Representing quality private education
providers in Australia

Another big week for the Higher Education Sector

Monday, December 4 2017

As the academic year draws to a close, for some anyway, the higher education sector came together in Melbourne last week at the Second Annual TEQSA Conference. More than 800 delegates came together to hear a range of presentations and debates around the theme “Students, Quality, Success”.

Professor Nick Saunders, TEQSA Chief Commissioner laid the platform for the conference with a stocktake of the sector. He highlighted the strong growth in private provision in recent years, if not in provider numbers - contrary to the widely held perception -  and included a detailed presentation of the risk profile of the sector. I think Nick’s presentation highlighted issues about the suitability of some of the current Risk Assessment Framework indicators for the non-university sector, particularly as new technologies and strategies to deliver programs make some of the more ‘traditional’ indicators less relevant.

In separate discussions, TEQSA has invited ACPET to provide advice on the current indicators and alternatives and I expect to be contacting our higher education members in the coming weeks to get their advice. Certainly, ACPET wants to see a robust Risk Assessment Framework but also one that doesn’t stifle the innovation necessary to support the dynamic needs of students and industry.

Interestingly, Nick also considered whether different regulatory approaches, such as ongoing monitoring of higher education providers, as featured in the UK, might be worth of consideration.

With government and regulators stiffening their regulatory approaches in light of the VET FEE-HELP failures, it was no surprise the non-university sector expressed some well-placed frustration at the conference with the increasing burden on providers (and regulators) that is evidenced through the recent Provider Integrity legislation passed by the Parliament. Certainly the ‘View from the Peaks’ was consistent about the risks of the increasing, and increasing duplication of, regulation in the sector.

The presentation by Mark Warburton from the LH Martin Institute provided a very useful contribution to the debate about where to, now the Government’s higher education reforms are languishing in the Senate. Mark outlined five principles that included sorting out the VET - higher education funding inconsistencies and putting some limits on student HELP loans. Seems all very sensible.

Professor Peter Coaldrake, the outgoing Vice-Chancellor at the Queensland University of Technology also touched on the need for address the VET-higher education funding divide, and to ‘join-up’ all the education sectors. He also put the proposition that that for the public universities the current funding arrangements might be “as good as it is going to get”.

With so many ‘big ticket’ items identified during the conference, so many issues unresolved, Professor Coaldrake indicated a bi-partisan approach would be required to get a breakthrough. ACPET, of course, believes there needs to be a major review of the whole tertiary education sector.

While Professor Coaldrake put some blunt facts on the table, my award for the Most Courageous Presentation (refer Yes Minister for clarification) was that provided by Professor Peter Shergold, Chair of the Government’s Higher Education Standards Panel. In a week when Minister Birmingham put the boot into the public universities over their attrition and completion rates, Peter described the “fake news” about the apparent decline in performance of the sector. Commenting on the Panel’s detailed report on attrition, he highlighted university attrition rates had remained stable over the last decade. While non-university data is less comprehensive, he highlighted a significant decline (whilst higher than the government-funded universities) in their attrition rates.

Peter then went on to give the clear, compelling case for competition and choice in the sector - but importantly underpinned by transparent, consistent information so that students can make the choice of provider that best meets their needs. While he recognised the importance of attrition and completion data, he also highlighted the importance of including the views of students and industry - the very essence of the Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching initiative.

ACPET has strongly supported the admissions transparency work of the Panel and its working group. We just need to make sure that all providers are well aware of these reforms and ready for the full roll-out next year.

With a fair bit of recent turmoil in the tertiary sector the temptation is to focus on the issues, the problems the unresolved policy priorities. Events like the TEQSA Conference, and particularly those who ‘stand up’ and tell their story, remind us that the sector is world-class, with world-class public and private providers trying to do the very best for their students.

And greater transparency for the VET Sector - perhaps
After what seems an eternity, Skills Ministers have finally approved a revised national data policy that includes new reporting requirements for providers and, hopefully, more publicly available outcomes data so that VET students can make better decisions. I am seeking further advice on the latter and will have more to say once the impacts are better understood.

Further information is in a separate item in this National Monday Update.

Rod Camm
Chief Executive Officer


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