The TEQSA mistake

The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency legislation passed through the Senate yesterday, and is expected to receive Coalition backing in the House of Representatives. As I seem to be the only person on the public record opposed to TEQSA, for later I-told-you-so purposes here’s a summary of my objections:

(1) It takes higher education standards into the realm of partisan politics. ‘Standards’ on getting a licence to operate as a higher education provider, course accreditation, and general ‘teaching and learning’ will all now be set by one individual, the federal minister. There are processes to ensure the minister largely acts on expert advice, but he/she will appoint the experts, and ultimately I don’t think he/she has to follow the advice.

The current minister insists that he will respect academic freedom, and I don’t disbelieve him. But it is a bit like the Liberals backing the idea of a national curriculum when in government, and then professing to be appalled when Labor later appoints its mates to write it. The problem is creating such a power in the first place. I set out a couple of the scenarios in this Age article.

(2) There is too much centralisation. Even if the experts could set their standards without the minister’s approval, this would still be a problem. Standards are contestable – I wrote another Age article pointing out that draft standards released to date contain some dubious requirements.

(3) I don’t dispute that third-party scrutiny of higher education courses is desirable. But the role of existing third-party accreditation bodies is unclear. Many professional degrees have existing bodies that approve their courses. Presumably they will be consulted in setting standards, but will TEQSA just end up being a redundant additional layer of regulation? Wouldn’t it have been better to insist on third-party scrutiny or approval, but not to create a single mega-regulator?

(4) The private providers have generally supported TEQSA, partly because they are frustrated at how slow the current state accreditation bodies have sometimes been. The legislation gave TEQSA an extendable 12 month deadline on making accreditation decisions, reduced in an amendment to 9 months. Some kind of time limit is presumably an improvement, though 9 months isn’t exactly quick decision making. I fear that the myth of Commonwealth competence might be at work here. If we had a competitive third-party accreditation market, that would create stronger pressures to get the job done in a timely way.

8 Responses to “The TEQSA mistake

  • 1
    conrad
    June 17th, 2011 13:00

    “but will TEQSA just end up being a redundant additional layer of regulation”

    I’ll bet yes. Reminds me of AUQA. All they ever cared about was a paper trail. I’ll also bet that the people that run and implement TEQSA will no nothing about most subjects, which is the level at where a lot of the auditing needs to occur. Thus all they will be able to do is create a paper trail — and they are never going to complain about other things like student/staff ratios etc. since those are essentially enforced by the government.

  • 2
    Andrew Norton
    June 17th, 2011 13:16

    I misread an email – it only passed through the Senate, corrected above.

  • 3
    Sinclair Davidson
    June 17th, 2011 19:33

    I’m not sure you’re the only person on the public record opposing a new regulator – I certainly got in early.

  • 4
    John Ledingham
    June 19th, 2011 12:26

    Dear Andrew

    I have left a message with The Centre of Independent Studies requesting that you contact me.

    I would like to discuss the possibility of engaging you as an Expert in Higher Education relating to litigation in the Supreme Court of Victoria.

    I may be contacted on (03) 98462000 or 0488333949 any time.

    Regards, John Ledingham

  • 5
    Brendan Sheehan
    June 21st, 2011 15:39

    You weren’t entirely alone on this Andrew: in my own submission to the Senate Committee, I raised a few pointed questions, such as:

    Does the Commonwealth really anticipate the need to ram down the doors of a university chancellery and/or the need the power to intercept a delinquent vice-chancellor and his/her henchmen/women in their fast getaway boat?

  • 6
    Andrew Norton
    June 22nd, 2011 06:12

    Brendan – I should have read the submissions! Yes, the enforcement powers are over the top. Dial 000 for an emergency response when you suffer a bad tutorial.

    Sinc – Objecting two years ago, showing great prescience.

  • 7
    The Scan 22 June 2011 | INTERMEDIATE
    June 22nd, 2011 07:38

    […] include a provision recognising the capacity of universities to self-accredit courses.  Carlton’s lone classical liberal maintains his dissent to the legislation, summarising his objections for “I-told-you-so […]

  • 8
    Peter Ryan
    June 27th, 2011 08:14

    Andrew – I concur with your concerns about TEQSA. You may feel like the lone public voice of dissent but let me assure you there are a few like minded souls working behind the scenes to raise the important issues in whatever forum we can. The 9 month + 9 month period for decision making (formerly 12+12) has been a concern for me since the initial lockup to review the draft legislation. What is of even more concern is that if you don’t hear from the regulator after the statutory period a decision is deemed to have been made in the negative. There is a clear disincentive for making the hard decisions and much easier to leave difficult applications in the “too-hard basket” until the stautory period expires.

    I have always been of the opinion that TEQSA is simply replacing a fractured, unreliable, inefficient state-based higher education regulatory framework with a centralised unreliable, inefficient federal higher education regulatory framework. Nothing I have seen or heard to date has given me any comfort that things will be different – I agree with your sentiments that we should be very wary of what is on offer.