HESF Domain 2: Learning Environment

Scope and intent of the Domain

This Domain (Sections 2.1-2.4) within the Higher Education Standards Framework (Threshold Standards) 2015 (HES Framework) encompasses:

  • the nature, access to and fitness for purpose of the learning environment under the control of the provider (without presupposing any particular model of participation or delivery), diversity of participation and the wellbeing of staff and students, and
  • access to effective mechanisms to address students’ grievances should they arise.

Much of the background material to demonstrate that these Standards are met must be publicly accessible (see Domain 7).

TEQSA commentary

2.1       Facilities and Infrastructure

This Section focuses on a provider demonstrating that there are sufficient facilities and infrastructure for delivery of a provider’s course(s) of study and that they are appropriate for their intended educational purpose. This includes necessary access to secured ICT facilities and systems. Specific facilities and resources for particular courses of study are covered at Domain 3 (e.g. Section 3.3).

These Standards are intended to apply to any mode of delivery and participation, rather than presuppose any particular model. The onus is on the provider to demonstrate to TEQSA that its facilities and infrastructure support students to achieve the expected learning outcomes. Irrespective of the chosen mode of delivery, the Standards require a provider to offer opportunities for students (including international students) to interact outside of formal teaching e.g. for group work, team building, informal learning. This does not mandate physical spaces; interaction via ICT may be suitable in various settings.

2.2       Diversity and Equity

This Section focuses primarily on the creation of equivalent opportunities for academic success regardless of students’ backgrounds, within a relevant policy framework, and within the context of the provider’s mission. Providers may wish to link this requirement to their admission requirements (see Section 1.1) and transition support arrangements (see Section 1.3). Providers should note that the Standards require providers to monitor the participation and success of any identified groups (such as an identified equity group) and use that information to improve academic and support strategies for such groups.

The requirement to give ‘specific consideration to the recruitment, admission, participation and completion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ means that this particular group must be specifically referred to in the policy and monitoring frameworks.

Reference Points

  • Australian Disability Clearinghouse on Education and Training (1998), Students with Disabilities: Code of Practice for Australian Tertiary Institutions.
  • Australian Government, Disability Standards for Education 2005.
  • Universities Australia (October 2011), National Best Practice Framework for Indigenous Cultural Competency in Australian Universities.

2.3       Wellbeing and Safety

This Section encompasses a series of general and specific facets of a provider’s operations that are aimed at the promotion of safety and wellbeing. TEQSA will expect providers to tailor their response to these Standards according to the scale, scope and nature of their circumstances and offerings. In the case of online or blended learning, the requirement for a safe environment also applies to security of internet communications and to policies and procedures related to online harassment.

2.4       Student Grievances and Complaints

This Section seeks to ensure that students have access to mechanisms to resolve grievances effectively, at reasonable cost and with appropriate protection for complainants from breach of confidentiality or reprisal. This should be formulated within the policy framework, and students should be able to easily access a facility to lodge a complaint. Complaints-handling mechanisms are required to be publicly documented (see Domain 7). These Standards distinguish formal complaints from informal grievances, and records of the incidents and resolution of formal requirements must be kept, including time taken to reach a resolution (see institutional accountability at 6.2.1.j). While the Standards require policies and procedures to provide for students to access independent professional advice, TEQSA does not take this to require providing for students to access legal advice.

As part of its regulation of Australia’s higher education sector, TEQSA monitors the compliance of higher education providers with the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Act 2011 (TEQSA Act) and the Higher Education Standards Framework. As stated on the Complaints page on the TEQSA website, TEQSA has a defined approach for handling complaints. TEQSA will pursue any reliable information that indicates that a provider might not meet any of the Standards. TEQSA will maintain confidentiality in regards to the informant. TEQSA receives complaints on a range of matters relating to providers, including the provider’s compliance with Threshold Standards and TEQSA Act, and in relation to possible false or misleading statements about a provider’s registration and accreditation status. 

TEQSA is not empowered to intervene in disputes about marks for an individual student’s assessment, but will expect the provider’s policy and procedures to be followed where a student lodges a complaint or appeal. These policies and procedures should explicitly make provision for review by an appropriate independent third party if internal processes fail to resolve any grievance, and should specify indicative timeframes for resolution of complaints.

Third party complaint-handling bodies for all students at public providers and international students at private providers are outlined on the TEQSA Complaints webpage. Domestic students at private providers can contact the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). The Overseas Students Ombudsman (OSO) investigates complaints from students on student visas about private providers that relate to administrative decisions made by the provider, but not about broader educational quality issues. All students at public higher education providers have an avenue of appeal to the relevant Commonwealth, State or Territory Ombudsman, who can also investigate administrative decisions. 

Providers are required to make available to their students specific avenues of appeal to independent third parties for matters not within the jurisdiction of the ACCC or an ombudsman.

Where TEQSA has reason to believe that a complaint or a pattern of complaints indicates that a provider might not be meeting one or more of the Standards, TEQSA may seek further information from the provider.

Reference Points

  • Australian Council of Graduate Research Inc., Australian Graduate Research Good Practice Principles.
  • Australian Government, National Code of Practice for Registration Authorities and Providers of Education and Training to Overseas Students 2007, Part D, Standard 8.
  • Standards Australia (2014), Australian Standard AS ISO 10002-2014, Guidelines for complaint management in organizations.

Relevant Guidance Notes for Domain 2

  • Corporate Governance
  • Diversity and Equity (under development)
  • Nested Courses
  • Technology-Enhanced learning
  • Work-Integrated Learning

New guidance notes relating to the HES Framework 2015 are now available to download.

TEQSA's in-depth contextual overview of the HES Framework 2015 (which includes the above information) is also available to download from the overview page.