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Reducing the administrative burden of regulation - Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Updated on 22 September 2020

How long are TEQSA’s flexible arrangements in place to support the sector during COVID-19?

On 26 March 2020, TEQSA announced a range of measures aimed at reducing the administrative burden of regulation to support the sector respond and adapt to challenges from COVID-19. Some of these measures have been implemented or are underway, enabling providers some respite from applying to renew their registration or course accreditation for up to three years. Other measures, such as online delivery flexibility, flexible attendance requirements for international students, and relaxing the material change notification policy, will remain in place until they are no longer required.    

TEQSA is currently reviewing recent Federal and State Government advice and the framework for a COVIDSafe Australia, which outlines a staged process to ease restrictions. These will inform our approach to determining a safe regulatory transition for students and providers. We know providers are also focused on their transition plan in respect to temporary measures they have put in place. 

The sector should be assured that TEQSA’s regulatory flexibility will continue to support the sector’s transitions out of COVID-19 restrictions. TEQSA understands that these challenges may continue for some time and that providers may have multiple modes of delivery depending on what regions or locations can access face-to-face learning and which cannot. Any changes to our flexible regulatory approach will be carefully considered, including consultation with peak bodies and other government agencies as appropriate. Changes and updates will continue to be announced through formal communication channels to the sector, with guidance published on our website. Should a decision be taken to end TEQSA’s regulatory flexibility adequate transition arrangements will be afforded to providers to ensure that students and providers are not adversely impacted.

For further guidance to support the sector during the recovery planning process, please see COVID-19 recovery – key considerations for providers.

We have not traditionally offered online courses. However, can we now offer courses that we have recently converted to online delivery in response to the COVID-19 restrictions to new on and offshore students?

TEQSA accepts providers have rapidly shifted to online delivery modes in response to COVID-19 to ensure students can continue their studies. For most providers online delivery will be a temporary arrangement until students are able to return to face-to-face and other established forms of delivery. 

If a provider does not have a history of online delivery but is considering a longer term opportunity to promote its converted online courses to new markets domestically or internationally, on an ongoing basis (as opposed to a temporary arrangement), TEQSA will need be satisfied with the quality of each online course. TEQSA has prepared guidance for key consideration for providers for online delivery.

TEQSA has temporarily relaxed its Material Change Notification Policy to focus on key changes, including change to mode of delivery. Mode of delivery changes may significantly affect a provider’s ability to meet the Higher Education Standards Framework (Threshold Standards) 2015 (HES Framework). Therefore, if you have changed your mode of delivery, you must notify TEQSA. Please email materialchanges [at] teqsa.gov.au with a copy to your case manager. In the material change you must let TEQSA know if the shift to online delivery is a temporary change or a new business model, as well as the steps taken to ensure continued quality of teaching, adequate resources for staff and support for student wellbeing and safety. 

Do I need to notify TEQSA if I receive funding under the government’s higher education relief package for an existing accredited course for a graduate certificate, where there is a change in delivery mode?

Where a provider has changed the delivery mode to online delivery, then a material change notification should be sent to TEQSA. More information on material change notification obligations is available on our website.

Our renewal of registration is due this year. TEQSA has said that due to COVID-19 it will be extending the period of provider registration and course accreditation, deferring the need for renewal applications. How much of an extension can I expect?

Our case managers have started calling providers to discuss options for those with renewals due between now and 30 June 2022. Providers have their own unique characteristics and may be experiencing the impact of COVID-19 differently. The approach TEQSA will take for extensions will be a differentiated model based around the provider’s individual circumstances associated with renewing registration or accreditation.

If you haven’t heard from your case manager yet, don’t worry. We are working through this in an orderly manner and every provider registered with TEQSA will be contacted in the next few weeks.

Our proposed approach to extensions will be based on a range of factors and we’ll be discussing these with you before finalising a decision, so you’ll have plenty of opportunity to let us know about the challenges you’re facing and how best TEQSA can assist you.

As is the case with any extension proposal, providers are always given an opportunity to provide feedback and TEQSA will give weight to this feedback before making any decisions. There is no fee attached to an extension.

Most extensions will not exceed three years. Once normal business has resumed following the end of COVID-19 restrictions and impacts, TEQSA may review the timing of renewals in partnership with a provider. This could be as a result of material changes, a risk analysis or to enable better alignment of work programs. Providers will be given reasonable notice if this is necessary.

If our registration or course accreditation is extended, what will happen when cost recovery is implemented? Won’t this mean that by waiting longer to renew, we may incur additional cost as a result of potential fee increases?

The government announced on 12 April 2020, that cost recovery is to be deferred and fees will be waived until 1 July 2021. For more information on eligibility for regulatory fee relief, providers should consult the information about fees on the website of the Department of Education, Skills and Employment.  

What if a provider has already commenced scoping discussions with TEQSA for a renewal application? 

It is a matter for the individual provider to determine how to respond to an extension proposal in these circumstances. Providers are not compelled to progress with an extension and may decide to proceed with their assessment activities. If a provider opts to continue with their assessment activities TEQSA will offer providers flexibility on timeframes for responses to information requests. 

What does an extension now mean for any future extension?

TEQSA can only grant one extension of registration period (section 37A of the TEQSA Act) and one extension of accreditation period of courses (section 57A of the TEQSA Act). This means that an extension to an accreditation or registration period now will preclude future extensions for the same accreditation or registration period. That is why we are having discussions with individual providers and proposing extensions that should enable providers some leeway to plan their future approach to renewals.

What else is TEQSA doing to help higher education providers?

TEQSA will, in appropriate cases, also be extending the timeframes for: 

- lodgement of applications (by shortening the 6 month before expiry requirement);
- responses to proposed decisions or other actions; and 
- reporting against conditions currently imposed.

In addition and where appropriate we will be reducing or deferring requests for information and notifications. For example, the annual PIR has already been postponed until 30 June 2020.

We will have more to report on this next week, so keep checking our COVID-19 update page and these FAQs which will be updated to reflect your questions. 

Should I contact TEQSA, or will TEQSA contact me? 

TEQSA will contact you to discuss your specific circumstances and will outline the strategies available to reduce regulatory burden and allow you to focus on responding to COVID-19. However, if you have any specific questions or concerns please don’t hesitate to contact your case manager in the interim.

I have lodged a material change but I have not yet received a response from TEQSA. Can I proceed with the change? 

Yes, you can proceed with the change. Reporting material changes to TEQSA does not constitute an application for approval. You do not need to wait for a response from TEQSA. TEQSA will follow up if it considers there is a risk that Standards in the HES Framework have been or will be breached.

How do I report material changes?

Material changes should be reported to materialchanges [at] teqsa.gov.au. You may also wish copy in your case manager. Material changes must be lodged within 14 days. However, please speak with your case manager if you are unable to meet that timeframe. We have temporarily varied our reporting requirements to assist providers at this time which is described on our COVID-19 page.

Many of our staff (including the Principal Executive Officer) are working from home. As a result, it is difficult to meet the requirements of the TEQSA application which requires a witness to the signature. Will TEQSA accept electronic signatures on applications, including from witnesses?

Yes, e-signatures are fine and no witness is required until further notice, noting that giving false or misleading information is a serious offence.

What flexibility will be given with regard to limitations on online delivery to international students (requirements 8.19 and 8.20 of the National Code 2018)?

TEQSA is continuing to be flexible in its approach to regulating standards 8.19 and 8.20. ​​​​​TEQSA understands that providers may not be in a position to offer courses via face-to-face delivery. If providers switch to an online delivery model, TEQSA expects that providers maintain accurate records on the student file.  

As long as students remain enrolled with their provider and the assessment requirements of the course allow it, TEQSA will be flexible on the location of the student, the mode of delivery, and accept that minimum face-to-face teaching requirements may not be met at this time. Providers should assure themselves that such arrangements maintain assessment and quality standards, and are appropriately documented. Not all courses will be suited to online learning.

Providers should continue to ensure students receive appropriate learning support via its online delivery model and are able to achieve learning outcomes. 

Providers may also need to consider any contracts or other written arrangements with students, including the written agreements made with students in accordance with Standard 3.3.1 of the National Code 2018, about mode of delivery, when determining options to afford to students in light of any changes to course delivery.

What flexibility will be given to attendance requirements related to ELICOS and Foundation Program providers?

TEQSA is maintaining a flexible approach with regard to regulating attendance requirements for ELICOS and Foundation programs.

Where providers are choosing to deliver ELICOS or Foundation courses via online delivery, providers need to make sure they have the capacity to deliver online programs, provide learning support and engage students whilst delivering the face-to-face component via online delivery. Any significant changes to face-to-face attendance requirements and delivery mode should be advised to TEQSA via a material change notification.

ELICOS and Foundation Program providers must continue to monitor and record the attendance of overseas students. However, until further notice, TEQSA will accept other mechanisms for monitoring and recording students’ engagement and participation, and will not require that providers enforce the minimum requirement in standard 8.6.1 of 80 per cent attendance of scheduled course contact hours.

Can international students have a reduced study load during this challenging time?

TEQSA’s priorities are to ensure that the quality of higher education and student wellbeing are maintained. We support providers’ efforts to keep students enrolled, and accept that this may include a reduced study load. It will be important to keep good and comprehensive records as students may need to extend their student visa in future, and providers will need to ensure that they’re in a position to substantiate the extension. For information on any changes to student visa requirements, the Department of Home Affairs has information on its website.

Can I enrol new international students into a course of study, noting that they will most likely have to commence from overseas and online?

Yes, new international students can be enrolled into courses that are currently being delivered online. If the international student is offshore, providers need to be transparent with students about the fact that this is an interim arrangement, and that a valid COE and student visa will be required for the international student to come onshore once normal modes of delivery can be resumed. 

Although we are continuing to operate, we have students who are unable to continue paying for their course. What do we do?

The coronavirus outbreak is causing significant stress on all Australians, including from a financial and mental health perspective. We encourage all providers to be aware of this and consider all student concerns.

Providers should consider the information they have published in their documented policies and procedures relating to payments, refunds, and unable to pay situations. You may choose to offer payment plans, of smaller and more manageable amounts, for students who want to actively continue to study. You could also defer a student’s study for the time being, until they are able to continue.

I am a CRICOS provider. Can we market to international students who are currently living offshore, with the intention that they will be issued with a confirmation of enrolment (CoE) and student visa to complete their course in Australia?

If an international student studies a course while they are living offshore, they do not need a visa for Australia. Students only require a visa when they intend to enter Australia.

While CRICOS providers with an active registration can continue to market CRICOS courses, in these current circumstances the marketing must make explicitly clear:
• that the student will likely begin their studies online in their home country
• if there is a portion of the course which must be completed in Australia (cannot be completed online) and, if so, what these units are
• that the student will be required to come to Australia on a student visa as soon as they are able
• that the student must be eligible to apply for a student visa as soon as they are able.

Marketing must also clearly explain to prospective students what will occur if a student’s visa is rejected.

Where a student begins studying without a student visa, providers must ensure they meet all requirements of the HESF, ESOS National Code, ELICOS Standards and Foundation Program Standards relating to offshore delivery.  

For information as to the current status relating to applying for a student visa, please refer to the Department of Home Affairs dedicated website.

I am a CRICOS provider. Can we commence online delivery to students who are on a student visa and have a confirmation of enrolment (CoE) if they are still living offshore?

Yes, students who have already been issued a student visa can commence their studies online in their home country.

I am a CRICOS provider. How do I report changes to delivery and student circumstances on PRISMS?

PRISMS is administered by the Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE). The PRISMS website provides news and information which may assist providers.

The PRISMS helpdesk has provided advice for education providers in relation to managing international student Confirmation of Enrolment records (CoEs).

Providers should also continue to review information provided by DESE on its dedicated website, relating to regulatory information for universities VET, ELICOS and higher education providers.