Compliance in focus: Identifying students at academic risk

The circumstances

Providers have obligations under TEQSA’s legislative framework to monitor students’ progress within or between units of study. The purpose is to identify students who are at risk of not progressing. This could be an anticipated risk or an observed risk. This enables providers to intervene early, and provide targeted support to these students, if required.

While most providers adequately monitor student performance, we have observed some instances where there is lack of early identification and engagement with students at risk of unsatisfactory progress, and lack of or inadequate support to meet the needs of students.

Many students at risk of not progressing, who do not receive early support, are at higher risk of experiencing disconnection from learning. This has led to some students discontinuing their studies.

It is particularly relevant in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic where face-to-face on campus delivery has been suspended, that providers have robust systems in place to monitor student engagement in their tuition activities, identify students at risk of not progressing, and intervene early to provide appropriate and tailored support.

Our role

Both the HES Framework and National Code 2018 require providers to have systems to monitor student progress and engagement, and promptly support students at risk of not progressing. This includes: 

  • HES Framework Standards 1.3.3-1.3.6 which require providers to conduct early assessment of student progress, detect students at risk of poor progress and provide early feedback on student performance, and provide targeted support programs to students at risk of unsatisfactory progress.
  • Standard 8 of the National Code 2018 which sets out that providers must safeguard the integrity of Australia’s migration laws by monitoring student progress, identify at risk students and support overseas students to complete their course within the required duration and fulfil their visa requirements for course attendance and course progress. 

Compliance with these standards ensures that students have every opportunity to succeed in their studies.

Our focus

In 2021, TEQSA considered concerns about several providers’ practices for international students, and their ability to detect non-engaging students or students at academic risk of not progressing in their course of study, in order to provide these students with support.

Our review of these matters identified the following issues:

  • inadequate policies and procedures for monitoring student progress and engagement in tuition activities
  • lack of staff training on how to monitor and identify early a non-engaging student
  • failure to follow through on the implementation of intervention strategies for at risk students.

Our review also identified concerns with the application of student admission policies and recognition of prior learning protocols, which may result in providers admitting international students who are not appropriately qualified and applying of credit without an adequate basis. 

In the course of these assessments, we conducted detailed analysis of large volumes of information submitted by the providers and cross-referenced these with enrolment data on the Provider Registration and International Student Management System (PRISMS). 

We paid close attention to providers’ documented policies and procedures to determine whether they met the requirements of the legislative framework, whether these policies and procedures were being applied consistently, and whether they were operating as intended.

Our assessments identified non-compliance with a number of obligations under the ESOS Act and National Code 2018 which have serious implications for international students and the integrity of awards offered. In these cases, we are taking firm regulatory action to protect students and the integrity and reputation of the sector.

What providers can do

We encourage providers to:

  • have policies and procedures that support early detection of non-engaging students and students at risk of not progressing, with strategies to support students to meet course requirements throughout their course
  • consider best practice when setting institutional policy for detecting unsatisfactory progress, for example applying ‘failure of 50% or more of enrolled units in a study period’, to ensure early detection and intervention
  • ensure staff and students understand their responsibilities and are notified of any updates/changes to relevant policies
  • monitor and track student engagement throughout a course of study using a variety of means such as assessment submissions, participation in class and frequency of access to the learning management system
  • ensure staff are trained in identifying non-engaging students and students at risk of not progressing and are aware of strategies to support students
  • have regular check points with students, such as at the beginning or mid semester 
  • ensure progress monitoring procedures are regularly reviewed, benchmarked, and improved, to identify which policies are effective in achieving their intent and inform decision-making in relation to what, if anything, needs adjusting
  • if things go wrong, ensure a prompt, comprehensive, and documented response
  • maintain accurate and comprehensive records about students at risk
  • accurately report student non-progression status on PRISMS
  • report on student admissions, progression and retention rates to the academic and governing boards regularly throughout the academic year.