Private colleges look to align with Stadium Australia

Permanently deprived of funding rules geared towards public universities, Australian independent colleges are hoping things will change after the biggest reassessment of higher education policy in 15 years.

The government’s rhetoric on its “agreement,” whose terms of reference were due to be announced this month, focused squarely on universities. But private sector representatives do not expect to be sidelined by what Education Secretary Jason Clare has described as a “reset”.

The Independent Higher Education Council of Australia said it was “increasingly confident” it would be involved in the process. “Ninety percent of the students work at public universities, and the bulk of the research certainly happens there, but they’re not the only game in town,” said CEO Troy Williams.

Australia’s independent higher education institution, which has called for strategic reform of higher education ahead of the May elections, said it was “delighted” to include its members in what it understood was a “comprehensive review” of higher education.

CEO Peter Hendy said ISPs have taken on a “anomaly” in funding and a greater regulatory burden than public universities. “We’ll get a chance to bring up a case next year to fix these things.”

Dozens of private institutions collectively educate one in 10 Australian tertiary students, often with much higher satisfaction scores than public universities. Seventeen independent colleges and two private universities outperformed the best-ranked public university in overall satisfaction in the most recent Student Experience Survey.

Independent service providers also outperformed public universities in overall employer satisfaction, with rankings higher by an average of 3.4 percentage points. However, when the government allocated funding for an additional 20,000 college jobs in manpower-deficient disciplines, all but a few independent colleges were excluded.

Most are not eligible for Commonwealth Supported Places Funding, which supports undergraduate courses. And while private college students have been exempted from a 20 percent fee on their tuition loans during the pandemic, those fees are set to be applied again from January.

To make matters worse, private colleges would be disproportionately affected by the Higher Education Quality and Standards Agency’s proposal to cover most of their operating costs by increasing their fees. This includes the gradual implementation of a new registration fee of between A$29,000 and A$32,000 (£16,000 – £18,000) per year for each organisation, regardless of size.

The independent organizations say there is no clear stipulation to externally review future increases, and that Texa has no obligation to operate within its own processing timeframes. Representative bodies want better service commitments in return for higher fees, advocating a “service commitment charter” or clearly detailed customer service standards. “I don’t think Texa appreciates that when you move to full cost recovery, the relationship changes,” Williams said.

“When organizations are paying for an activity, it is not unreasonable for them to expect it to be completed in a certain time frame. I don’t think Texa Cultural has made its head in this space yet.”

Taqsa said it expects to update the service charter “in due course.” It said it would review the cost recovery model each year and consult with the industry on fee changes.

Providers with fewer than 5,000 students will also receive discounts of up to 70 percent on course accreditation and reaccreditation fees. But universities, as self-accrediting bodies, do not bear this fee.

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