Some AUD$3.9 million a year will be provided to maintain the unit that will sit within the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency, to identify and analyse threats in areas such as academic and research integrity, cybersecurity, foreign interference and admission standards.
“The bill represents an important step towards preserving the highest standards and integrity in assessments”
The unit will also seek federal court injunctions to block access to cheating websites under the Prohibiting Academic Cheating Services Bill, which is currently before parliament, making it an offence to provide or advertise contract cheating services.
It will also work with universities to follow the guidelines to counter foreign interference in the Australian university sector that was published in 2019.
Released in mid-November, the Guidelines to Counter Foreign Interference In The Australian University Sector came just two months after education minister Dan Tehan announced plans to create a Foreign Interference Taskforce to oversee the document.
Speaking about the new integrity unit, Tehan said it would protect students and universities and ensure that universities “maintain the highest levels of quality”.
“Australia has a world-class and respected higher education sector built on its integrity, and we cannot afford to risk that,” Tehan said.
He said the government is funding the integrity unit because it recognises the critical role that universities will play in educating job-ready Australians to power its post-Covid economic recovery.
“The unit will have a watching brief to identify risks to the sector and proactively assist institutions in taking action.”
TEQSA said it welcomed the government funding to strengthen the agency’s ability to identify and protect against risks to the integrity of the nation’s HE sector.
“This welcome investment will enable TEQSA to be more proactive in responding to risks… [and] supporting the protection of student interests and the reputation of the sector,” said TEQSA chief commissioner and acting CEO, Nick Saunders.
‘”[The] Higher Education Integrity Unit will continue TEQSA’s partnership approach, collaborating with higher education providers and other stakeholders to deliver a range of activities including data and intelligence analysis, provision of educational resources and establishing communities of practice.”
The University of Sydney said it welcomed the new unit, with chair of the university’s Human Research Ethics Committee, Rita Shackel, calling the announcement “very timely”.
“It is widely recognised that contract cheating is on the rise and is increasingly posing a serious threat to academic integrity in higher education assessments,” Shackel said.
“The urgent need to firmly address this threat has most recently been enlivened by a very rapid and strong shift across the higher education sector in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, moving many more high-stake assessments, including final examinations, online, often without any form of supervision.
“The bill represents an important step towards preserving the highest standards and integrity in assessments across higher education in Australia. This is important to safeguard the reputation of the higher education sector,” she added.