a higher education provider must meet to be registered in the Australian University category, including the delivery of self-accrediting undergraduate and postgraduate courses of study.
- B1.3 explains that, where an ‘Australian University’ has self-accrediting authority in only one or two broad (2-digit) fields of education, it is deemed to have a specialised focus. It further explains that, where an ‘Australian University’ with a specialised focus delivers courses of study in new broad (2 digit) field/s of education, the provider must be successful in seeking authorisation to self-accredit courses of study in the new field/s within 10 years from the commencement of those courses of study.
- A note explains that, upon achieving self-accrediting authority in at least three broad (2-digit) fields of education for which Doctoral Degrees (Research) are also delivered, the ‘Australian University’ is no longer deemed to have a specialised focus.
- B1.3 also states that undertaking of research that leads to new knowledge and original creative endeavour and research training are fundamental to the status of a higher education provider as an ‘Australian University’.
- A note explains that when assessing the research requirements in criteria B1.3.16-19, TEQSA may specify the matters to be considered in a legislative instrument. TEQSA will use existing national research benchmarking exercises where they are applicable. Where they are not applicable, TEQSA will benchmark against standard research indicators.
- B1.3 then sets out the standards for research that an Australian University must satisfy.
- B1.4 sets out the requirements that a higher education provider registered in the Overseas University category must meet.
Updates to Part B2: Criteria for Seeking Self-Accrediting Authority
Part B2 explains that providers can apply to TEQSA for limited or unlimited self-accrediting authority. It then sets out requirements that a provider must demonstrate it has satisfied for TEQSA to consider granting self-accrediting authority.
Updates to Part B3: Transitional Standards
- Part B3 sets out the transition arrangements for providers that were already registered at the time the 2021 Threshold Standard takes effect.
- Part B3.1 explains that TEQSA will determine the appropriate provider category for each registered provider to transition to on commencement of the 2021 Thresholds Standards.
- Part B3.2 sets transitional research standards for providers in the Australian University provider category. It explains that a provider that is registered in the ‘Australian University’ category after the 2021 Threshold Standards comes into force, and, immediately before the commencement date was in a provider registration category that permitted use of the word ‘university’, must achieve the benchmarks set out B1.3 within particular time frames.
Provider Category Standards reform implementation
- Information for providers about TEQSA’s approach for implementing the updated Provider Category Standards
Quality of Research Determination 2021
This legislative instrument complements new research quality criteria included in the Higher Education Standards Framework (Threshold Standards) 2021 for the ‘Australian University’ category. It provides clarity around the research quality indicators that TEQSA will have regard to in relation to an entity or provider seeking registration or re-registration as an Australian University.
Guidelines for the use of the word 'university'
More information for providers about the use of the word ‘university’ in Australian higher education is available from the Department of Education, Skills and Employment.
Frequently asked questions
What is the impact on my in-progress assessment?
There will be no impact for in-progress assessment that are completed before 1 July 2021.
There should be minimal impact and in most cases no impact for existing providers applying to renew their registration, and for providers applying to accredit or renew a course, as well as for potential new providers seeking initial registration in the Higher Education Provider category. This is because of the minimal changes to Part A of the HESF. Further, a potential new provider seeking to register in the previous Higher Education Provider category will be registered in the new Institute of Higher Education category should their application be successful. The assessment manager responsible for an existing assessment will contact a provider if there are any further information requirements needed to complete an assessment that is still in progress after 1 July 2021.
What is the impact on my upcoming renewal or new assessment, for which I have already received my confirmed evidence table?
There should be minimal impact and in most cases no impact where a provider has received a confirmed evidence table. The assessment manager responsible for an assessment will contact a provider if there are any further information requirements after an application has been received.
What happens if I had planned to submit for self-accrediting authority or provider category change under the HESF 2015? Can I still submit? What if I have an in progress application I have not yet submitted?
Applications received after 1 July 2021 for self-accrediting authority (SAA) or provider category change (PCC) will have the evidence requirements based on, and the application assessed against, the HESF 2021. The responsible TEQSA assessment manager will contact a provider if there are any further information requirements after an application has been received.
Please speak to your TEQSA case manager regarding any SAA or PCC applications in progress or where evidence requirements have been provided for an SAA or PCC application.
Will the online forms change?
TEQSA is updating the provider portal to incorporate updated forms from 1 July 2021.
When can I apply for SAA under HESF 2021?
Now the 2021 Threshold Standards are in effect, providers can lodge an application for self-accrediting authority. Please speak to your TEQSA case manager if you have additional questions about this process.
When can I apply for the University College category under HESF 2021?
Eligible providers that already possessed self-accrediting authority were contacted by TEQSA in March 2021 to outline the process for categorisation under the new University College category. Other providers who wish to be considered for the University College category must first achieve self-accrediting authority. Please speak to your TEQSA case manager to find out more.