Governance and Compliance: Changes to the Higher Education Standards Framework – what you need to know

Posted: 06/08/2021

by: Katrina Quinn

The Higher Education Standards Framework (Threshold Standards) 2021 (HESF) is now in effect. What are the significant changes, and what do they mean for you?

Part A – Standards for Higher Education is largely unchanged apart from a new item (g) in Standard 7.3.2, which requires providers to ensure information about credit and recognition of prior learning policy, and any articulation or credit arrangements applicable to each course of study, is readily and publicly available.

The HES Framework now includes Part B – Provider Category Standards (PCS), which incorporates new research benchmarks from the 2019 PCS Review. The Review recommended that the higher education PCS must enable providers to transition to other categories and grow their course and research offerings under a guidance framework developed by TEQSA. This is aimed to encourage and support excellence, differentiation, and innovation.

Part B also sets out the criteria that enable a provider to be registered in each of the four provider categories and whether a provider can self-accredit some or all courses it delivers. These categories are:

  • Institute of Higher Education
  • University College
  • Australian University, and
  • Overseas University

This year, TEQSA announced the registrations of one new University and three new University Colleges.

Institute of Higher Education (IHE)

Key Changes

As a minimum, all higher education providers must satisfy the requirements under the ‘Institute of Higher Education’ category to be registered by TEQSA.

Providers are required to engage academic and teaching staff who are active in scholarship that informs their teaching, supported by the provider. Minimal changes apart from the requirement to feature its TEQSA Provider Identification and category on publications.

Summary of Requirements

  • Must meet the requirements within HESF Part A
  • Have a clearly articulated higher education purpose, which includes a commitment to free intellectual enquiry
  • Offers at least one accredited course
  • Academic staff must be active in scholarship that informs their teaching and active in research if engaged in research student supervision
  • Must feature its TEQSA Provider Identification and provider category on relevant public material

University College

Key Changes

In addition to satisfying the criteria under the ‘Institute of Higher Education’ category, the University College category contains a number of additional criteria that evidence a track record of successful higher education delivery.

The category is intended to serve as an aspirational or destination category for high-quality providers and enable them to build capacity and subsequently apply to the ‘Australian University’ category. The key criteria introduced are the self-accrediting authority for at least 70 per cent of courses and demonstrated industry engagement.

Summary of Requirements

  • Satisfy the requirements for the Institute of Higher Education category
  • Achieved self-accrediting authority for at least 70 per cent of its courses
  • Strong history of successful student outcomes (at least 5-years)
  • Mature systems and processes for quality assurance / continuous improvement and academic integrity maintenance
  • Demonstrated systematic support of scholarship and how this informs teaching, learning and professional practice and knowledge sharing with the sector more broadly
  • Depth of academic leadership, knowledge, and expertise in its fields of education to guide quality teaching, learning and academic governance
  • Demonstrated engagement with industry and the professions, including for curriculum development, research partnerships and work-integrated learning, to name a few
  • It is not required to use University College nomenclature if this does not fit the provider’s mission or purpose, but if it chooses to use the title of University College, it must do so in full

Australian University

Key Changes

As well as satisfying the Institute of Higher Education category requirements, to achieve Australian University status, the provider must have had 75 per cent of their self-accredited courses undergo at least one cycle of review and improvement by the provider.

The research criteria have been revised to provide more guidance and scope for TEQSA regulation, including setting requirements for quality and quantity of research. There is a specific criterion on the teaching-research nexus. The criterion in relation to community engagement has been bolstered to include provision for civic leadership.

A new criterion has been added to recognise the importance of industry engagement in higher education, particularly in areas such as work-integrated learning and research partnerships. Another new criterion has been added to require 5-years of successful delivery of courses, supported by evidence of strong student outcomes, considering different student cohorts.

Summary of Research Requirements

  • Deliver Doctoral Degrees (Research) in at least 50 per cent of its 2-digit Field of Education (FoE) or all 2-digit FoE in which it has authority to self-accredit (for a university with a specialised focus)
  • Within ten years[1], undertake research at or above ‘world standard’ in at least three (or at least 50 per cent) of its 2-digit FoE in which it delivers courses of study or, all broad 2-digit FoE in which it has authority to self-accredit (for a university with a specialised focus)
  • Until the above is achieved, but within five years, undertake research at or above ‘world standard’ in at least three (or at least 30 per cent) of its 2-digit FoE in which it delivers courses of study or, all broad 2-digit FoE in which it has authority to self-accredit (for a university with a specialised focus)
  • The TEQSA (Quality of Research) Determination 2021 came into force 26 July 2021. Section 5 articulates how TEQSA will include matters into their assessment of ‘world standard’ such as: “results from the ERA and the Engagement and Impact Assessment, volume of citations and quality of publications, the nature of any peer review processes, outcomes of the measurement of research quality in a particular discipline, the governance framework for research employed by the regulated entity, the extent to which there is a research community at the regulated entity and the success of the regulated entity in competitive research grant rounds.”

Overseas University

Providers that deliver at least one overseas higher education award in Australia and its profile in Australia may be an element of its broader international offerings. It must meet the same criteria equivalent to those for the Australian University category as well as be recognised within its home country as a university.

Final thoughts

This new requirement of the demonstration of research excellence across the broad fields of education will require a sharpened focus on the teaching-research nexus. If universities are to meet the transitional 5-year and final 10-year target, they must start mapping respective 2-digit FoE against Fields of Research (FoR) and develop a strategy that demonstrates to TEQSA a commitment to meeting the new research requirements within the HESF.

The aspiration to have research at or above world standard in at least three FoE (or 50 per cent) by 2031 may be challenging for many non-research-intensive universities. Will the sector see some universities becoming University Colleges? And will the Quality of Research Determination refer to existing data sets, or will universities be required to produce additional evidence in their re-registration submissions?

This is new and exciting for the sector, and DVE looks forward to sharing more information and answering your questions with a TEQSA Expert Panel in a FREE webinar in September – so watch this space!

Need some advise with these changes?  Feel free to call me  0420 936 255 or email


[1] From 1 July 2021