Wednesday, 5 December 2018
Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Amendment Bill 2018; Second Reading
That this bill be now read a second time.
The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Amendment Bill 2018 amends the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Act 2011(TEQSA Act) to give effect to the government's decision to implement recommendations arising from the 'Review of the impact of the TEQSA Act on the higher education sector'.
This review was conducted in line with section 203 of the TEQSA Act, which required that the minister, before 1 January 2016, cause a review to be started of the impact on the higher education sector of the TEQSA Act.
In December 2015, terms of reference for the review were determined, with Deloitte Access Economics engaged to undertake the review between July 2016 and March 2017. The review was a substantial body of work: 36 written submissions were received, 33 stakeholders were interviewed, and the TEQSA Act was extensively analysed.
Overall, the review was positive about the establishment of TEQSA as the national regulator in 2012, noting that the TEQSA Act is broadly operating effectively and as intended.
The review noted that the higher education sector's views regarding the regulatory system established by the act, and TEQSA as the regulator, are positive.
The sector sees in TEQSA a regulator that is seeking to reduce the burden imposed by its activities, tailoring its requirements to meet individual features of providers and engaging more fully with the sector. The review therefore did not recommend changes that would significantly alter the regulatory framework or the role of TEQSA as the independent national higher education regulator.
The recommendations made by the review are largely technical in nature. They are designed to place TEQSA and the regulatory and quality assurance system established by the act on a stronger footing. This bill gives effect to the review recommendations that require amendments to the TEQSA Act.
The measures contained in this bill will improve the already effective and efficient higher education regulatory system, enabling the sector to continue its focus on delivering the highest quality teaching, learning and research, maximising the quality of educational outcomes for students and protecting Australia's international higher education reputation.
The bill simplifies the legislative framing of the Higher Education Standards Framework by removing references from the TEQSA Act to specific categories of non-threshold standards that have never been made and are not needed. The capacity to make additional standards will be retained, however, if the need ever arises.
The bill requires that TEQSA inform the minister and the Higher Education Standards Panel before it undertakes quality assessment under section 60 of the TEQSA Act that engages the majority of higher education providers. This will ensure that the resource implications of any such activity and the regulatory burden it would create for providers are appropriately considered before undertaking such an assessment. This amendment will remove the need for the current tougher restriction placed on such assessments by Ministerial Direction No. 2 of 2013,which the government will repeal once the TEQSA Amendment Act commences.
There are amendments made in relation to the Higher Education Standards Panel. The bill will expand the skill set that the minister must ensure is encompassed by panel members so that, collectively, the panel has contemporary experience in the provision of higher education by both university and non-university providers. This amendment is important for the panel's oversight and advisory roles, ensuring its advice is balanced and reflects a collective understanding of issues relevant to different provider types.
The bill also expands the functions of the panel to more appropriately reflect its role to provide oversight of TEQSA's strategic and operational planning and approaches to deregulation, which were functions of the former TEQSA Advisory Council.
A new provision will allow TEQSA to disclose higher education information about a regulated entity to a person who has lodged a complaint where TEQSA is satisfied that the information to be disclosed relates to the subject matter of the complaint. Currently TEQSA can publish such information but cannot disclose the information to individual complainant students. This amendment will improve TEQSA's capacity to respond appropriately to complainants, facilitating better engagement between TEQSA and students of higher education providers.
Finally, the bill provides for a number of technical amendments, mainly suggested by TEQSA during the review, including minor adjustments to the capacity to disclose both higher education and personal information to the Department of Education and Training and the minister, to facilitate the disclosure of information for research purposes with appropriate safeguards and to clarify quorum provisions for meetings of the TEQSA commissioners.
I commend the bill.