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Making The Cut

What to Consider Before Registering to be a Higher Education Provider

Higher education registration is a challenging process for even experienced administrations. Registration is a basic necessity for most organizations looking to make an impact in this field. Colleges and universities not on the Register lack the same credibility and legitimacy as those that comply with the standards of the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA). Registry and TEQSA compliance confers a stamp of approval by the Federal Government, ensuring that curriculum and courses meet national standards. It serves the same purpose as non-profit accreditation agencies in countries like the United States. 

Even international colleges and universities accredited in their home countries would benefit from registering under TEQSA guidelines.

When considering whether or not to apply for higher education registration, it is important to consider a range of questions and issues. TEQSA and the National Register process may leave a lot to be desired, particularly in terms of private university education, but administrators should ignore the fear mongers. Registration confers benefits. Also, failing to register will mean that the school will lack a perception of legitimacy in many eyes while seeing the doors to many beneficial programs remain shut.

Even though there are many ‘advisors’ or academics offering support services, you really need to think carefully about who you choose to have on the team. The path to registration presents a higher education provider with many challenges. No school, large or small, domestic or foreign, public or private, should enter the process without a plan and people able to implement it.

Private universities, who often find themselves at the mercy of biased tertiary education gatekeepers, face even more challenges. All schools, however, should plan ahead for the higher education registration process. That includes consideration of what needs to be done and where the institution can find assistance.

Registration Can Confer Benefits

The main goal of TEQSA lies in ensuring that every higher education provider operating in Australia provides students a quality education. Provider performance gets evaluated against standards set by the Higher Education Standards Framework (Threshold Standards) 2015.

Registry confirms to the general public and higher education market that a school has met federal standards. These include standards for course accreditation, teaching and learning, research, and other fields. What the government calls “threshold standards” set a high bar for entry, but also guarantee to the market that the higher education provider has credibility and quality.

Another benefit of registry lies in a higher education provider gaining access to federal funds and programmes, especially student aid. Despite recent deep cuts to the higher education budget, Australian universities can apply to receive millions in aid from programmes such as the Sustainable Research Excellence scheme, Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Plan, and many other sources.

Higher education registration also gets important information about the provider onto a searchable database of institutions. The information shown includes

  • Legal entity name
  • Australian Business Number used for higher education operations
  • Provider category
  • Website of the higher education provider
  • If the higher education services provider can serve overseas students or students studying in vocational education
  • Other pertinent links, important addresses, and dates of renewal

This information helps both domestic and international students get better educated on their possible schools of choice, including both HEPs and VETs.

Meeting TEQSA standards and appearing on the National Registry serves as the first step toward obtaining helpful and sometimes necessary aid. While colleges and universities should always seek new funding streams from nongovernment sources, federal aid of any sort can help to improve higher education provider programmes. 

Meeting TEQSA Qualifications

Be prepared to meet a long list of stringent standards to get approved for registration. The government in recent years has worked to standardise expectations of national colleges and universities to ensure consistent quality in education. Each one of these requirements comes from a different section of either the TEQSA Act of 2011 or the Higher Education Standards Act of 2015. They include:

  • The higher education provider appears as an entity under the legal definition of a regulated entity
  • The HEP has a clearly stated higher education purpose that includes a commitment to free intellectual inquiry
  • The HEP has in place a formally established governing body inside or outside the country, including independent members, that has accountability and exercises oversight over operations in a consistently competent fashion
  • Members of the governing body meet standards of fitness and competence
  • Members of the governing body meet any Australian residency requirements established by the institution’s charter
  • Staffing for each course is sufficient to cover the educational, academic support, and administrative needs of each course
  • The HEP can operate in an effective and sustainable fashion in accordance with all legislative requirements and the institution’s governing rules
  • Application for registration comes to TEQSA in the approved format along with full payment of the fee

Of course, an institution cannot simply meet TEQSA requirements to appear on the National Register, it must also prove that it meets these requirements. Providing this evidence and information can prove to be almost as challenging, if not more so, than ensuring compliance in the first place.

Wise higher education providers engage experienced consultants to help them successfully navigate the process. A team of experts can help navigate the process more efficiently and prevent costly and time-consuming mistakes.

Avoid One Person Advisors Because Registration Does Require a Team

Hopefully, this basic list of legal requirements for TEQSA approval convinces higher education provider administrators that they cannot rely on a single advisor. They should also avoid keeping their registration project in-house.

Even universities meeting full TEQSA compliance standards must provide evidence that they have met all legal requirements. This means hours of going through the standard paperwork and also showing proof of compliance

Most higher education providers, however, may fall short in some area. This is entirely understandable since the requirements are numerous and also rather specific.

The most frustrating situations involve grey areas and differences of interpretation. One example could fall in the requirement of the governing body having fit and proper members, but according to which definition? An institution may have to, in such a situation, defend the fitness of a governing body member to TEQSA.

An experienced team of TEQSA and National Registry higher education consultants can help make the process more efficient and manageable. Consultants can examine a higher education provider’s administration and academics to determine strengths and weaknesses in relation to TEQSA requirements. The team can then recommend changes or help prepare the HEP to argue its case that it does meet registry mandates.

Unfortunately, experience shows that private universities and other higher education providers experience more difficulties than others. The Australian tertiary education system employs a wide variety of gatekeepers who have biases against private universities guided by a spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship. This makes engaging a team of higher education consultants critical for private higher education providers.

The complexity of both higher education provider administration and TEQSA requirements make preparing for registration more than a one-person job. A team of higher education consultants will make the process as efficient and painless as possible.

Higher education consultants can also fight for course, curriculum, and administrative innovation within TEQSA guidelines. In the big picture, this prevents schools from gravitating toward “cookie cutter” education that serves primarily to satisfy federal regulators. For each school, consultants can help defend the freedom to craft courses that teach effectively, but differently than those established elsewhere.

Eligibility to Participate in HELP Student Aid Program

The government administers four Higher Education Loan Programs, known as HELPs. These programmes include four loan schemes and one student aid package for vocational study in VET schools. Specifically, the FEE HELP loan programme assists students in payment of tuition.

Institutions need TEQSA approval of their status as a Higher Education Provider to participate in offering FEE HELP assistance. To gain TEQSA eligibility, a higher education organisation must first exist as a corporate body with both central management and direction in Australia. The provider must also offer at least one approved course of study and have successfully completed higher education registration.

Higher education providers must go beyond TEQSA standards for higher education registry. They must also meet “legislative requirements in relation to financial viability, tuition assurance, student policies and procedures for fairness and equal opportunity, academic and non-academic grievance, refunds and re-crediting of a FEE-HELP balance.” These organisations must also keep up with changing rules on data collection and other paperwork requirements.

To offer study assist, VET organisations need to meet most of the same requirements as registered HEPs with a few additions. The organisation must have registered as a training organisation listed on the National Register since at least 1 January 2016. Also, they must have been offering at least one qualifying VET course continuously, or one or more series of qualifying VET courses without interruption, since at least 1 January 2016.

Higher education consultants can help a provider prepare its application to participate in FEE HELP. It can also suggest administrative and/or academic adjustments to make sure that an application gets set up for success.

In this day and age, almost all higher education providers rely heavily on students who use study assist to pay part or all of their tuition. Most colleges and universities could not survive without them, making it vital that they employ qualified consultants to both enter the National Registry and then successfully apply to disburse student aid.

If the TEQSA Application Fails

Sometimes the best-laid plans lead to naught. TEQSA, like any other government bureaucracy, can work slowly toward unpredictable results. When going through the higher education registration process, providers should always have a future plan and be prepared to assert their rights.

Rejection of a registration application does not represent the final say in the process. Higher education providers have an avenue of appeal through the Australian Administrative Tribunal (AAT).

The process as established follows a relatively straightforward path with opportunities for resolution at most junctures. Wise administrators, however, should have at least the outline of a plan in place in case of registry rejection. The AAT, depending on circumstances, will offer an appeal window of anywhere from nine to 90 days. Appeal fees can cost as much as $861.

Be aware that when the higher education registration application gets to the appeals process, that the institution now stands in opposition to TEQSA. If a provider has not yet engaged higher education consultants, they should do so at this stage. TEQSA officials have years of experience working on winning appeals for the government. Most higher education providers do not.

Higher education providers prepared for the AAT with a strong team of consultants by their side can appreciate the potential advantages available. The AAT does bring independent officials into the process. It also allows for the examination of evidence with fresh eyes. Even better, the AAT will demand that TEQSA defend their administrative decision to reject the application.

The AAT appeals process gives higher education providers a powerful opportunity to fight registration rejection if they have a strong team of experts to assist. Without a team to help, a higher education provider can truly end up at the mercy of the system.

Before Starting the Process, Engage a Team of Experienced Experts

The final important step in preparing for the higher education registration process lies in choosing the right team of experienced consultants to help steer the process to success. Darlo Higher Education employs a highly qualified team of academics, policy analysts, and commercial managers who know the National Register process from initial steps to completion.

Darlo Higher Education does more than assist in crafting successful National Register applications. It also helps to recruit qualified academic instructors and administrative staff, assemble governing bodies that meet TEQSA guidelines for fitness and competence, and apply for course approvals and accreditation.  Darlo Higher Education also assists in the AAT process.

All of these elements can play key roles in helping a higher education provider meet the requirements to appear on the National Register.

Darlo Higher Education understands that the process can be particularly tough for private education. It fights for educational innovators, entrepreneurs, and the students who benefit from their services.  

Interested in talking to us about how we can assist in the higher education registration process? Why not email us now: info@darlo.com.

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