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Australia: TEQSA highlights admissions improvement areas

Australian institutions accused of admitting international students without appropriate levels of English language skills have undertaken significant work "to improve admission and governance practices", TEQSA has concluded.
April 7 2021
3 Min Read

Australian institutions accused of admitting international students without appropriate levels of English language skills have undertaken significant work “to improve admission and governance practices”, and the majority have implemented comprehensive changes to mitigate future risks, TEQSA has concluded in a report.

While the paper did not “find evidence of widespread systemic failures in relation to English language admission standards”, it noted number of areas for improvement following reports that international student did not have high enough standards of English to succeed.

The national higher education regulator shared case study of ten compliance assessments it conducted in the report.

In all, TEQSA identified an additional four universities “at potential risk of non-compliance for closer consideration”, on top of the six institutions that were identified in media reporting.

In 2019, National Tertiary Education Union renewed said that Australian institutions should not enrol international students who were likely to struggle during their studies as a result of low levels of English proficiency.

The conclusions made from this latest compliance report echo findings from 2019 report that TEQSA found no evidence of systematic failure to adhere to English proficiency standards.

“Some governing bodies lacked oversight of admissions practices”

TEQSA said that it would look at ‘other qualifications’ and English language tests that students had been admitted on, as well as take a concerted interested in the circumstances under which English language requirements were being waived.

In May 2020, TEQSA issued a communique providing a definition of English waivers where a student “does not meet the higher education provider’s documented English proficiency requirements for course admission, but regardless is admitted based on the student’s life experience or other circumstances”.

A set of ELICOS benchmarks were announced in 2017 by then education and training minister Simon Birmingham to ensure students “get the English language skills they need” for further and higher education in Australia.

Strong frameworks are in place to protect international students studying in Australia, the regulator highlighted in its recent report.

The Higher Education Standards Framework ensures that admitted students have the academic preparation and proficiency in English needed to participate in their intended study, TEQSA noted.

“More prescriptive requirements” in the National Code oblige providers to clarify the requirements for acceptance into a course to prospective oversea students prior to accepting them for enrolment, it added. This includes the minimum level of English language proficiency.

“These standards are collectively monitored and enforced by us to ensure that students have every opportunity to succeed in their studies,” TEQSA noted in the compliance document.

However, the report said that the “universal use of ‘Other Form of Testing Which Satisfied the Institution’ limited visibility of a provider’s records to ensure compliance with English language requirements”, and that some providers had not reviewed or benchmarked their admissions practices for a “considerable” time.

Providers recorded ‘Other Form of Testing’ for reasons including variation, waivers, and equivalence, and “explained they were unable to accurately record the reason they were satisfied that a student had satisfied English language requirements”.

There was a demonstrable lack of evidence to show how student performance reporting was being used to monitor, test, and adjust policy, including admissions policy, TEQSA said.

“Some governing bodies lacked oversight of admissions practices and could not be confident that admissions policies and procedures were being applied consistently,” it added.

Providers should systematically track poorly performing cohorts to help them “to understand areas of risk and what adjustments need to be made to ensure that students admitted are equipped to succeed in their study”.

By regularly reviewing, benchmarking, and improving admissions practices, providers can “understand what policies are effective in achieving their intent and inform decision making in relation to what needs adjusting” to ensure student success, it added.

“We paid close attention to the providers’ documented policies and procedures”

“We paid close attention to the providers’ documented policies and procedures to determine whether they were designed to enable admitted students to have the academic preparation and proficiency in English language needed to participate in their study with no known limitations or impediments, whether these policies and procedures were being applied appropriately and consistently, and whether they were operating as intended,” TEQSA explained.

In response to Covid-19, TEQSA “reduced the administrative burden of regulation on providers through a number of initiatives, including extensions to registration and course accreditation periods, online delivery flexibility, and relaxing material change notification requirements”, the organisation’s chief executive officer Alistair Maclean wrote in the report.

“During 2020, we made significant progress in working with the sector across key issues such as academic integrity and contract cheating, admissions transparency, and the quality of online delivery.”

TEQSA also highlighted a number of initiatives for 2021, as it “continue[s] to support the sector as it adapts to the impacts of Covid-19”.

Potential Covid risk areas highlighted include provider closure, student wellbeing, and admission practices.

The Higher Education Integrity Unit, announced in June 2020, will focus on sector risks, such as commercial contract cheating, as well as integrity threats relevant to higher education, including cybersecurity, foreign interference and research integrity.

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