Nips, tucks for TEQSA

Educators discuss tweaks as regulator continues with reform. By Dallas Bastian.
The bad decisions of a besieged TEQSA are the result of the atmosphere surrounding the national regulator, one academic proposed at a forum in Melbourne.
During the Higher Ed Services’ Higher Education Compliance and Quality Network event, vice-chancellor of Australian Catholic University Greg Craven said it was always going to be difficult for the independent authority to regulate due to the amount of criticism it faced.
“There has been extravagant criticism of TEQSA at times, which I will modestly label as irresponsible, outrageous and damaging.”
He said the promotion of the idea that TEQSA posed a “threat” distracted the regulator and hindered its establishment, impeding decision-making.
However, Craven said mistakes during its creation mistakes generated an “atmosphere of misapprehension”.
“There wasn’t a really clear idea of how we wanted to implement what we wanted,” he said.
A lack of consultation and “death by PowerPoint” were two issues that arose early on. “There was a total lack of an idea of a regulatory partnership,” Craven said.
But Craven added it wasn’t all negative; consultations were initiated and a legislative partnership was set up so that universities were in the room during the drafting process. “I don’t think there’s anybody who’d think that legislative partnership did not improve the legislation,” he said.
The philosophy for regulation was ‘light-tough’, said Craven, adding the real problem with TEQSA was that it never got its regulatory psychology right.
“In other words, what the regulator thinks it’s doing and why and what its objectives are,” he says. “Legislation is vital, but you can draft the best legislation in the world and it will not work unless the implementation works.”
Craven said if there is a restrictive regulatory psychology no future steps will make a real difference. He said the job for the authority is to get its “regulatory mind in the right zone.”
“If that happens, I think there will be fewer miscarriages of rhetoric and it will starve critics of TEQSA of the ammunition they have been using.”
His other suggestion is for it to enduringly engage with the sectoral bodies and have them present in the room when making changes.
“I’m delighted to see the terms of the minister’s instructions very clearly on regulation continually referring to TEQSA not as a body of regulation but as a body of deregulation,” Craven said.
He said there isn’t a need to dissolve TEQSA, rather recalibrate it so that it is on the right track.
“I have never wavered in my belief that we need a national regulator,” he said. “The real question is what type of regulator do we need and how is it to discharge its functions?”
The size and complexity of the sector, Bradley demand-drive system, number of student consumers that have entered the system and overseas market reputation make a national regulator such as TEQSA a necessity, he added.
Bill Scales, chancellor of Swinburne University, brought forward outcomes of the Bradley Review regarding the need for a national regulator. “Does the whole idea of having a single national regulatory body for Australia still hold true?  I say yes,” he said. “We were very strongly recommending that there ought to be one overlying regulator … for the tertiary education sector.”
Scales said the Bradley reforms were working and the related policy and regulatory framework still hold true.
“There [are] some sensible modifications at the margins that would help to continue with the reforms we started two to three years ago.” he said. “In addition to its normal audit processes the regulatory scrutiny does need to make sure that it’s focused on regulatory risk.”
He said that risk-based regulatory framework was going to be difficult for some institutions that find it disconcerting to encounter scrutiny because it indicates something may not be right.
“Risk-based is uncomfortable but it’s important that we reinforce that as an important part of our regulatory system,” Scales said.

Please login to view content or register for a 4 week FREE Trial.

Membership Login