Risk and reward in higher education: international perspectives

The regulatory framework for Higher Education in the UK remains uncertain and complex in the absence of a Higher Education Bill. It is interesting to note that the Australian Government brought forward the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Act 2011 (the TEQSA Act 2011).  The new agency created by this legislation (TEQSA) is required to consider the principle of risk in taking regulatory action against providers of tertiary education, as well as recognising the principles of "regulatory necessity" and "proportionate regulation". TEQSA is to maintain a risk profile for providers but these are not intended to be public documents. Would the publication of risk profiles become self-fulfilling prophecies?  A "preliminary risk scan" of Australian providers of tertiary education is planned for "early 2012" and more detailed risk assessments later this year.

The Regulatory Risk Framework (RRF) in Australia envisages that TEQSA will act in a collaborative ways with the sector, seeking to prevent unacceptable risks materialising as well as intervening when warranted. There are 46 risk indicators for the risk assessments in the RRF relating to (A) provider standing, (B) financial viability and safeguards, (C) corporate and academic governance, (D) primacy of academic quality and integrity, (E) management and human resources, (F) responsibilities to students, and (G) physicial and electronic resources and infrastructure.  Risk is, of course, not bad in itself and appropriate, well managed risk-taking leads to innovation, achievement and high performance. The RRF categorises the negative side of risk in three ways: risk to students; provider collapse; and, damage to sector reputation. The debate over risk-based regulation is gaining momentum in the UK following the Government's White Paper in 2011 (Students at the Heart of the System) and its call for a genuinely risk-based approach to quality assurance in the post-Browne landscape for UK higher education.

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