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Review by the accountable authority

This is the eighth annual report of the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA); it describes the performance and achievements of the agency over 2018-19.

Australians can be rightly proud of the strength and quality of our higher education system: the commitment of our higher education providers and universities to the achievement of positive outcomes for their students; the scholarship and research they undertake and the knowledge and understanding this contributes to their education programs; and the willingness they demonstrate to engage constructively with their stakeholders, including TEQSA, in the interests of quality assurance and enhancement. This is the positive environment that TEQSA oversees and regulates in the interests of all higher education students and the reputation of the sector as a whole.

The additional $24.3 million of funding over four years provided in the 2018-19 Budget to ensure the ongoing financial sustainability of the agency and increase its permanent staffing, meant that 2018-19 was a period of significant re-growth for TEQSA.

Substantial time and resources were required to recruit, select and train new staff. A comprehensive training program was developed and delivered to train new assessment staff. The impact from the increase in ongoing staff to undertake assessments assisted with reducing the time taken to assess and make decisions on applications. Improvements in the timeliness of TEQSA’s work was mainly achieved in the latter part of the year and resulted in a 24 per cent reduction overall in the time taken to reach decisions on applications compared to the previous year and a substantial improvement in meeting legislative timeframes.

Providers continued to rate the agency highly in the 2018-19 stakeholder survey with 76 per cent rating TEQSA’s performance as good or excellent in assuring the quality of Australian higher education.

Information, guidance and engagement

Providing information and guidance for higher education providers about achieving compliance with the quality standards not only supports their achievement of the Higher Education Standards Framework, but also supports the internal quality assurance of providers.

TEQSA continued to utilise a diverse range of approaches to engage with the sector, including through provision of information on quality issues and the annual TEQSA conference. The sector rated many aspects of TEQSA’s communication highly, with 77 per cent rating TEQSA’s performance during 2018-19 as good or excellent. TEQSA is focused on further improving our communication and engagement with the sector.

Twelve of TEQSA’s guidance notes were released or updated and there were close to 21 000 views of the guidance note webpage during the year. New guidance notes addressed academic leadership and ELICOS direct entry. The popularity of the guidance notes is reflected in the stakeholder survey where 88 per cent of providers rated the usefulness of the information on the Higher Education Standards Framework as good or excellent.

Work on sector-wide issues continued in 2018-19, with a report published in January 2019 on the sector’s response to the findings of the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Change the Course: National Report on Sexual Harassment at Australian Universities (2017). TEQSA’s work on admissions transparency also continued with the development of a good practice note and scoping of the second evaluation of providers’ websites to be reported to the Minister in early 2020.

Regulatory policy

The agency was involved in a number of policy related activities throughout the year. This included development of regulatory policies to extend the period of the existing registration or course accreditation of providers that met the policy requirements. The policy reflects TEQSA's greater level of information and understanding of providers' operations and our commitment to streamlining regulation of the sector in a proportionate and risk reflective manner.

TEQSA also contributed to the review of the Australian Qualifications Framework and considerations by the Higher Education Standards Panel on the Review of Higher Education Provider Category Standards. The advice provided by TEQSA focused on the impacts of proposed changes on the regulation of the sector and issues with the current requirements.

Assessment and compliance activities

There was a tripling in the number of applications from prospective entrants received during the 2018-19 compared to the previous year. Of the 17 applications assessed, eight applicants withdrew after initial assessment by TEQSA, four were rejected and five applicants were granted registration by TEQSA.

Over the year, TEQSA continued to develop its compliance and investigation capabilities, and executed its first warrant in partnership with a number of government agencies. While most higher education providers are meeting the requirements of the Higher Education Standards Framework, TEQSA will act swiftly to protect student interests and the reputation of the sector where serious or wilful wrongdoing is occurring.

To address delays in the monitoring and assessment of compliance with conditions, a review of conditions previously imposed on registrations and accreditations was undertaken. Following the completion of 162 assessments of compliance with conditions, 178 decisions were made to revoke or vary previously imposed conditions or impose new conditions.

Looking forward

The feedback from providers through various fora has contributed to the development of the 2019-23 Corporate Plan. TEQSA's main challenge over the next year will be managing the increased workload and ensuring continued improvement in timeliness of decision making, while maintaining effective oversight of the sector. Initiatives to further improve the efficiency of the agency are already underway. Significant improvements to the information management of the agency will also contribute to the efficiency of the agency and enhance the regulatory experience for providers.

In the 2018-19 Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, the commencement of TEQSA’s transition to full cost recovery was revised by the Government to 1 January 2020. Consultation on arrangements for cost recovery of TEQSA’s expenditure and implementation of them remain important activities in the coming year.

TEQSA will commence further work with the sector in relation to academic integrity and in particular, contract cheating. In addition to enforcing compliance with the new legislation to address the provision of cheating services, TEQSA will deliver a series of workshops to identify the barriers providers face in addressing this threat and the development of a toolkit to build on the existing support for providers.

Chief Commissioner's signature

Professor Nicholas Saunders AO

Chief Commissioner on behalf of the accountable authority