The administration and financing of education in Australia is shared between the Federal Government and the States and Territories. The Federal Government is mainly concerned with the development of national policies and strategies for education to ensure that growth in the higher education system will be underpinned by a robust quality assurance and regulatory framework. The framework places an emphasis on student outcomes and the quality of the student experience. The Federal Government also provides significant funding for education across the educational sectors and administers some national programmes.
The Department of Education and Training is responsible for the national policies and programmes that help Australians access affordable, quality education ranging from early childhood to higher education, including international education and research.
The Australian Federal Government has two quality systems for assessing university performance:
- Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency (TEQSA), registers and evaluates the performance of higher education providers against the Higher Education Standards Framework, (including the Threshold Standards*), which all providers must meet in order to enter and remain within Australia’s higher education system.The Standards also serve other broader purposes in Australian higher education including:
- an articulation of the expectations for provision of higher education in Australia as:
- a guide to the quality of educational experiences that students can expect
- a reference for international comparisons of higher education
- a reference for other interested parties, and
- a framework for internal monitoring, quality assurance and quality improvement of higher education activities for higher education providers.
The Threshold Standards have been developed by the Higher Education Standards Panel established by TEQSA. Although established by TEQSA, the Panel is independent, reporting directly to the Commonwealth Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research.
Specifications for higher education awards are part of the Threshold Standards set by the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) Council, which is also separated from TEQSA in the legislation. There are ten AQF levels which correspond to qualifications covering schools, vocational education and training (VET) and universities; higher education awards cover level 5 (diploma) up to level 10 (doctoral). The AQF serves as an external assurance that an award/degree of a certain level meets the same expected learning outcomes and teaches the same level of skills regardless of which institution offers the course.
TEQSA also protects the interests of international students under the Education Services for Students Act 2000 (ESOS Act) and the National Code. Information about these is available on the Commonwealth Register of Institution and Courses for Overseas Students (CRICOS) website. See the section on “Recognition of Foreign Qualifications” for more details.
- Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) is an assessment system that evaluates the quality of the research conducted at Australian universities. The objectives of ERA are to:
- establish an evaluation framework that gives government, industry, business and the wider community assurance of the excellence of research conducted in Australian higher education institutions
- provide a national stocktake of discipline level areas of research strength and areas where there is opportunity for development in Australian higher education institutions
- identify excellence across the full spectrum of research performance
- identify emerging research areas and opportunities for further development, and
- allow for comparisons of research in Australia, nationally and internationally, for all discipline areas.
An independent study in 2013 commissioned by the Australian Research Council found that ERA has helped to increase the social rate of return of research, generate cost savings, increase university revenue, enhance economic activity and improve accountability, transparency and policy-making.
The States and Territories are responsible for delivering education within their borders; in particular in relation to Technical and Further Education (TAFE), the major providers of vocational education and training (VET) in Australia. TAFE institutions generally offer competency-based short courses, certificates I, II, III, and IV, diplomas, and advanced diplomas in a wide range of vocational topics.
TAFE courses at the certificate IV, diploma and advanced diploma level can provide students with a pathway into university, including credit towards some higher education courses. A few TAFE institutions offer degree level courses.
Non-governmental educational authorities include: