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Universities Accord should not lower standards, regulator says


Rules must be enforced to maintain “Australia’s reputation for world-class research and innovation”

Public universities should be supported and standards should be enforced in order to maintain Australia’s level of research quality, the country’s higher education regulator has told a national review.

The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency’s submission to the Australian Universities Accord review says that public universities are “the hallmark of Australia’s reputation for world-class research and innovation. Maintaining a strong research system that can be internationally benchmarked is vital to Australia’s future and public confidence in outputs and ‘return on investment’ in research.”

Teqsa said the country should invest in creating “strong underpinning data about research quality”.

Many “mid-sized providers” may seek to become universities in order to claim “the high standing of Australian universities domestically and internationally for delivering quality teaching and research”. They should continue to have to meet the requirements of the Higher Education Standards Framework, including research standards, Teqsa said.

That framework mandates that universities provide evidence of the quality of their research, such as being recognised by a major funder, or detailed information about how research is carried out and overseen.

“The undertaking of research that leads to new knowledge and original creative endeavour, together with research training, represents a fundamental and defining feature of the ‘Australian university’ provider category,” Teqsa said.

End of an Era? 

The Teqsa submission also said that once decisions have been made about Excellence in Research for Australia, the national research assessment exercise, “any new measures will be integral to regulatory assessments” of university status.

The Era process is expected to be abolished, following recommendations from the Sheil review of the Australian Research Council, but no replacement has been announced.

The Teqsa submission predicted that more higher education will take place in the private sector over the coming years, relative to the public sector.

A Teqsa representative is on the reference group advising the panel writing the Universities Accord proposal. The panel is chaired by former University of Adelaide vice-chancellor Mary O’Kane.

An interim report with recommendations is due to go to education minister Jason Clare by the end of June.