The Higher Education Standards Framework Threshold Standards sets the standards that a provider must meet and continue to meet to be registered to operate as a higher education provider in Australia. The Threshold Standards underpin and provide assurance of quality and integrity in the delivery of Australian higher education. The national higher education regulator, the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA), uses the Threshold Standards to regulate higher education providers and courses.
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A new Threshold Standards instrument for a new decade
On 24 April 2021, the Minister for Education and Youth, the Hon Alan Tudge MP, made a new Threshold Standards instrument to replace the previous instrument. The Higher Education Standards Framework (Threshold Standards) 2021 will replace the 2015 Threshold Standards when the they come into effect on 1 July 2021. The 2015 Threshold Standards will be automatically repealed and no longer in force from that date.
The new 2021 Standards implement and bring together:
- recommendations of the 2019 Review of the Higher Education Provider Category Standards (PCS Review), led by Emeritus Professor Peter Coaldrake AO.
- an outstanding recommendation from the 2017 Review of the impact of the TEQSA Act on the higher education sector (Impact Review) undertaken by Deloitte Access Economics.
The PCS Review recommended substantial reforms to the categories of higher education providers which make up Part B1 of the Threshold Standards, as well as to the description of the process for a provider to attain authority to self-accredit some or all of their courses (Part B2). In 2019, the Government accepted the intent of all ten of Professor Coaldrake’s recommendations and has been working toward implementing them ever since, including through the Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Provider Category Standards and Other Measures) Act 2021 (PCS Act), which makes consequential amendments to the TEQSA Act. The new provider taxonomy Professor Coaldrake recommended forms the basis of Part B of the 2021 Standards.
The higher education sector will move from six provider categories (five ‘university’ categories and just one non-university category) in the 2015 Standards, to four categories (Australian and Overseas University and two types of non-university) in the 2021 Standards.
The Impact Review recommended streamlining the previous four different types of ‘Threshold Standards’ that were originally defined in the TEQSA Act in 2011. Once the 2021 Threshold Standards commence, there will be just one overarching type of ‘Threshold Standards’.
The 2021 Standards legislative instrument is available for download from the Australian Government Federal Register of Legislation.
Professor Coaldrake undertook preliminary consultations with a range of higher education peak bodies. On 5 December 2018, Professor Coaldrake released a discussion paper for the PCS Review, calling for public submissions. Professor Coaldrake also undertook extensive national consultations in most capital cities and held a further round of meetings with higher education peak bodies from mid-July to mid-August 2019.
Higher Education Standards Panel Advice
As required by section 58 of the TEQSA Act, the then Education Minister the Hon Dan Tehan MP asked for the Higher Education Standards Panel’s advice on amending the Threshold Standards to implement the PCS Review’s recommendations. In developing its advice the Panel held two stakeholder forums, released a consultation paper seeking stakeholder comment, and hosted meetings with the major non-university peak bodies.
Under Section 58 of the TEQSA Act, the Education Minister must not make a new Standard unless the Higher Education Standards Panel has developed a draft of the standard and the Minister has consulted both TEQSA and the Council of Commonwealth, state and territory education ministers and taken account of their views. Minister Tehan sought comments and advice from both of these bodies before making the new Threshold Standards legislative instrument.
On 8 October 2020 the Senate referred the Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Provider Category Standards and Other Measures) Bill 2020 (PCS Bill) to the Education and Employment Legislation Committee for inquiry and report by 27 November 2020. The Committee report recommended passage of the PCS Bill, which was passed by Parliament and then received the Royal Assent on 1 March 2021.
2015 Threshold Standards amendments
The previous Threshold Standards legislative instrument was made in October 2015 by the then Minister for Education and Training, Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham and came into effect from 1 January 2017. That instrument followed a comprehensive review of the initial (2011) standards by the Higher Education Standards Panel. The Panel consulted widely with universities, other higher education providers and state and territory governments on the updates. The 2015 Threshold Standards received strong support from higher education stakeholders and have been endorsed by the states and territories and by TEQSA. A contextual overview of the Higher Education Standards Framework is available on the TEQSA website.
- Final Proposed Higher Education Standards Framework - Advice to the Minister - December 2014
- Advice from the Higher Education Standards Panel to TEQSA regarding the application of the Higher Education Standards Framework for regulatory purposes - December 2014
- Comparison of the ESOS National Code 2007 Parts C & D with the revised Framework - December 2014
- Comparison of Part A (Standards for Higher Education) of the revised Higher Education Standards Framework with requirements of the current Framework - December 2014
- Comparison of Part B (Criteria for Higher Education Providers) of the revised Higher Education Standards Framework with requirements of the current Framework - December 2014
- Elements of the current Higher Education Standards Framework that are not covered by the revised Framework - December 2014