Regulator, not dictator

February 17, 2011

Steven Schwartz's opinion piece on the establishment of a new regulator for Australian universities ("Irreconcilable differences", January) is a colourful and imaginative reflection on some of the dynamic policy changes being introduced in Australian higher education. But, at the risk of diminishing the colour or constraining the imagination, some facts might be useful.

The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (Teqsa) will not "police" the higher education sector; it will be a regulator and quality assurance agency.

It will not be interested in imposing "conformity" on universities. But it has demonstrated a commitment to work with the sector on the development of standards, particularly in teaching, learning and research, alongside existing arrangements in provider and qualification standards.

Consistent with greater deregulation, Teqsa will adopt a risk-based and proportionate approach to its work. Providers judged to be low risk will have much less engagement with Teqsa.

The idea that Teqsa will set staff qualifications in universities and "bureaucratically determine" other aspects of academic life has not been contemplated, either privately or publicly, by those setting up the agency. Teqsa staff will serve the sector, and will not be interested in having every university "doing the same things in the same way".

Vice-chancellors in Australia are well engaged in the national dialogue surrounding the way Teqsa's work is being shaped. Although he has not been active in that dialogue to date, a contribution from Professor Schwartz would be welcome.

Ian Hawke, Interim chief executive officer, Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency.

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