Understanding HESF Domain 6: Governance and Accountability

Posted: 28/06/2022
by: Amber Daniels

Understanding the importance of the Higher Education Standards Framework 2021 (HESF) can differ significantly across providers, depending on the size and scope of your organisation and where it sits in its lifecycle.

Smaller providers can find the HESF overwhelming to navigate and implement, particularly in the initial registration phase. While more mature providers can risk complacency.

Why is Domain 6 important?

Despite the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, education is Australia’s top service export and fourth-largest overall export industry. Administered by TEQSA, the Higher Education Standards Framework provides a means to maintain the quality and reputation of Australia’s Higher Education Sector.

Domain 6: Governance and Accountability of the HESF represents the Standards for providers as corporate entities and, more specifically, as providers of quality higher education. From corporate to academic governance, the HESF offers clear expectations for establishing peak governing bodies and the accountabilities those bodies must assure themselves of in relation to the HESF.

Domain 6 provides a framework for key decision-making bodies in the higher education organisation. It establishes standards for decision-makers (HESF 6.1), what kinds of decisions are made by peak bodies, how decision-makers should be informed, and, importantly, where some decision-making powers should be reserved (HESF 6.1, 6.2 and 6.3).

To name an important few, Domain 6 provides for expectations toward legislative compliance, strategic planning, risk management, financial viability, awarding degrees, policies and procedures, complaints and grievances, and academic governance requirements. It underpins the executive mechanisms of an organisation and outlines accountabilities for operations that are otherwise outlined in the accompanying HESF Domains.

Unsurprisingly, TEQSA notes that Domain 6 is particularly significant for providers:

“Because of its overarching nature, the extent to which a provider demonstrates its capacity to meet the Standards of [Domain 6: Governance and Accountability…] as part of its ordinary business will be a significant factor in building TEQSA’s confidence about the provider’s capacity to meet and continue to meet the requirements of the HES Framework overall.”

Despite this, governance and accountability remain a major compliance concern for TEQSA. As of 31 December 2021, 38 per cent of active conditions across 54 providers were imposed under Domain 6.

Identifying Governance blind-spots

DVE supports many diverse higher education providers with their governance and compliance needs, and compliance gaps around governance and accountability are common for all providers.

Good governance relies on high-quality decision-making, transparency, integrity, and diligence, supported by carefully considered governance, reporting and quality assurance frameworks. These factors enable providers to successfully pursue their mission and vision, implement strategic plans, maintain viable and sustainable operations, and foster a quality culture that strives for continuous improvement.

The Higher Educations Standards Framework provides the minimum standards for developing a quality governance environment. Mapping the HESF to governing bodies and their functions can help identify gaps in Domain 6:

  • Does the Corporate Board obtain the necessary independent and academic advice to facilitate informed and competent decision-making and direction setting? (HESF 6.1.3a)
  • Have internal performance targets been set, are they monitored by the Corporate Board, and is underperformance corrected? (HESF 6.2.1b)
  • Are there opportunities for students to participate in academic governance? (HESF 6.3.3)

TEQSA Guidance Notes are also instrumental in understanding the intent and risks to the quality of the Standards, as well as TEQSA’s expectations for providers to implement and maintain them.

Good governance is a primary source of evidence to assure TEQSA that sound processes are in place that ensure gaps in the HESF are quickly identified and remedied (HESF 6.2.1k), and a skilled Secretariat is intrinsically important to good governance. Quality minute-taking and mapping of the HESF to agenda items and minutes also provide significant evidence of the diligence, competence, and accountability of governing bodies.

Mapping the HESF to matters considered by governing bodies can also help identify potential gaps or weaknesses over time. DVE has developed a great governance matrix template and meeting minutes training as a guide to review your organisation’s compliance with the HESF and help identify evidence for your next registration.

Need Advice on Good Governance and Compliance

Compliance happens in real-time, and changes to legislation, strategies, business models, and external operating environments have often significant impact on governance and compliance activities.

DVE provides advice and support across the governance and compliance spectrum. If you would like to understand how your organisation can improve its governance or compliance with the Higher Education Standards Framework, please contact 1800 870 677.