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Provider Category Standards reform

Provider Category Standards reform

In February 2021, the Australian Parliament passed the Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Provider Category Standards and Other Measures) Bill 2020.

The Bill gives effect to the Australian Government’s decision to implement all 10 recommendations arising from the Provider Category Standards review conducted in 2019.

These important changes simplify and enhance the categorisation of higher education providers in Australia, ensuring that the Provider Category Standards remain fit for purpose in Australia’s evolving higher education landscape.

As part of these changes the six current provider categories will be replaced by four:

  • from Higher Education Provider to Institute of Higher Education
  • from Australian University and Australian University of Specialisation to Australian University
  • from Overseas University and Overseas University of Specialisation to Overseas University
  • University College (a new category).

On 27 April 2021, the updated Higher Education Standards Framework (Threshold Standards) 2021 legislative instrument was published on the Federal Register of Legislation.

The substantive change to the instrument is the updating of the Provider Category Standards to incorporate recommendations from the 2019 review.

TEQSA expects the new instrument will take effect from 1 July 2021 and will inform the sector once the commencement date is confirmed.

What TEQSA is doing

On 12 March 2021, TEQSA’s Chief Commissioner wrote to all 184 registered providers outlining TEQSA’s approach to this transition.

TEQSA is now working to implement these reforms, with the expectation that the revised categories will take effect from 1 July 2021.

For the great majority of registered providers, the transition to the new categories will be straightforward, for example, those in the university categories. Similarly, we expect that for existing Higher Education Providers who do not have self-accrediting authority, the process will involve a simple transition to the new Institute of Higher Education category. For these providers, TEQSA will make a determination under section 38 of the TEQSA Act to assign most providers to the appropriate updated category. On 8 June, the Chief Commissioner wrote to 131 registered Higher Education Providers that do not have self-accrediting authority to outline this process.

There are, however, a dozen or so providers for whom the situation requires very careful consideration. This group includes the sole institution within the existing Australian University College category and those Higher Education Providers with self-accrediting authority.

Self-accrediting authority is one of a number of criteria that must be met in order to be awarded entry to the new University College category. TEQSA will therefore adopt a merit-based assessment process to consider those seeking categorisation as a University College.

Specifically, Higher Education Providers with self-accrediting authority who wish to be categorised as a University College by 1 July 2021 will need to make a submission against all University College criteria to TEQSA. This process also will involve those two or three providers who have already lodged category change applications. TEQSA has been in contact with all of these providers to outline this process.

The National Register will be updated to reflect the new provider categories from 1 July 2021.

Providers with any questions about this change should email categorychange [at] teqsa.gov.au.

What are the Provider Category Standards?

The Higher Education Provider Category Standards are part of the Higher Education Standards Framework (Threshold Standards) 2015 legislative instrument. They define different categories of higher education providers, and requirements expected of them, for registration by TEQSA.

Why are the Provider Category Standards being revised?

Australia’s model for categorising higher education has remained fundamentally unchanged for almost 20 years. During this period, there has been considerable change within the higher education sector.

In 2019, the Australian Government commissioned a review to ensure they remain fit for purpose against Australia’s evolving higher education landscape, accommodate innovative and changing practice, and are comparable to international benchmarks. 

The review examined the Provider Category Standards with a range of stakeholders in mind: higher education providers, the regulator, students as consumers, employers, and the broader public interest.

The Australian Government subsequently accepted all 10 recommendations from the review. 

In February 2021, the Australian Parliament passed the Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Provider Category Standards and Other Measures) Bill 2020, which gives effect to the Government’s decision.

What are the main changes to the Provider Category Standards?

These important changes will simplify and enhance the categorisation of higher education providers in Australia, ensuring that the Provider Category Standards remain fit for purpose in Australia’s evolving higher education landscape.

As part of these changes the six current provider categories will be replaced by four.

Current categories:

  • Higher Education Provider (HEP)
  • Australian University
  • Australian University College
  • Australian University of Specialisation
  • Overseas University
  • Overseas University of Specialisation

Categories from 1 July 2021:

  • Institute of Higher Education
  • University College
  • Australian University
  • Overseas University

The updated provider category standards are also expected to clarify:

  • the obligations of institutions in both the Australian University and University College categories to be active participants in their communities and enhance the employability of graduates through civic leadership and engagement with employers and industry.
  • how the quality of research activity will be assessed in the Australian University category, giving more certainty to institutions about the expectations for research quality.

When will these changes take effect?

The new standards are expected to take effect from 1 July 2021. TEQSA will update the National Register to reflect the updated category for each provider from this date, following the transition process.

What is the transition process for registered providers?

For the great majority of registered providers, the transition to the new categories will be straightforward, for example, those in the university categories. Similarly, we expect that for existing Higher Education Providers who do not have self-accrediting authority, the process will involve a simple transition to the new Institute of Higher Education category.

There are, however, a dozen or so providers for whom the situation requires very careful consideration. This group includes the sole institution within the existing Australian University College category and those Higher Education Providers with self-accrediting authority.

Self-accrediting authority is one of a number of criteria that must be met in order to be awarded entry to the new University College category. TEQSA will therefore adopt a merit-based assessment process to consider those seeking categorisation as a University College.

Specifically, Higher Education Providers with self-accrediting authority who wish to be categorised as a University College by 1 July 2021 will need to make a submission against all University College criteria to TEQSA. Details of this process will be shared with these providers in the next few days. This process also will involve those two or three providers who have already lodged category change applications.

TEQSA will be engaging directly with each of these institutions to outline our approach, and we expect to complete the transition process by 1 July 2021.

Can my institution transition to the University College category if it does not have self-accrediting authority?

No. One of the criteria to be a University College is that an institution has authority to self-accredit at least 70 per cent of its courses of study.

Is there a fee for providers wishing to change category?

There will be no fee incurred for providers as a result of TEQSA’s implementation of the provider category change.  

Provider category change applications initiated by providers post-1 July 2021 will be subject to the fees in place at that time.

When will the decision to update providers’ categories be made?

The new standards are expected to take effect from 1 July 2021. TEQSA will make a decision on this date to register providers in one of the four categories available under the Higher Education Standards Framework (Threshold Standards) 2021. Following the decision, providers will be notified and the National Register will be updated to reflect the category for each provider.

Are TEQSA’s provider category decisions reviewable?

Yes, provider category decisions are reviewable. A provider can apply to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) for merits review. Merits review means that the AAT considers the available evidence and determines whether TEQSA’s decision is the correct and preferable decision. For more information, visit the AAT’s website.