Cyber security breaches present a risk to student interests and the reputation of Australia’s higher education sector – hence it is an area of focus for the new Higher Education Integrity Unit within the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA).
Key Issues —
TEQSA’s Higher Education Integrity Unit commenced work in early 2021 with a focus on protecting students’ interests, responding to risks and further strengthening the reputation and integrity of Australia’s higher education sector.
The TEQSA Higher Education Integrity Unit continues the regulator’s partnership approach, collaborating with higher education providers and other stakeholders to deliver data and intelligence analysis, educational resources, and establish and support communities of practice.
The unit’s Director, Dr Helen Gniel, said the primary areas of focus for the TEQSA Higher Education Integrity Unit include illegal academic cheating services, cyber security, admission and English language standards, micro-credentials and foreign interference.
“When we began considering how we would approach each of these priority areas, we noted that in relation to cyber security, there has been considerable effort and focus on the risks posed to universities. This is reflected by a range of initiatives from universities and government to address these concerns through collaboration and sharing of information and best practice,” Dr Gniel said.
In contrast, we observed that there was not a high-level of focus or awareness about the cyber security challenges facing the non-university sector. From TEQSA’s perspective this presents a risk that independent providers could be targeted in a manner that threatens student interests and the reputation of the wider sector.
“Of course, there is no ‘magic bullet’ to solve this issue, however we have been exploring options for how TEQSA can connect the independent sector with broader initiatives being led by government and ensure intelligence is shared across the whole higher education sector,” Dr Gniel said.
The TEQSA Higher Education Integrity Unit has already started sharing information that is presented to them with the sector. For example, in April TEQSA alerted providers about a threat, after we received a briefing from a team of US researchers showing commercial cheating service operators were using cyber intrusion tactics to target provider websites in Australia.
“We’re also looking at how TEQSA can facilitate engagement among independent providers with leading experts in Government, such as those at the Australian Signals Directorate, and ensuring that channels are in place for independent providers to raise issues and receive advice,” Dr Gniel said.
With that in mind, TEQSA has established its Cyber Security Expert Reference Group, which held its first meeting in late July. A key priority for this new group will be identifying opportunities for providers to share intelligence and hear from government about emerging risks, and TEQSA will be sharing more information about this group with the ITECA membership in the coming months.
TEQSA is also looking at opportunities to strengthen understanding and knowledge about cyber security risks among providers. While many independent providers already have a high level of understanding in this space, we want to ensure that there is a broad understanding - across the sector and in government – of the types and scale of cyber security risks that are being faced by independent higher education providers.
“Our initial goal is to establish a shared understanding of the cyber security risks existing across the sector, build channels for collaboration and knowledge sharing and to help independent providers make informed decisions to reduce the risk of cyber security threats to their students, staff and institutions,” Dr Gniel continued.
The TEQSA Higher Education Integrity Unit has indicated that these initiatives are the first step, and Dr Gniel wants to ensure the sector’s needs are considered as an integral part of TEQSA’s focus.
“I welcome feedback from ITECA’s higher education members on issues associated with cyber security,” Dr Gniel said.
The relationship between TEQSA and ITECA is strong and underpinned by a formal memorandum of understanding between the two organisations. This memorandum establishes formal protocols for meetings between the two organisations and information sharing.
“ITECA greatly values its relationship with TEQSA, with ongoing collaboration allowing independent higher education providers engage directly with the higher education regulator to support students,” said Professor Kathryn von Treuer, the ITECA Higher Education Policy Committee Chair.
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Getting Involved —
Members in the international education sector play a lead role in setting the framework for ITECA's engagement with TEQSA on the regulation of international education through their participation in the ITECA TEQSA Regulated Provider Interest Group. ITECA Membership – It's a great time to get involved.
Further Information —
If you're an ITECA member and would like more information on this matter, the ITECA team would value the opportunity to talk to you. Simply send an email to [email protected] or telephone 1300 421 017. Stay up to date via Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
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