Improving Quality in Australian Higher Education

Since the late 1970s the Australian Government has encouraged universities to critically monitor their own performance. Throughout the 1980s this focus has been sharpened to include the improvement of efficiency and effectiveness, and an increased awareness of public accountability.

The Commonwealth funded major discipline reviews during the mid 1980s to determine standards and to improve quality and efficiency in universities. While the reviews revealed the importance of quality assurance within institutions and across the sector, there was no way to ensure that institutions acted upon review recommendations.

The Commonwealth was concerned to maintain and further enhance the quality of Australian higher education during a time of large-scale structural reorganisation in the late 1980s and rapid growth in higher education participation from the early 1990s.

In 1991 the Commonwealth moved from the discipline review approach to a whole of institution approach to quality assurance. It announced a comprehensive set of measures to enhance the quality of higher education teaching and research. Those universities able to demonstrate a high level of quality assurance in the context of their missions and goals were provided with extra funding.

The Commonwealth established the Committee for Quality Assurance in Higher Education in 1992 to:

  • provide advice on quality assurance issues;
  • conduct independent audits of institutional quality assurance policies and procedures; and,
  • make recommendations about the allocation of annual quality-related funds.  

The Committee conducted three rounds of independent whole of institution audits from 1993 to 1995. The voluntary self-assessment undertaken by institutions under this program triggered considerable change at the institutional level as gaps were identified and outcomes measured.

In March 2000, the former Ministerial Council on Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA) endorsed an independent audit body to strengthen the quality assurance framework for higher education in Australia.

The Australian Universities Quality Agency was established in early 2000. AUQA was responsible for auditing the quality of Australian universities. AUQA conducted audits of the activities of Australian universities in Australia and off-shore on a five year rolling cycle. The process involved a self-assessment and a site visit. Audit reports contained commendations, affirmations and recommendations for universities to act upon.

The Review of Australian Higher Education (the Bradley Review) recommended an independent national regulatory body be responsible for regulating all types of tertiary education. The Review team reasoned that a national approach would provide a more effective, streamlined and integrated sector, achieving a sustainable and responsible higher education system in the larger, more diverse and demand driven environment.

In 2012 the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA), the national regulator for higher education was established.

The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Act 2011 established the agency and the new national regulatory and quality assurance environment for Australian higher education. 

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