TEQSA Director Gary Brook has commended the higher education sector’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic but says the agency is continuing to keep a close watch on standards and emerging risks.
One area TEQSA is actively monitoring is the decline in ELICOS commencements in the latter half of 2020 and how this could impact the sector.
“In the early stages of the pandemic, many students had already enrolled for their ELICOS courses and were able to continue through to completion,” said Mr. Brook ahead of the University Governance and Regulation Forum on Wednesday.
“Six months on, there has been a drop off in new ELICOS enrolments which may impact international student commencements in degree programs.”
While some providers had been able to enrol students in off-shore programs pending border re-openings, growing unemployment, globally, is likely to impact the international student pipeline. Approximately 29 per cent of parents are now paying the full higher education costs for their children, down from 43 per cent in 2016.
“This is a complex area that we are continuing to work closely with the sector to monitor,” Mr. Brook said.
“From our perspective, we want to ensure enrolment standards are maintained and the student experience upheld, regardless of delivery format and whether students are studying off-shore or in Australia.”
Mr. Brook said TEQSA has been proactive in its efforts to support the sector during the pandemic. This has included streamlining processes, reducing the regulatory burden where appropriate and providing increased information to providers, such as resources to support the rapid transition to online learning.
The sector has also been proactive in engaging with TEQSA, Brook noted.
“We recorded a 68 per cent increase in the number of material change notifications made to TEQSA last year, which reflects TEQSA’s work in making sure providers are aware of their reporting obligations,” he said.
“In most cases, the provider explained how these changes were being managed to ensure continued quality of teaching, adequate resources for staff and support for student well-being and safety, eliminating the need for TEQSA to follow up.
“About 20 per cent of higher education providers have not reported any material changes related to COVID-19. We’re now contacting those providers to ensure they understand their obligations and to make sure we maintain an awareness of any emerging risks.”
Brook said a shared focus on standards was essential as the sector overcomes the disruptions posed by the pandemic.
“As Australian higher education recovers from the pandemic, it is important that providers continue to focus on meeting the standards to ensure Australia’s international reputation for quality higher education is maintained.
“One positive of the pandemic has been that the sector is increasingly cooperating around issues of concern, such as academic integrity, and the increased recognition that providers can learn from one another. This is a welcome development, and one that TEQSA will continue to support by sharing information and guidance across the sector.”
Gary Brook is a Director at quality and assurance agency TEQSA. Join him for a discussion on how universities should respond during the current crisis at the University Governance and Regulation Forum – held as a virtual event on November 11.
Register now to secure your place.