TEQSA’s Hypocrisy Continues

TEQSA’s Hypocrisy Continues

Here is an opinion piece from the Darlo Higher Education team on six clear instances of hypocrisy.

It’s always a concern for us when the Australian public service claims to take the high moral road. In reading through the Australian Public Service Act, it is pretty clear that there is a Code of Conduct that informs behaviours and communications by public servants, especially those in senior roles. It is even more galling when tax-payers are paying for this. Despite promises of ‘free education’ from some politicians, someone is always paying for it- it is you, the revenue producing tax-payer.

Here, from our perspective, are examples of hypocrisy that continue to prevail:

Firstly, how on earth can TEQSA conduct an enquiry and report on Academic Freedom? Thankfully, as Bettina Arndt has pointed out in regards to the sexual harassment hysteria on campuses, there was no epidemic and indeed Australia is perhaps the safest place on earth for females to study. There are also issues with false accusations to continue with. These are matters for the courts, and not governments or universities to pursue. Now, new minister Tehan, has decided to change approach and pursue a look into academic freedom. We think TEQSA is absolutely the wrong group to be conducting a review in this area, particularly as it is patently interfering in the academic market, has been criticized by the Institute of Public Affairs for being politically influenced and paying lip service to free speech. Speaking as a team from DHE, we note that there have been instances where TEQSA has attempted to suppress our free speech. How is it possible that it could give an independent assessment when it has contributed to the problem?

“TEQSA benefits existing players by creating barriers to entry that prevent competition.”

Institute of Public Affairs, https://ipa.org.au/publications-ipa/university-regulator-teqsa-has-lost-its-way-on-political-matters

My only hope is that this is Minister Tehan’s approach to have Australian public servants reflect on the limits of their role.

Secondly, if TEQSA is so worried about consultants, why do they constantly use external consultants in their own organisation? Why do they play favorites? And why do they call attention to some consultants and not others? It is well recognized that TEQSA shares the platform with those organisations that toe the party line, however, aggressively, in our view smears others  (and absolutely against the APS Code of Conduct, you can read it here). It is transparently hypocritical when TEQSA staff endorse some organisations and then critique others for mentioning the word ‘TEQSA’. It is even worse that when it is talking about consultants. I guess we may be confused, however, this agency must obviously be associated with or work exclusively with TEQSA so is on the ‘they’re my friends’ level. I forgot the word for that, nevermind. Hang on, it looks like TEQSA staff are endorsing consultants for their own agency, and yet telling others that they cannot get the same services for their own organisation.

https://salsadigital.com.au/case-studies/teqsa

Thirdly, hypocrisy relates to the differential treatment organisations get based on their size. Many case managers (reported to us) aim to create fear and anxiety for smaller, less resourceful, and less powerful higher education by acting heavy handed, while letting universities slip through. The media has continually reported incidents at various universities including bribery, research falsification, poor quality education where students ‘learn nothing’, and academics at RMIT selling eBooks and exams to students. And yet, it is typically not-for-profits, small business owners, and migrant entrepreneurs that get pilloried and, by some reports to us, bullied. Talk about picking on the little guy  because you don’t have the guts, clout or integrity to pursue the boys’ club.

Fourthly, while smaller and medium sized private higher education providers are the source of innovation in higher education, they are the ones constantly over regulated. Let’s make no mistake, the supposedly small loving business loving NLP and their ‘entrepreneurial’ PMs have been no friend to private free enterprise. Health and education are the two industries that need innovation more than ever, and they have not only blocked this entrepreneurship, they have gone out of their way to publicly attack it. The hypocrisy in our view is that despite all the blah, blah about innovation, there is absolutely nothing to support or encourage educational innovation. Instead, there is a target (and let’s be honest, open hostility and hatred) for the driver of the economy: small and medium enterprises.

Fifthly, there is constant talk in TEQSA’s media communication about innovation and diversity. How is it the case when all the commissioners are pushing their later years (and pretty much the same age), they are all caucasian, and they all come from near identical career paths and trajectories that this is innovative or diverse?.

Diversity at TEQSA: TEQSA Commissioners

There are gender differences too. The majority of senior leaders and those in positions of influence are men. Is that what is meant by diversity, having different types of men in different roles?

What it amounts to is a stale, old boys club, that generationally is stuck in the mass education glory years of the 1960s and 1970s. Indeed, most of the assumptions underpinning the TEQSA standards – a waterfall project management methodology, a hierarchical approach to organisation design, constitutions which want higher education to be shown rather than profit seeking (the source of innovation), and the reinforcement of the worst parts of academia – peer review, seniority for seniority’s sake, and physical libraries (to name a few), all smell and look like  a crusty old faculty of one of the sandstone universities. If the standards don’t allow for innovation (which they clearly don’t).  Where is the innovation in that?

Finally, correct me if we’re wrong, but the point of the TEQSA Act is to protect the international reputation of Australian education. If that is the case, why on earth is there a foreign CEO of Australia’s national higher education regulator? From a competing country (England) none the less, who worked at a standards agency in England, and seemingly by all accounts is a foreign citizen. Couldn’t the Australian government find an Australian to lead the charge? Or are they ashamed of the graduates that are produced inAustralia? Perhaps Australians don’t have the required skills?

On a separate issue, it is strange that a CEO of a higher education regulator would have no notable academic credentials and most notable association with academia as being involved in student politics. Again, can anyone see anything off with this scenario? Surely, it is transparently a conflict of interest, which is (a) why the APS requires public servants to be Australian citizens; (b) the APS code of conduct requires public servants to avoid any conflict of interest (and possibly the reason why the citizenship requirements are enacted in the first place!).

Looking at higher education regulation it is a gloomy state of affairs. As they say, rot starts at the top. Australian companies, taxpayers and students deserve more and better. Wouldn’t it be time to for the Australian Public Service to move with the times. Rather than having a regulator that is a bit of a boys club that supports elitism and clicks, serving ultimately as nothing more (or less) than an institutional gatekeeper, it is time to engage in true innovation, internationalization, and make Australian higher education something to be proud of rather than ashamed.

5 Things to Consider Before Registering as a Higher Education Provider

5 Things to Consider Before Registering as a Higher Education Provider

Higher education registration is a challenging process for even experienced administrations. For most higher education providers, however, registration is a basic necessity. 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. Gaining Higher Education Registration and meeting 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 higher education and 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 programmes 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

To Discuss Your Application or Request a Proposal, go to our contacts page.

7 Tips to Write Academic Policies and Procedures

7 Tips to Write Academic Policies and Procedures

Writing academic policies and procedures is necessary for any functioning higher education provider. Public institutions, especially universities, work under more scrutiny now than ever. With constant examination, prevalence of social media, and the 24-hour news cycle always looking for the next breaking story, university staff and faculty must remain careful. Luckily, administration can help.

Faculty and staff often view policies and procedures as restrictive, sometimes overly so. Policies and procedures can restrict work duties, interaction with students and co-workers, or even guide actions off campus. They serve two important goals, however; protect the institution and protect each employee.

Protection for administration comes from setting clear guidelines that, if violated, place responsibility squarely on individual employees. They also, however, ensure that if the employee follows policy and procedure mandates, they will likely keep themselves from trouble should an incident of some sort occur.

1. Follow the Three Pillars of Excellence

As administrators look to start writing guidelines for policy and procedures, they must remember the three pillars of excellence. Effective policy and procedure writing comes in the context of an institutional culture dedicated to effectiveness. Administrators must work to make sure faculty and staff remain aware of expectations. They must also follow through and hold employees accountable for violations.

Each aspect of the three pillars of excellence must guide the process.

Policy and Procedure

Policies express institutional and administrative goals and guidelines. Each written policy lays out expectations for how the institution and its employees must function in a given situation. The philosophy of the institution should be included in any policy manual. When appropriate, policies should refer back to the guiding philosophies and mission of the university.

Procedures indicate how faculty and staff must implement or comply with policies. They suggest when to act or to not act in a given situation.

Training

Faculty and staff may misunderstand or have issues with even the best written policies and procedures. That’s why it is important to have a training procedure in place. Training gives key stakeholders, like professors and instructional designers, the opportunity to further clarify the meaning of policy and procedures. Faculty and staff may have questions that require clarification. Also, those who have not “bought in” may get convinced of the value of the policy and procedures through frank discussions that accompany proper training.

Supervision/Accountability

Policy and procedure writing proves a waste of time without effective administrative follow through. Once policy and procedures are established, supervisors must oversee implementation. When necessary, they will need to hold faculty and staff accountable for inconsistent compliance. Since policies and procedures protect both the university administration and employees, hopefully incidents of non compliance prove rare.

2. Develop Policy Charter or Mandate Before Starting

Effective policies and procedures do an organisation no good if they disrupt the team rather than unite or focus it. Certainly those in upper management have the prerogative to impose policies and procedures. They should, however, try to make creation and adoption a team exercise as much as possible.

Effective managers bring the team on board to try and identify areas of needed change. The team may have their own productive ideas that can help the process. Before getting into specifics, those involved need to come up with guiding mandates that can keep policy and procedure creation focused and relevant. Making the process a team operation should help boost buy in.

3. Use the Right Priorities

Policies should reflect issues of priority. These include:

  • Issues involving state and national mandates and regulations
  • Issues involving liability
  • Governance of interactions, especially those of a romantic nature, involving faculty, staff, and students
  • Issues involving ethical behaviour
  • Other challenges facing the university

Next, come up with a list of new policies to consider and old ones to revise or eliminate. Examine the list to weed out potential conflicts with existing policy.

Do not try to cover every imaginable situation with a policy. This will involve too much time and effort. Consider application of the 80/20 rule from the business world in evaluating whether the university needs a policy or not.

Procedures should reflect realistic expectations of action or restraint from action from each individual employee. They should, as much as possible, take into account real human reactions in given situations. In an ideal world, for example, an instructor would have awareness of each student’s physical and emotional state and inform someone in event of trouble. In reality, instructors rarely know many students that well. Therefore, policies and procedures holding faculty to account for failing to report a student who may harm themselves or others would fall under the category of “unreasonable.”

Universities should understand that online learning and eLearning coursework will require an additional set of policies and procedures that govern the unique set of interactions that can take place in such courses.

Finally, policy and procedure manuals must allow for common sense and decision making in areas that they cannot cover.

4. Establish Goals and Values

Each university has both an organisational culture and a self perception of what it is or what it wants to be. Universities share some values with all others, while certain universities may have values in common with a limited number of schools. Sometimes the organisational culture may come into conflict with institutional goals and values.

The university must allow its established goals and values to drive the process. Organisational culture has powerful importance. Policy and procedure writing must take this into account. Any changes in policy and procedures reflect the idea that some part of organisational culture no longer works for the institution as a whole. The process should include communication about precisely what will get changed, but also why.

5. Discourage Deliberate Indifference

Deliberate indifference occurs when an institution ignores or covers up a situation that has risks to liability, public perception, or violations of rights. Sexual harassment serves as a common area where universities face challenges dealing with a serious issue.

When crafting policies and procedures, anticipate risks and put together plans on how to deal with situations. The more risk involved, the more precise the administration may want to write the policy. Procedures should include multiple processes for redress and appeal.

Deliberate indifference can break a university’s reputation and end careers. Universities should anticipate and plan to deal with risk inherent situations head on.

6. Balance Precision and Flexibility

Policies and procedures must have precise language to lessen misunderstandings. No policy and procedure manual, however, can anticipate every type of situation. Human beings remain an unpredictable animal and will surprise with how much ingenuity they can use to create trouble or fall into messy accidents.

When appropriate, policy and procedure manuals must include flexible response. Faculty and staff need latitude for applying their experience, knowledge, and common sense in problem solving. Not every issue can go to upper management. Not every problem requires intervention. Also, faculty and staff should have some freedom and latitude to consider opportunities not foreseen by policy and procedure.

An overwritten policy and procedure manual can deaden initiative and create a staff that functions efficiently, but too robotically to help the university grow.

7. Practise Good Policy Writing

Policies and procedure manuals must follow clear and standard English. The diction must, as much as possible, conform to the language and usage of lay people. This, however, can prove challenging because policy and procedure manuals must also follow specific legal usage of words and terms.

Policy writing should also include a description of the scope. To whom does the policy apply? For example, some universities have instructional design policies that apply to beginning lecturers, but not an experienced full professor.

The document must illustrate the chain of supervisory and accountability command. In other words, who oversees who. Also, what punishments for non compliance may occur at which juncture? These can range from adverse action reports to termination, but the policy and procedure manual should explain these in detail.

Policy and procedure writing serve as the backbone of the modern university. Effective policies and procedures guide faculty and staff, reflect the institution’s values and goals, and enjoy support, or, at the very least, understanding, from the vast majority of the employees. Bad policy and procedure creation widens rifts between institutional values and organisational culture, can alienate the people administration depends on the most, and deepens dysfunction.

Effective policy and procedure creation and adoption will not save a struggling institution on its own, but it can help move it back in the right direction

(c) Darlo Group.

If you would like to discuss How to Apply to TEQSA, please contact us to discuss.

How to Make an Appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT)

How to Appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal on a TEQSA Decision

Last summer, the University of Southern Queensland, with a worldwide student population of nearly 28,000, faced serious trouble. USQ’s regular application for National Register renewal got put on hold. Reports of internal problems and other issues at USQ reached TEQSA and caused the delay.

TEQSA chief executive Anthony McLaren told The Australian last August that “USQ’s application for renewal of registration is still under consideration. In light of new information being brought to TEQSA’s attention, and an upcoming change in vice-chancellor, this application has required additional work and consideration by the agency.”

Despite having a large student population and a reputation as an online course innovator, USQ’s administration failed to convince TEQSA that they deserved automatic renewal. If denied, USQ would have to take the next step and appeal to the Australian Administrative Tribunal for Higher Education Registration.

This means that for higher education providers, receiving or renewing a registration status is far from automatic. Universities seeking renewal should certainly engage higher education consultants to help on appeals to the AAT , especially if they have had administrative staff turnover or more serious issues. Whether or not you engage higher education consultants, understanding the AAT appeal process should serve as the first step in overcoming registration issues.

Although relatively straightforward, the AAT appeal process involves choosing options. Higher education experts agree that any institution looking to appeal a TEQSA decision should engage special consultants to help boost chances of success.

The National Register and Higher Education Services

The National Register lists approved higher education providers’ details. This 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

The registry also includes information on those institutions whose registration has expired, been withdrawn, or cancelled.

Approval for a position on the National Register remains vital for any higher education services provider to operate legitimately in Australia. Denial or other issues with registration can cause serious harm to the reputation of a university. This makes understanding the appeals process of first importance in case TEQSA discovers issues in the application.

What Is the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT)?

The AAT, established by federal law in 1975, conducts independent merit reviews of decisions made by administrators under Commonwealth laws. When a case comes before the AAT, it receives a “fresh look,” as the AAT’s website describes it. This means that the tribunal goes over the facts, law, and policy relevant to the case, then makes a decision based on its merits. The goal of the process lies in coming to either the legally correct or preferable decision. In addition to higher education, the AAT also examines cases related to Centrelink, child support, and migration issues

AAT action, however, has limits. According to its website, the AAT has no jurisdiction in the following areas:

  • every decision made by the Australian Government or under a Norfolk Island law
  • decisions made under state or territory laws
  • decisions made by local governments.

Benefits of Making an Appeal to the AAT

There are many benefits of applying to the AAT to appeal a decision made by TEQSA. Many of these reasons include:

  • An independent and fresh review of evidence and cases.
  • The prospective higher education provider can assemble evidence to respond to any reviews provided by TEQSA.
  • A review of processes and procedures were fairly and consistently followed by TEQSA.
  • That the decision made is fair and proportionate to the case at hand and follows the principles of regulation.
  • That any bias or unreasonable claims are tested in a tribunal.
  • That the provider can hire appropriate legal expertise to ensure that there is a fairer balance of power and issues of information asymmetry are addressed

While the Tribunal implies legal representation, unfortunately, this has been a path that many higher education providers have needed to resort to in order to receive correct decisions about their status.

Applying for Administrative Appeals Tribunal Review

AAT appeals follow a relatively straightforward process, designed to provide multiple opportunities for early and easy resolutions. Along the way, the parties have options to allow for different forms of resolution. TEQSA will employ staff with years of experience in AAT appeals so basic knowledge of the process alone will not suffice with TEQSA. Consultants can help you develop a winning strategy as your case follows the AAT appeal process.

That being said, having a roadmap of the process before getting started helps tremendously.

First, contact the AAT to find the time limit involved for a National Register appeal case. Limits range from nine to 90 days or more and vary from topic to topic. You should do so by email rather than by phone. This way, you have the time limit expressed in writing in case someone made a mistake.

The AAT will allow time limit extensions in certain cases, even when the limit has already passed. Applications for extensions must go to the AAT in writing and must include reasons why the applicant could not comply with the time limit. To apply for an extension, fill out a form, write a letter, or send an email.

Those seeking redress through the AAT have multiple means by which to apply for an appeal. This can be done through a letter, email, filling out an application form, or applying online.

When writing the AAT by letter or email, include a copy of the decision and the following information:

  • all contact information, including name, phone number, mailing address, and email address
  • the date the decision was received
  • brief reasons why the decision is wrong.

If you cannot include a copy of the decision, also provide the following information:

  • the name of the person or organisation that made the decision
  • a brief description of the decision

Forms and other correspondence should get sent:

  • by post (GPO Box 9955 in your capital city)
  • by email (generalreviews@aat.gov.au)
  • by fax

Application fees of up to $861 may be applicable. Reach out to the AAT to find out if your institution must pay a fee and how much.

Steps in the AAT Process

Each case that reaches the AAT follows the same process from receipt of application until final decision. Resolutions can occur at several steps; not every case will follow the entire path to conclusion. Some steps allow for choices of options to pursue toward resolution. Experienced higher education consultants can bring vital expertise to making these crucial decisions.

Initially, upon receipt of the application, the AAT reaches out to the applicant, the agency whose decision the AAT will review, and any other relevant party. Each party receives a notice of application and then information about what will happen next.

The agency decision-maker, in this case, TEQSA, has 28 days to respond. They must send reasons for the decision and also supporting documentation.

Next, the AAT may choose to hold a preliminary hearing. This step only occurs when the tribunal wishes to examine case issues prior to launching a formal review. These issues may include breaches of the application time limit, whether or not the AAT has proper jurisdiction, or if the agency received a “stay order” requiring it to suspend its decision until the AAT has a chance to decide on the case.

When launching an appeal of a TEQSA decision, employing higher education consultants, lawyers, QCs or other representatives is common practice. Generally, at this point, the AAT reaches out to those representing themselves to advise on where they can receive assistance and information.

The first conference brings all parties together for an informal discussion of the issues and concerns about the agency decision. Starting the process with a conference allows for the possibility of an early resolution that could save time and money for all concerned, including the taxpayers. If no resolution appears likely, the AAT could then suggest an Alternative Dispute Resolution, or ADR. Each case will receive individualised attention through the ADR process. Cases could receive examination through another conference, conciliation, mediation, case appraisal, or neutral evaluation.

At any point during the AAT process, the tribunal may elect to hold a directions hearing. These hearings serve as a forum to discuss procedural issues that appear during the process. They also address any failure of compliance with tribunal requests from any of the contending parties.

All ADR processes take place in private to promote frank and open discussion that cannot serve as evidence in later AAT or other hearings.

Should conferences and ADRs fail to produce a resolution, the AAT will hold a formal hearing. Though usually public, the AAT has the discretion to hold private hearings if some issue gets deemed too sensitive. If all parties and the AAT agree, a decision can occur without a hearing, simply based on written evidence presented. Finally, the AAT will review the evidence and come to its decision on the matter.

Importance of Getting Professional Assistance

The tribunal process may seem fairly simple in the description. In reality, however, any administrative appeals process has its own culture, rules, and pathways. To those most familiar with the processes goes the advantage. Also, those who have limited experience in administrative appeals have just as limited of a frame of reference in understanding the strength or weakness of their case.

A word to the wise. Knowing the appeals process represents a small first step on the road.

The next step lies in engaging professional and experienced people with knowledge of the legislation on TEQSA. Consultants can help you, even well established higher education services should rely on consultants to guide each step, conference discussion, and choice of ADR. Seeking independent legal advice and a counsel to represent you at the tribunal is critical, too.

Independent and unaffiliated with TEQSA consultants like Darlo Higher Education has staff with years of experience handling AAT appeals, which makes engaging higher education consultants with appeals experience vital to success.

While you may or not be successful with an Administrative Appeal, there are many clear benefits of appealing:

  • You are more likely to receive an independent hearing;
  • The worst excesses of higher education regulation will be put under the spotlight and scrutiny;
  • You have a legal right and recourse to get a fair, impartial hearing of your case and review of evidence;
  • There is precedence among other providers to win in the Tribunal and over-turn poorly arrived at TEQSA decisions.

Interested in talking to us, why not email us now: info@darlo.com

Why US Universities Should Register in Australia

Why should US universities register in Australia?

American universities looking for great opportunities to expand branch campus services abroad should consider the opportunities presented in Australia.

The international education market has changed significantly in the 21st century. Having international higher education study options limited to spending a semester or a year abroad now seem quaint. Today’s higher education marketplace looks less like pursuit of knowledge and more like another global industry. Colleges and universities looking to compete for both quality and quantity of international students need to adopt flexible and innovative strategies to obtain advantages over other institutions and other countries.

Over one million Australians currently study at colleges and universities. What the Australian market lacks in numbers compared to other countries, it makes up for in quality and compatibility. Australian secondary school students study in schools rigorously regulated by the government for quality. In language and culture, they also make great matches for US study programs. To register as a higher education provider in Australia is a little different than in the United States, though.

The generation now coming into college, however, has much less interest in studying far from home. Regardless of their country or culture of origin, students look to find optimal international experiences that do not take them as far away. With this dynamic in place, American universities now have more incentive than ever to register as higher education providers in Australia.

Complying with Australian law and educational guidelines does pose a challenge. However, American universities will find benefits in operating in Australia that go beyond expanding student numbers. The shared ideas and experiences that these campuses would bring together create great opportunities for learning and engaging, fostering a more dynamic educational environment. The trends in international education over the past few years point to tremendous opportunities for US universities who look to establish branch campuses in Australia.

Australia: An Education Destination for Asia

Establishing a branch campus in Australia gives US universities an open door to students not only from Australia, but also from the entire Pacific Rim and South Central Asia. Half a million overseas students study in Australia every year, making international study one of Australia’s top drivers of gross domestic product. In 2015, international students contributed over $20 billion toward the Australian economy. This serves as the country’s third largest export. American universities can tap into this rich flow of students looking for the broadest possible higher education services and experience.

Many students specifically seek out an American style educational experience. Universities can meet that need by registering as a higher education provider in Australia. Also, those American universities that would register in Australia could offer an English speaking international experience to their own students who would never have to leave their program to study abroad.

In the past few years, American higher education institutions have looked to bring more Australian students into their programs. Students in Australia see some US programs as more rigorous when compared to some of the more well known schools in Australia. Also, some state legislatures granted permission to public universities to charge foreign students higher rates than domestic out of state tuition. This creates a strong incentive for many US universities to bring in more international students.

Starting Australian students in American universities on Australian soil gets the school a foot in the door to get overseas students into US campuses.

What a US University Must Do to Register?

What is the difference between registering as a university in the US and registering as a university in Australia?

Public universities in America answer to dual masters and have experience in compliance with laws, rules, and standards. Most of these institutions answer directly to state governors and legislators.

Most large state universities emerged after the US Civil War when Congress passed the Morrill Land Grant Act.

This provided a means whereby federal assets could help the establishment of colleges and universities in each state, known as “land grant schools.”

States also assisted in the creation of smaller regional schools. Private universities, separate from the state run systems also exist, including most of the Ivy League universities.

With the exception of a handful of religious and conservative schools, almost every university in the US must answer to the influence of the Federal Department of Education. The US Government provides funds to universities for a variety of purposes and can withhold them as well.

This situation puts US universities into a challenging situation where they already must face at least two sets of regulators.

Registering in Australia would add another layer of rules, but higher education consultants assist with higher education regulations and compliance.

While US universities have a lot of experience adhering to bureaucratic rules and guidance, Australia could pose a different set of challenges. American universities do not have to go it alone, however.

What should a US University do to register as a higher education provider?

Primarily, US universities establishing branches in Australia must adhere to the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Act of 2011, known as TEQSA.

According to the Australian Government, the purpose of TEQSA lies in accomplishing the following:

  • Provide for national consistency in the regulation of higher education
  • Regulate higher education using a standards-based quality framework and principles relating to regulatory necessity, risk and proportionality
  • Protect and enhance Australia’s reputation for, and international competitiveness in higher education, as well as the excellence, diversity and innovation in Australian higher education
  • Encourage and promote a higher education system that is appropriate to meet Australia’s social and economic needs for a highly educated and skilled population
  • Protect students undertaking, or proposing to undertake higher education by requiring the provision of quality higher education
  • Ensure that students have access to information relating to higher education in Australia.

Guidance on how higher education services comply with TEQSA comes from the Higher Education Standards Framework released in 2015.

Applying for registration under TEQSA requires that the institution establish that they are the following:

  • A constitutional corporation
  • A corporation established by (or under) a law of the Commonwealth or Territory
  • A person who conducts activities in a Territory.

The Government then provides a list of guidelines that each institution of higher learning must meet to register.

Although mandated by law to make decisions on registration within nine months, TEQSA occasionally does see backlogs that can hold the process up.

Higher Education Consultants explain TEQSA Registration

TEQSA’s guidelines may appear to impose government standards of conformity on Australian higher education, but the right help can prevent over-standardisation.

Academic freedom and innovation remains as important to Australian universities as American. TEQSA actually replicates many of the efforts of non governmental accreditation bodies in the US, although not always as efficiently.

They pursue the same goals of ensuring that a university degree has worth to the student and that the education earned offers value to potential employers.

Registering under TESQA and establishing a branch campus in Australia is a journey with many twists and turns. Like any worthwhile journey to a productive location, a map and good directions make the trip easier.

Professional and experienced TEQSA consultants can guide even a non-Australian higher education institution into compliance with the law and its guidelines by doing the following:

  • Decipher and understand regulations and compliance
  • Assist with teaching and learning
  • Boost internal operational performance
  • Support your governance board efforts and provide advice on shortcomings or areas that require improvement.
  • Assist with curriculum design and assessment
  • Smooth the transition phase of starting non Australian higher education services in the country

Not all TEQSA consultants are created equal. While some firms embrace bureaucratic standardisation, Darlo Higher Education works with universities and instructors to create a class that fits the individual style and goals of both instructor and institution.

Darlo Higher Education strives to help preserve academic freedom and institutional individuality while maintaining the standards of excellence demanded by the government and the taxpayers.

US University Branches in Australia Benefit Everyone

An American student experience remains popular and highly sought after. Students from all over Australia, Oceania, and Asia want that American experience with an American degree without actually traveling to America, at least not at first.

Students will benefit from exposure to a different culture and different ideals.

Australian higher education will benefit as well. American higher education institutions and instructors resist the “cookie cutter” dynamic that sometimes infuses Australian universities.

The American higher education culture will reinforce Australian institutions that appreciate the benefits of TESQA registration and accountability, but strive to preserve innovation, individuality, and academic freedom within the Higher Education Standards framework.

Working with consultants such as Darlo Higher Education who share these values will make establishment of American institutions much easier.

In short, the introduction and registration of US universities as higher education providers in Australia creates a powerful opportunity for a variety of cultures to create an educational ferment from shared ideas.

Most would agree, that represents one of the chief goals of higher education itself.

Australia and America share many attributes of the same spirit. The nations and peoples have served each other as natural partners in war and in peace, in depression and prosperity.

Just as naturally, the two countries’ educational systems can benefit from closer interaction and cooperation.

Darlo Higher Education can help America’s great academic institutions establish themselves and thrive in Australia.

Have a question about higher education registration? You can find us via the page: contact us.

Higher Education Consultants and “Cookie-Cutter Courses”?

Higher Education Consultants and Course Design

The Gatekeepers demand cookie-cutter courses

Gatekeepers love to charge others with producing ‘cookie cutter’ education, but are completely oblivious and unaware as to their own central role in producing these results. Ironically, some of the biggest critics of students and higher education providers are those least innovative and imaginative!

University graduates have been criticised for undertaking ‘cookie cutter’ degrees, essentially qualifications that produce graduates who share similar attributes, attitudes and knowledge. That this is disputed by groups like Darlo Higher Education, along with various leaders, has been controversial at times. Critics who blame the universities that educate them as ‘cookie cutter’ usually have a political agenda and an axe to grind with change.

Among the most puerile and hysterical criticism is that private higher education providers (and content creators generally) develop cookie-cutter courses. The idea, it seems to be, is that having professional curriculum writers and course designers writing materials and resources will lend itself to ‘mass produced, unoriginal, or duplicated content’. This is sheer nonsense and flies in the face of well-established higher education course design methodology, and is one of the most hysterical furphies of the anti-private higher education establishment.

Do Universities Produce Cookie Cutter Students?

What does cookie cutter mean? There are various definitions, but we have chosen a contemporary one. According to the Urban Dictionary, Cookie Cutter refers to items that are:

“Marked by sameness and a lack of originality; mass-produced. Often used to describe suburban housing developments where all of the houses are based on the same blueprints and are differentiated only by their color.”

https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=cookie-cutter

Mass produced, same colour, same blueprints. What does this sound like? It sounds to us like the mass produced university education model of the 1960s. The unfortunate consequence of this system is that is compromises innovation in the system and results in a limited range of curriculum and course designs that meet, charitably, academic standards. It is unfortunate that regulators are investing in accrediting courses that only conform to the expectations of their paid consultants to accept or to reject (i.e. paid academics on their “experts register”).

TEQSA Templates and Course Design

The bias of TEQSA’s academic expert register is not something that is commonly noted publicly. However, in discussions with various industry colleagues and associates, there is a common perception that paying consultants (i.e. academics) to review courses is akin to paying staff from Coles or Woolworths to evaluate whether or not they want to have competition in their neighbourhood. Some have even likened it to paying competitors to trash the reputations of other academics and private institutions. We are not sure how that is helping to protect the reputation of Australian education, unless it is to support bullying.

The diversity in the private higher education sector, as noted in the Higher Education Guide, is what really adds colour and variety to the system. The Group of Eight universities are remarkably similar, all fighting for rankings on international academic and research scales. If that does not create conformity, or cookie cutter, behaviours, we are not sure what would. Fortunately for Australian students, it is private higher education providers that provide any colour, originality and uniqueness within a dreary backdrop of ‘cookie cutter’ MOOCS and university courses.

Beware of VET ‘Experts’ with their Competency Based Assumptions

Unlike Darlo Higher Education which treats each client as individual and unique, other sole practicing higher education consultants have been guilty, in the past, of selling ‘blueprint’ documents for all and sundry. The naivety (and absurdity) of selling policies and plans for $15k a package aside, the assumption that there are blueprints or fixed designs is really a characteristic of VET/ASQA design. With our interest in building internal capabilities within organisations, Darlo Higher Education is particularly keen to see the development of private higher educators in governance and operational areas. Unfortunately, we are continually needing to re-educate prospective higher education providers that the assumptions of higher education are based on ‘critical enquiry’ rather than competency-based training. This is why there needs to be such a sharp contrast between vocational education and higher education.

Higher Education Course Design and Critical Enquiry

Higher education course design is based on the abstract idea of critical enquiry. While we have undertaken academic research into critical enquiry and ‘critical thinking skills’ (more generally), it is often left deliberately abstract by academics.  In contrast, vocational education hinges on competency-based skills. By nature competency based education encourages standardisation and uniformity. Some may say this is ‘cookie cutter’, but it would be misinformed. Whether serving coffee, fixing an electrical problem or giving a haircut, the hope and aspiration is that students across Australia will be able to perform at a similar level of service. Many vocational education background consultants seem to have only a narrow way of viewing higher education as a process, as a similarly standardised one. This does a great disservice to students and fundamentally misstates the differences between higher education and vocational education.

Textbook publishers and professional course designers/academics approach learning design in similar and different ways. For pedagogical purposes there are a range of design options available. This includes designing units and lessons, followed by activities and exercises that reinforce learning. This is a small part of educational design, however. The alignment of graduate learning outcomes, attributes and materials create customised and original designs. The review by academic course committees, higher education coordinators, and teaching and learning staff all create interpretations, inputs and designs that differ for courses. Indeed, across universities and higher education providers, one should be hard pressed to find identical courses. This is because they are based on the design principle of critical enquiry, as opposed to the convergent ‘competency-based design’.

Mass University Education Needs to Change

Of course, governments love uniformity and standardisation. As much as the rhetoric of innovation appears in newsletters and pamphlets, the essential ways of teaching and learning for the majority of staff and students remain unchanged for over a century. There does not seem to be any interest in opening up the system or embracing different approaches to education. Online education has largely been conducted independently by organisations, many hoping to avoid much of the red tape and folly of regulators. Rather than attempting to address new skills and workforce requirements, the baby boomer Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, simply laments that there are too many law students being educated and that many (most?) should be discouraged from even attempting in the first place. This is despite the fact that former law students are the ones bringing in innovative ways of distributing the law that disrupts and improves access and the establishment gatekeepers.

Creating ‘cookie cutter’ courses (or mass produced courses, a la the universities) creates elements of standardisation. This is largely dictated in regulations and standards. For instance, requiring higher education providers and universities to focus on ‘winning degrees’ by reporting favourable attrition and other performance data, including key elements in course design such as graduate attributes, course descriptions, indeed a templated blueprint in the accreditation application forms, encourages a blandness and conformity that prevents innovation. However, those are the rules that have been agreed upon by the higher education cartel and paid gatekeepers, and ones that must be followed.

Academic bodies of knowledge are increasingly standardised with the globalisation of learning and resources. Would it really surprise academics and critics that large publishers and text book writers determine the knowledge that is uniform across subject areas? The peer review system has been demonstrated countless times as problematic if not crony and corrupt. The problem then is ideas and practices only endorsed and protected by a closed peer network are considered valid, while open and accessible learning is not. Many publishers support academics to use specific textbooks, thereby, creating the replication of similar ideas and knowledge as ‘foundational knowledge’. This is most often repeated by Professors and Associate Professors as binding standards of knowledge, rather than contestable and subjective ideas that can be scrutinised.

Will Unique, Original and Different Courses be Accredited? We Hope So.

The final element of ‘cookie cutter’ course designs is considering how to create unique, original and customised qualifications. As Darlo Higher Education has a team of experienced academics, specific to particular subject areas, and with ‘validators’ at senior levels in universities, we capture best practice, while working directly with clients to help them introduce content specific to their organisation and teaching and learning strengths. While we often receive requests to help design courses, Darlo Higher Education consultants insist that organisations build internal capabilities and strengths in course review and course design. While we are not opposed to the ‘outsourcing’ of courses, as shortly most courses and academic qualifications will be created by machine learning, we are not so oblivious to the fact that there is an expectation from the regulator that they want organisations to demonstrate their strengths in this area.

Customisation of courses and qualifications take time for private higher education, but nothing like the sheer inefficiency and waste that happens at most universities and TAFEs. The idea that an internal higher education group of academics can produce something institutionally as can be undertaken outside of mass education, cookie cutter standards and processes is not an argument that can be well sustained. Indeed, many universities have, or are looking at, establishing new companies to bypass the inefficiencies and waste of administration that characterises large organisations. Following academic research in the area of innovation, it has been found almost impossible for large, mature and declining organisations to innovate at the same level as smaller, more nimble, disruptive organisations.

Higher Education Consultants Respond To, Not Decide the System

The advice for those who prattle upon about ‘cookie cutter’ courses is to be aware that they more than likely do not understand the system. Government regulators and those on the nose in the ‘Quality Standards’ clique are largely clueless about their contributing and prescriptive roles in limiting innovation and design. It is more than a bit thoughtless and rich to blame the poor students, private higher education providers, or higher education consultants for reacting to the inefficient and strangled gatekeeping system that regulators are promoting. Then again, they are regulators, not educators. An important point to remember.

Copyright 2018 (c) Darlo Group.

 

 

7 Services Offered by Higher Education Consultants

Higher Education Consultants work with your team to build internal capabilities.

While it may sound confusing to collaborate with higher education consultants if there is a need to develop autonomy and independence, however, higher education consultants specialising in regulation and compliance are able to make better decisions and choices about developing your internal capabilities.

Building internal capabilities are critical to creating a high quality higher education provider. This means working on developing systems, plans, policies, as well as governance and management arrangements. Higher Education Consultants can ensure that there are staff experienced in academic functions such as course design, teaching and learning, assessment and compliance supporting your organisation.

Higher Education Consultants can help you decipher and understand regulations and compliance.

 A core capability for higher education consultants is to help decipher and understand standards, compliance and regulation. While it is important for key stakeholders to become familiar in higher education standards and regulations, it makes little sense to neglect business growth or development to gain expertise in that area.

Higher education consultants can help you simplify complex legislation and standards. They can also help you understand and identify what evidence, processes and systems can lead to compliance with particular standards.

Higher Education Consultants can help with teaching and learning.

Finding higher education consultants who have taught undergraduate and postgraduate students, have supervised research students, and have both managed as course co-ordinators and lecturers.

While some higher education consultants complete research degrees at 2nd or 3rd tier universities, it is best to look for academics from the best universities. There are large quality differences between those who work and teach at different levels of tertiary education. Check if the higher education consultants have strong academic credentials as well as meaningful experiences in both teaching and learning and administration.

Higher Education Consultants can support you develop internal operational performance.

Higher Education Consultants are best when they operate as a team. A classic mistake for many organisations looking to grow their higher education operations is that they believe hiring a limited number of academics will constitute effective operations.

Just as any business would operate effectively with core team members, this also applies for higher education. Some higher education consultants will advise on their approach. However, these individuals tend to lack breadth or depth. As they tend to be quite old-fashioned or semi-retired, it is almost guaranteed that their knowledge will not approach the insights of a team.

Most regulators are keen to see that any higher education provider has effective internal capabilities and resources. The role of higher education consultants is not to replace this internal capability but provide insights and guidance into how to build this internal capacity and capability.

A failing of many prospective higher education providers is that they believe that they do not need to be responsible or accountable (or they can outsource this accountability to government agencies or standard-settings). This is absolutely not true.

Higher education is a team sport.

Higher Education Specialists can provide research insights into higher education services and higher education online.

 The best higher education consultants conduct research on areas such as benchmarking, reviews of changes in compliance and regulation and the impact these have for organisations.

As private higher education organisations face significantly different issues than universities or not-for-profit organisations, higher education consultants should be abreast of developments in changes in education. This includes an awareness of online higher education, quality in higher education, distance education, and diversity in higher education.

Higher Education Consultants can support your governance board efforts and provide advice on shortcomings or areas that require improvement.

 An expectation of higher education providers is that they will have an academic and corporate governing body that works. For those unfamiliar with university-style governance it may be confusing and seem at times pointless in having countless meetings on academic matters. For those with a propensity for action, or those who are used to being in control at all times (especially founder/owners) having a board to answer can be confronting.

Higher Education Consultants can help support and encourage you and explain the role and function of governance boards. While it is not uncommon for some founders/CEOs to resist the development of a governing board, in effect, the design of high functioning boards can create stability, experience and solid growth. In the worst case, some board members can create toxicity and chaos. Getting governance right is both art and science.

Higher Education Consultants can provide experience in approaching curriculum design and assessment.

 One shortcoming of many of case managers is that they have little to no teaching or learning experience. For those with experience in teaching and learning can provide insights into the ways higher education differs to vocational education and training.  Some of these differences surround the ways that graduate attributes and alignment are composed, the means and approaches to assessment, and teaching and learning materials. While study guides and the like are popular in vocational education, they are less so for most higher education institutions. Having said that, reading packages and references are important for academic study.

TEQSA Issues Caution on Increasing Consultant Use?

TEQSA Uses Consultants All The Time

Academics, consultants, lawyers, professors, and legal counsel are all needed to create a sustainable, contemporary higher education system.

TEQSA’s unprecedented interference in the higher education market hit a new low in early 2017. In the view of Darlo Higher Education and many in the higher education industry, TEQSA aimed, through a series of aggressive and emotionally charged media releases, to try to intimidate many potential providers from seeking high quality advice and service on the TEQSA Act.

In speaking to numerous senior public servants and academics, there was a mixed range of response to TEQSA’s various public announcements at the time. The main one was shock that the regulator could be as brazen as interfering in free relationships between organisations seeking improvement in their internal capabilities. A former senior TEQSA member described it as “bizarre” and “lacking in logic or reason”. It seemed reminiscent of the actions of state-run economies such as China, who sought to ban consultants.

TEQSA Consultants Use 

It makes it even more bizarre when you consider that TEQSA engages consultants all the time. For its own reviews of its regulatory performance, TEQSA has commissioned consultants to write its own reports. It also pays academics as consultants to review applications. It also commissions university academics to write its own standards, and to help draft legislation. It uses consultants for human resources and recruitment. It uses consultants for legal advice. It uses consultants for professional development and counselling. In other words, TEQSA loves consultants!

However, when it comes to private companies, TEQSA believes it needs to issue a caution. This double-standard aside, there has been a pretty unfair and unrealistic portrayal of TEQSA consultants, what they do, and their role in supporting providers. The role is inimical to TEQSA’s own use of academics to advise them on curriculum, teaching and learning, and other issues of academic importance in the ‘Experts Register’. It seems, in our opinion, to really be a case of creating a Putin-like atmosphere of finding academics (or paying academics, in the case of the Experts Register) to support its academic position, but deny the same rights and choice to independent companies to bolster their own academic knowledge. (It really is ironic that the government is negotiating a range of free trade agreements abroad, but, in our opinion, seems to be trying to restrain Australian businesses.)

Identical TEQSA Applications are Near Impossible

In their media releases, TEQSA claims that some consultants provide applications that are similar; however, it makes no sense to us.

If higher education providers have a concern for quality, identical TEQSA applications are near impossible to produce. This is because the internal machinations of (prospective) higher education providers differ, as do the people involved.  While we have no idea what TEQSA is referring to about identical applications, it is clear that any academic or corporate governance body doing its job will review key documentation and thus produce a unique submission. Such reviews and ownership of key institutional documentation necessarily requires customisation and internal, robust discussions. So, the identical applications approach is very strange to us. We can only assume that there are RTO/VET consultants advising several providers and making the mistake of misunderstanding academic conventions. (Then again, few case managers are academics and many who are have absolutely no experience in teaching and learning or research). However, VET consultants seeking to help organisations with higher education applications might not be too wrong in misunderstanding the standardisation of process or knowledge. As the TEQSA standards have, at their core, the aim of standardising higher education, by being prescriptive it would make sense that consistent evidence would meet a standard or not. That this is not the case is a confusing aspect of the TEQSA standards to the uninitiated – hence, one of the reasons that companies seek help.

Higher Education Consultants on Experts Register

Darlo Higher Education will shortly produce a further article will report on the failings and alleged bias of academics on the Experts Register, but we would make the observation that the attempted limitation of choice for independent companies to access academics is frankly farcical. Imagine if companies were not able to access accountants, lawyers, or human resources professionals to advise them on a range of affairs. The TEQSA Threshold Standards virtually imply that this range of advisors will be involved in the process. Likewise, the standards require the establishment of a range of governance arrangements. Having experienced and well-qualified governance board members, in own opinion, preferably of a similar age, racial, and economic status as the current commissioners (e.g. white, 65+ , experienced at university, and well-off) can go a long way for potential applicants. A recent applicant who Darlo Higher Education has worked with was largely successful because they had a fabulous (and demographically similar) board that was favourably viewed by the Commissioners (only after an ATT tribunal, mind you). (The public report was, in our opinion, as mean and as ungracious as you could find).

Higher Education Quality: There is No Short-Cut

The assumption that there is a way to short-cut the TEQSA process is, in our opinion, just simply deluded. There are clear legislative requirements for assessing an application (9 months), and these are stated clearly in the TEQSA Act. To assert that consultants are suggesting ‘short-cuts’ is equally ridiculous. There may be some solo consultants who make near impossible claims, particularly because they have no capacity to work in a team and tend to be stale in their knowledge of current student needs and their learning requirements, so their claims are indeed worth being weary of. However, there are naturally going to be efficiencies and insights that organisations obtain by engaging with consultants.

We suspect that one of the main fears is that TEQSA consultants will actually help providers become more successful. The red tape for higher education applications, and to become a higher education provider in Australia, are indeed extremely onerous on providers. They seem to be deliberately obtuse and, unfortunately, difficult to decipher for non-academics. Gaining some support and insight into understanding the regulations and how to comply with them does not seem to be any short-cut. The only short-cut is that academics may be able to decipher the extremely poorly written standards and what evidence might be needed to address them.

Higher Education Consultants are Here to Stay

Darlo Higher Education is a disruptive model. Looking at the number of copy-cat higher education consulting firms that are coming into the market (and it is highly unlikely to stop), we expect more choice for providers – this is a good thing. Changes in higher education cannot be blamed on consultants, they are simply responding to market demands. Many academics seem to think that their educational experiences (i.e. a big campus, publicly funded education, a world without social media and the internet) should be the ‘norm’. That is not the case. Disruption in higher education is no caused by Darlo Higher Education, but we have definitely identified as a trend. The likelihood of going back to the 1950s style campus, where students sit on the lawn of a mega campus, talking about French philosophy is pure fantasy. Nevertheless, the current standards (and writers of those standards) seem to think they are contemporary! These standards are simply codes for an antiquated system undergoing radical re-structuring and an attempt to define a way of living and working as academics that is increasingly untenable.

TEQSA claims that some consultants provide applications that are similar; however, it makes no sense to us. Many former TEQSA staff frequently approach Darlo Higher Education for employment opportunities, and it does seem strange that there is such a strong interest in working for us. (Note: we tend not to hire TEQSA staff as they tend not to have any first hand knowledge of academic issues such as teaching and learning. Moreover, working in the private sector is world’s apart from the public service). As Darlo Group has been in operation since 2011, and TEQSA started ranting in 2017, it seems that it had a bug bear about a recent group, as has been noted by other consultants. While some have used the media as a (cowardly) strategy to gain competitive advantage, the fact is Darlo Higher Education, as the market leader, is by far the most established (and first) group working in this field in Australia, specifically for private higher education (Our website dates back to 2000!).

While we have no idea about identical applications, it is clear that any academic or corporate governance body doing its job will review key documentation. Such reviews and ownership of key institutional documentation necessarily requires customisation and internal, robust discussions. So, the identical applications myth is very strange. We can only assume that there are RTO/VET consultants advising several providers and making the mistake of misunderstanding academic conventions. (Then again, few case managers are academics and many who are have absolutely no experience in teaching and learning or research). However, VET consultants seeking to help organisations with higher education applications might not be too wrong in misunderstanding the standardisation of process or knowledge. As the TEQSA standards have, at their core, the aim of standardising higher education, by being prescriptive it would make sense that consistent evidence would meet a standard or not. That this is not the case is a confusing aspect of the TEQSA standards to the uninitiated – hence, one of the reasons that individuals seek help. ANU Professors have highlighted a lack of competency in the Australian public service generally.

All universities and higher education providers need academics for advice. Whether these advisors are inside or outside the organisation is an interesting subject. Usually it is only older, senior consultants that have the privilege of treating their university department as co-share office, consuming a range of human resources – from research assistants to legal and administrative tools – while pocketing high paying consultants to their own side businesses. This is not true for those academics with integrity; however, increasingly lots of academics are running mini-rackets, at the expense of student fees and public tax payer money. Government seems to be largely happy to support US based consulting companies at the expense of using local Australian businesses. Rather than spending $US4.7 billion in 2016 largely on the Big 4 consulting firms, would not the government and universities be better spending that on investing in higher education, or even better yet, returning it to taxpayers.

Lawyers, Academics and University Professors Caution TEQSA

It it thankful that groups like Minter Ellison, the Group of 8, Universities Australia and COPHE are all active in defending the rights of higher education providers. All these groups have made submissions to TEQSA stating their opposition to reducing procedural fairness to all higher education providers and applicants. Could it be the case that TEQSA is trying to silence critics rather than provide warnings of any sort?

Just as various levels of government does not like human rights lawyers defending the rights of refugees, the attack on independent advice, including legal advice, is very troubling. In reviewing TEQSA’s attempt to increase its powers to publish its decisions prior to a provider having a chance to respond, Minter Ellison, a leading law firm, has provided substantial reasons in its submission to TEQSA why there are some grave risks to procedural fairness.

The Group of 8, in a submission in 2017 following this bizarre attack on independent companies, foresaw that TEQSA itself rather than safeguarding quality, is, itself, a risk to Australia’s reputation:

  • “The importance of maintaining Australia’s hard-won reputation for excellence in higher education to our students cannot be overstated. Allowing regulatory decisions to be published before the affected parties have had an opportunity to access any review of that decisions would appear to remove any procedural fairness and diminish the scope for natural justice for providers. In our view the proposal poses the very great risk of damaging Australia’s domestic and international reputation. Such a proposal is also very likely to adversely affect a provider’s existing student body; potentially without any basis. Given the work that has been done to build and protect Australia’s reputation in this sphere over many decades, this is an unacceptable risk given the possible gain appears minimal at best.”

https://go8.edu.au/publication/go8-submission-teqsa-consultation-proposed-changes-publication-regulatory-decisions

The prospective decision to ‘name and shame’ providers is indeed a 180 reversal on a previous promise:

  • TEQSA recognises the potential reputational risks with publishing information on the findings from risk assessments and feedback that information on sector risk should be high level and focus on system-wide risk as viewed through the TEQSA Risk Assessment Framework; … Noting strong feedback, TEQSA will not release information on individual provider risk ratings.”https://campusmorningmail.com.au/the-qt-in-teqsa-uni-regulator-commits-to-no-names-on-problem-performance/

Declining Confidence in the Regulator

What might be said at this stage is that TEQSA is running out of people to blame. At first, it was the higher education providers themselves, then it was the higher education consultants and TEQSA consultants, then it was legislation that was hand-tying them. Considering in its recent report that private higher education providers are overwhelmingly critical of the actions taken by TEQSA towards them, with a very small number of higher education providers agreeing “the actions are proportionate to risks” (only 24%). In other words, 76% of private higher education providers perceive unfairness in the system. The glaring preference towards universities and against the private sector including faith based, so-called “for profit” (a fairly condescending term), and prospective HEPs is stark in their own data:

 

That's why we need TEQSA consultants

 

From looking at the figures above, it is clear that TEQSA is not going to work with private higher educations, and that is why higher education academics such as the Darlo Higher Education Team should – along with lawyers, CEOs, professors, industry professionals and legal counsellors – be available to assist them. Why would any government believe that they can tell companies how to spend or to invest their own money? What chance for a system that is centrally controlled by government and has no scope for companies within a free market to help each other? Much more than short-cuts is at stake, it is democracy and freedom of academic speech itself.

Darlo Group Pty Ltd 2018 (c). No part of this publication may be reproduced unless approved by expressed written permission by the Darlo Group. 2018. TEQSA table is noted as creative commons and accessible for public fair use.

 

The Fresh Faces of Australian Higher Education Regulation

Luckily, the Australian government has just re-appointed TEQSA’s commissioners to oversee the development of quality and standards in Australian education. While no doubt, the current Minister of Education is investing in experience and wisdom, we are not sure it bodes well for Australia’s investment in contemporary or innovative programs. That might just be the point.

It is disappointing that the government has not taken more risk in its appointments, nor consulted widely with the private higher education sector. With the current government likely to be out of jobs in the very near future, we hope it is a holding pattern until more substantial policy, thinking and investment in restructuring the higher education system is made.

Moving forwards, the Lucky Country has these fresh faces to decide the fate of private higher education.

TEQSA CEO did not appear at EduTech 2017 Higher Ed Panel

A quick note that Darlo Higher Education erroneously included TEQSA’s CEO as a speaker/participant at last year’s EduTech conference. We wish to provide a public update that it was actually TEQSA’s Director, Assurance Group, who was on the higher education panel led by Darlo Higher Education’s Michael Christodoulou.

Thanks to TEQSA for notifying Darlo Higher Education of this error (as well as an errant apostrophe – providers be warned). TEQSA’s CEO was scheduled to speak and listed as a speaker in early marketing efforts by EduTech, and a last minute change/addition seems to have been made.

Rest assured the information has now been updated and the apostrophe corrected. Hopefully, no readers, especially potential or existing higher education providers, were confused or overly put out by this post.

Thanks for reading.

Darlo Higher Education