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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,

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.

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.