Higher Education Provider Roundtable – Perth
The Higher Education Provider Roundtable was convened as an opportunity for TEQSA to receive feedback directly from providers operating in Western Australia. Invitations were sent to all providers in Western Australia and 21 representatives, from 13 providers, participated in this event.
The event included an update from Anthony McClaran on TEQSA’s recent activities, changes in budget position, key data from the most recent Stakeholder Survey results and next steps in regards to building relationships and streamlining processes with Professional Accreditation Bodies.
Small group discussions for universities and independent/TAFE providers were chaired by the Chief Commissioner and the Chief Executive Officer. A representative from each group reported back and matters of common interest to all providers were further explored during the final plenary session.
Participants used this opportunity to provide feedback around TEQSA’s current risk assessment framework and process, share experiences in regards to managing issues around sexual assault and sexual harassment and combatting contract cheating, discuss the streamlining of professional accreditation process with TEQSA’s activities and provide input to help shape TEQSA’s review of the Case Manager role and how the agency can improve its engagement with the independent/TAFE provider sector.
Overall, there was strong support for TEQSA to host events in Perth on an annual basis.
The following themes were identified as part of the small group discussions, in which participants were divided into two groups - universities and independent/TAFE providers.
Many of the themes identified were consistent with the feedback received at the Higher Education Provider Roundtable events held in Sydney and Melbourne earlier this year and with the results of TEQSA’s 2017 Stakeholder Survey.
University representatives indicated that contract cheating has occurred within their institutions and while measures to date have been a deterrent for some students in using these services, more is needed to combat these services directly. The group discussed collaborating with the Federal Police to identify online contract cheating services and using IT security systems to prevent these sites targeting students.
The work undertaken by the Universities Australia (UA) Academic Integrity Working Group was also raised and it was felt that TEQSA could collaborate with this working group to share examples of academic integrity good practice, and in particular to push for changes to legislation to outlaw contract cheating. The effectiveness of changes in legislation was discussed in the context of New Zealand, where legislation outlawing contract cheating has already been passed.
University representatives acknowledged this as a sector wide issue and advised that Western Australian universities have met with UA to discuss the steps being taken to address it. Universities have provided the required reports to Ministers, TEQSA and various other organisations on what is being done to address this issue and it was felt by some participants that greater alignment of reporting requirements would reduce burden for all higher education providers.
The university representatives indicated that in their experience sexual assault and sexual harassment incidents appear to be more common during the students’ commute to and from university, rather than on campus directly. While the universities are taking steps to address this, it was suggested by some participants that more education, both within the institution and more broadly, may be required about the university’s scope and responsibilities for student wellbeing and to ensure that sexual assault and sexual harassment data is accurately representative of what is within this scope of the university context.
Some of the challenges in managing individual cases of sexual assault and sexual harassment, including being able to prove misconduct and take action that is appropriate and in the interest of both parties, were also discussed.
University representatives also considered the role of TEQSA in managing individual student matters. It was raised by one participant that communication from TEQSA could be improved, to be clearer and provide a basis for making information requests, so that there is no misconception that TEQSA is overreaching its powers in the investigation of individual cases. This suggestion was extended to all student complaints, with universities indicating the relationship and processes in place with the WA Ombudsman work well and may be something to work towards. It was acknowledged that the turnover of TEQSA Case Managers is a barrier to strengthening relationships for some providers.
Some participants expressed concerns that factors such as the size of the provider, level of casual staff and types of scholarly activity undertaken and other contextual factors of particular relevance to Western Australian providers, such as graduate destination and employment outcomes, are not sufficiently taken into account by TEQSA when developing the risk assessments. This was common across both the university and independent/TAFE provider small group discussions.
Participants were advised that in order to ensure consistency, risk thresholds apply to all providers and that TEQSA generally avoids making contextual judgements when analysing data against the risk indicator thresholds in the first instance. However, risk assessment indicators are indicative and not definitive. Changes to individual indicators, such as graduate destinations, may be made based on the provider’s response to the risk assessment, although this may not necessarily have a bearing on the overall risk rating.
It was suggested by some participants that TEQSA could be more explicit in the commentary included in the risk assessments to indicate that the local context has been taken into account, even if the risk rating remains unchanged. Some participants also expressed concern that having to respond to red-flagged indicators, that then do not impact on overall risk ratings, adds additional burden on the provider.
Independent/TAFE provider participants were advised that TEQSA’s definition of attrition is applied to all providers. This definition is published on the TEQSA website and consistent with the definition used by the Department of Education and Training.
Participants discussed examples of particular student cohorts that exist and may negatively skew attrition data. It was suggested that this is another factor that may also need to be considered when developing the risk assessments.
Independent/TAFE provider participants discussed including student satisfaction data as part of the risk assessments, and the comment was made that small and specialist providers would likely rate highly if this was an indicator.
TEQSA has established the Student Expert Advisory Group as a mechanism for student representatives to be able to provide feedback directly to the Commissioners and CEO, and this group is considering how to increase the student voice in TEQSA assessment, in particular through the use of student survey data. TEQSA also interacts with QILT and can use this to obtain student satisfaction data.
One participant commented that due to the costs involved, not all providers are able to participate in the QILT surveys and therefore this cannot be the only way to obtain data.
University representatives discussed some of the challenges associated with micro-credentialing, including: companies offering credentials as part of professional training; ensuring information to students is transparent and up front about whether a credential is transferable or will be recognised as prior learning and the pathways that may be taken by completing the credential; and how credentials can be ‘stacked’ to form part or all of a formal qualification that meets the requirements of the Higher Education Standards and the AQF.
It was suggested that TEQSA could provide more guidance to providers and use this as a topic for future forums to explore the challenges around non-traditional forms of assessment and qualifications.
TEQSA has established Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with over 20 professional accreditation bodies and this continues to grow. The current list is available on the TEQSA website. The MOU’s allow for information exchange and this is currently occurring in a formalised and regular manner with many of these organisations. While there appears to be a willingness from some professional accreditation bodies to engage further to streamline accreditation processes, the challenges for implementing this need to be acknowledged and legislation may be needed to require the professional bodies to work with the regulator.
TEQSA has begun the process of mapping the Higher Education Standards against the professional bodies’ to see where there are gaps, and the use of common experts for both the TEQSA and professional accreditation process is being considered.
Both the university and independent/TAFE provider participants expressed concerns with the level of duplication currently required and strongly supported the streamlining of activities by TEQSA and the professional accreditation bodies to reduce burden for providers.
Independent/TAFE provider participants discussed TEQSA’s involvement with international quality assurance agencies and transnational education. It was suggested that TEQSA could consider developing guidance material more specifically for offshore delivery around the Standards that are applicable for transnational education.
One participant commented on the effectiveness of an existing TAFE provider network that provides a forum for sharing experiences and advice, which may be something that TEQSA can establish and facilitate for its providers.
All independent/TAFE provider participants indicated strong support for an annual TEQSA event to be held in Perth. For other events, the majority of participants were supportive of webinars as long as there was a way they could interact and participate.
A number of participants indicated that they did not receive an invitation to the Higher Education provider roundtable events held in Sydney and Melbourne earlier in the year. Invitations were distributed to the principal contacts of all independent/TAFE providers in Australia, and for future events this method of distributing invitations will be reviewed to ensure it remains effective.
Some participants indicated positive experiences when interacting with their Case Manager. Some participants indicated that their Case Manager feels more like a ‘contact person’ in that providers can contact them to ask a question, but the Case Manager would never contact the provider outside of an assessment. Other participants expressed concerns that their queries often go unanswered and there is no known mechanism for escalating this further if required. It was noted that in some cases, relationship management is lacking and this will be considered by TEQSA as it reviews the role of Case Managers moving forward.
Some concerns were also raised about the lack of face-to-face interaction between Perth providers and TEQSA staff due to distance and the overwhelming majority of providers operating on the east coast. Participants strongly supported the consideration of a TEQSA presence in Perth.
Overall, independent/TAFE provider participants indicated that guidance material was useful. Further suggestions for TEQSA to offer training to new compliance officers within providers and to the members of the TEQSA external experts register were also discussed.
The following issues were also raised by participants during the small group sessions:
- Some independent/TAFE provider participants commented on the additional burden for dual sector providers in meeting the requirements of ASQA and TEQSA. Joint assessments have been piloted but the regulatory frameworks are very different.
- A concern was raised from an independent/TAFE provider participant that universities have a great deal of power and may go directly to politicians to influence TEQSA, which participants were reassured is not the case. Furthermore, TEQSA, as a Government Agency, is transparent in its decision making and in any policy changes that may impact on the agency and providers.
- An independent/TAFE provider participant commented that TEQSA’s ‘high front gate approach’ was valued by providers across the sector.
The following questions, based on the feedback received from during this event will be shared with TEQSA’s Commissioners and Senior Management Team and be considered as part of TEQSA’s forward planning.
- Can TEQSA collaborate more effectively with the peak bodies and existing working groups to progress activities to combat contract cheating? Can this collaboration be extended to address other sector wide matters?
- How can TEQSA improve its communication with providers around the agency’s responsibilities, and how this fits with the provider’s existing processes, in the case of investigations?
- It is very important to Western Australian providers that TEQSA and the professional accreditation bodies work together to reduce duplication and burden for providers. How this will be done will be explored at the inaugural TEQSA and Professional Accreditation Bodies forum to be held on 14 December.
- How can the relationship between Case Managers and providers be improved? What does good provider liaison look like? What should be the KPIs and training for case management? How can TEQSA ensure a consistent approach by all Case Managers?
- Can TEQSA host events in Perth more often and explore ways that providers in remote locations can be more engaged in events via the use of technology? Can TEQSA give consideration to an office presence in Perth?