Australian universities will be subject to quality assurance audits for the first time next year.
A new Australian Universities Quality Agency has been established following an agreement by federal, state and territory education ministers last March.
Up to six universities as well as at least one state accrediting authority will be subject to inspection by teams of auditors.
Every year thereafter, eight universities and one or two accrediting authorities will have their quality-control processes checked.
The agency has been set up as an independent company and is operating from offices in Melbourne. The states and commonwealth will each have three representatives on the agency's board, and higher education chief executives have elected five members.
Under the ministerial agreement, audit panels will be chosen from senior university staff with experience and expertise in quality assurance. Ministers agreed to an annual contribution of A$1 million (£370,000) to cover the operating costs but individual institutions will have to meet all expenses of the audit panels.
Ian Allen, an interim director of the agency, said the AUQA had an extremely important task. "Establishment of the quality agency is very significant in terms of higher education and Australia's international credibility," Dr Allen said. "Within the international context, this is becoming more and more important and we need a visible and transparent process of quality assurance."
He said audit panels would focus on the quality control procedures used by universities, and would also review the private provider approval and accreditation processes adopted by the states and territories. All audit reports would be made public although any action on adverse findings would be up to the state and federal governments.
"An audit should point to the good points and also indicate if there are gaps that need to be plugged," Dr Allen said. He said the agency would not investigate complaints against institutions - that would be the responsibility of the university's governing council or the state authority responsible for higher education. If a university fails to address criticisms of its procedures, sanctions may be applied, through either Commonwealth funding provisions or state regulatory mechanisms.