The Australian Government Department of Education, Science and Training
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The Role of the Australian Government

Australia’s State and Territory Governments are largely responsible for the legislation establishing universities. The exceptions are the Australian National University and the Australian Maritime College which are established under Commonwealth legislation.

While States and Territories carry primary legislative responsibility for the higher education sector, the Commonwealth exercises its role in a number of ways.

The Australian Government’s role includes:

To protect the standing of Australian universities nationally and internationally, the Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs agreed in March 2000 to tighten protection of the title ‘university’:

  • in State/Territory business names and associations legislation, and under the Commonwealth Corporations Act 2001; and
  • through the establishment, in all Australian jurisdictions, of a legislative framework specifying consistent criteria and procedures by which an institution may use the title ‘university’.
  • Commonwealth Corporations Act

    The word ‘university’ is protected under Table 3 of Schedule 6 of the Corporations Regulations 1990. Under this provision, all organisations wishing to register to use the title 'university' under the Corporations Act need to obtain approval to do so. Approval should be sought from the Department of Education, Science and Training (DEST) on each application. Click here  You are now leaving the DEST website  for details of the approval process.

    In processing each application, DEST officers:

  • assess the application against set criteria to ensure that the only education providers given approval to use the term 'university' are those that have been recognised as universities by a higher education recognition authority listed on the Australian Qualifications Framework Register of bodies empowered by Government to accredit post-compulsory education and training  You are now leaving the DEST website; and
  • consult with the higher education recognition authority in the State/s or Territory/s in which the applicant seeks to operate, regarding the organisation’s educational status.
  • In 2000 the Commonwealth Parliament passed new legislation for the regulation of the education and training export industry to provide quality assurance, and to protect the overseas students’ investment in studying in Australia. It does this through financial assurance to students and a nationally consistent approach in the registration of providers.

    The Education Services for Overseas Students Act 2000 and the National Code are the two key elements of this legislative protection.

    For more information on the ESOS Act 2000     

    Graduate Destination Survey

    A system wide survey of the employment success of students after graduation, known as the Graduate Destination Survey, has been conducted since the 1970s by the Graduate Careers Council of Australia . The Australian Government funds the survey with significant in kind contributions by institutions. The survey is completed by graduates four months after completion of their courses. It provides information on the proportion of graduates in full time employment (including industry, occupation and salary level) and full time study (including level and field) from each institution. The survey provides valuable comparative information to the public and useful benchmarking information to universities themselves to help them assess the success of their graduates in the competitive labour market.

    Course Experience Questionnaire and Postgraduate Research Experience Questionnaire

    The Commonwealth also funds the annual undergraduate Course Experience Questionnaire (CEQ) as well as the newer Postgraduate Research Experience Questionnaire (PREQ). Both of these student surveys are disseminated by the Graduate Careers Council of Australia  and are a valuable source of information on student perceptions of their experiences at university.

    The CEQ currently covers the following facets of the undergraduate experience:

    • teaching;
    • goals and standards;
    • workload;
    • assessment;
    • generic skills; and
    • overall satisfaction.

    The Commonwealth is also funding the development of additional scales for the CEQ which will measure broader aspects of student experience in the areas of student support, learning resources, learning community, graduate qualities and intellectual motivation.

    The PREQ was developed by the Australian Council for Educational Research  in conjunction with the Graduate Careers Council of Australia  and was administered nationally for the first time in 1999. It measures research graduates’ satisfaction with regard to:

  • supervision;
  • skills development;
  • intellectual climate;
  • infrastructure;
  • thesis examination; and
  • goals.
  • Graduate Skills Assessment

    The Graduate Skills Assessment (GSA) has been designed to assess the generic skills of university graduates. This voluntary instrument, funded by the Australian Government and developed by the Australian Council for Educational Research , tests the generic skills of university students, both at point of entry to and exit from university. The components of the test are:

  • critical thinking;
  • problem solving;
  • interpersonal understanding; and
  • written communication.
  • The GSA was piloted in early 2000 with the assistance of universities and was taken in late 2000 for the first time by graduating Australian students. At entry level, the test could be used by institutions to assess areas in which students might need assistance. At exit level the results could be used by institutions to determine entry into graduate courses, and by employers to assess generic skills for employment purposes. The GSA could also be used to measure the value added by institutions for cohorts who take the test at both entry and exit or to compare student profiles between fields of study.

    Publications and online resources

    The Australian Government publishes a number of resources to encourage the improvement of outcomes within Australian universities and to provide information to the public to improve user choice. In 2000 DETYA funded the development of a benchmarking manual for higher education institutions. The manual provides sixty-seven benchmarks that universities may use to assess themselves against like institutions. The benchmarks cover the spectrum of university activities from teaching and learning to research, finances, internal management and internationalisation. Benchmarking: A manual for Australian universities can be found at  

    The Commonwealth also publishes The characteristics and performance of higher education institutions, which provides a range of indicators that illustrate the diversity of the sector. The indicators cover student characteristics, staff, research, finances, as well as some outcome measures including retention rates and graduate outcomes data. The 1998 publication is available at

    Which Course? Which University? is a website designed by the Commonwealth in 2000 to help prospective higher education students make informed study choices. The site, at, is a guide to Australian universities and the courses that they offer within ten broad fields of study. The site also provides information on the employment and study outcomes of past graduates and how they felt about their courses. This site is one important source of information for students, to help them choose the course and institution that best suits them.

    The objective of the Higher Education Innovation Programme (HEIP) is to assist the higher education sector to improve the quality of higher education provision through innovative projects.

    Funds from the HEIP are used to support the following:

  • The Australian Universities Teaching Committee (see below for more detail);
  • The Australian Awards for University Teaching You are now leaving the DEST website which were established by the Government in 1997. The Awards are designed to identify Australia’s best university teachers and universities and to showcase their achievements to the nation in order to encourage excellence in university teaching;
  • The Higher Education Workskills Olympiad (HEWSO) initiative; and
  • A range of innovative projects in areas such as equity, improved outcome reporting, new technology, administrative systems and quality.
  • The Australian Government established the Australian Universities Teaching Committee in 2000 as part of its commitment to promoting quality and excellence in university teaching and learning in Australia.

    The Committee has a brief to:

  • identify emerging issues in teaching and learning in Australian universities and propose strategies for dealing with these issues;
  • identify and support effective methods of enhancing learning;
  • encourage dissemination and adoption of these methods across the Australian university sector;
  • promote collaboration and exchange of information in teaching and learning both nationally and internationally;
  • encourage and foster innovation in higher education teaching and learning; and
  • manage the prestigious Australian Awards for University Teaching.
  • For more information on the AUTC, visit its website at  You are now leaving the DEST website.

    The Commonwealth provides support for the Higher Education Workskills Olympiad which provides university students with the opportunity of experiential learning within a competition framework. Teams of students are placed with host employers and given a major project to complete, giving the students a taste of working for a major organisation. The benefits for students include career education and the development of employability skills including project management, teamwork, workplace communication, negotiation, ‘thinking outside the square’ and giving a presentation.

    For more information on the Higher Education Workskills Olympiad, visit its website at You are now leaving the DEST website