To be registered as a charity with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) an organisation must have all of its purposes as charitable purposes for the public benefit.

The Charities Act 2013 (Cth) (Charities Act) sets out 12 charitable purposes, one of which is the purpose of ‘advancing education’.

The ACNC will determine an organisation’s purpose by considering a range of sources, including its constitution, activities, website, any business or strategic plans and even social media platforms.

What is a charitable purpose of ‘advancing education’?

The charitable purpose of ‘advancing education’ is quite broad. Whilst not specifically defined within the Charities Act, both case law and the Explanatory Memorandum to the Charities Act (Explanatory Memorandum) provide some guidance on what is considered ‘advancing education’.

As explained in the Explanatory Memorandum, to be registered as a charity with the purpose of advancing education, an organisation must do more than disseminate information. Instead it must have educational merit, based on evidence and reasonable analysis, that is of value to the public.

It is not limited to formal or traditional forms of education, such as education provided by a school or university or education provided in a classroom setting. However as the Explanatory Memorandum provides, ‘advancing education’ does not include education in the sense that all experience is educative (i.e. there needs to be some form of education beyond what people experience in their daily lives).

The advancement of education can also occur irrespective of the age of the beneficiaries (or people who benefit from the charity’s activities), and is not restricted to school aged children or young adults.

What kinds of activities does a charity pursuing this subtype of charity undertake?

A charity’s activities must support its charitable purpose. It can be useful to think of activities in terms of the organisation’s ‘what’, i.e. what will the organisation do to help further /advance / fulfil its purpose?

While there is no definite legal guidance regarding the activities a charity advancing education may undertake, the ACNC provides some example activities. These include the provision of:

  • formal education (e.g. preschool, primary and high school, and tertiary education institutions);
  • vocational training;
  • publicly available research directed to expanding human knowledge;
  • less formal education aimed at developing citizenship and core life skills;
  • the support of education, such as prizes and scholarships; and
  • facilities and services integrally associated with the operation of education institutions (e.g. parents and citizens associations organisations).

Examples of charities who are registered under this subtype, include:

  • kindergartens, preschools, non-government schools, colleges and universities, industry training organisations;
  • bodies for health or childbirth education;
  • historical education societies, research institutes, Scouts and Guides groups; and
  • organisations offering academic scholarships and prizes.

According to the Explanatory Memorandum, peak bodies and similar organisations may have a purpose of ‘advancing education’ through undertaking activities that increase the effectiveness, or enhance the long-term viability, of other charities (e.g. research, policy, advocacy, educational or other supporting activities).

While section 7 of the Charities Act does provide a presumed public benefit of a charity with a purpose of advancing education (in the absence of evidence to the contrary), sometimes purposes will be considered to exist for private gain. Organisations which serve their purpose through a membership model, do not become charitable simply because their motivation has some social value or, as a consequence of its activities, some indirect value to the general public arises, e.g. educating their members.

Any assessment of an organisation’s activities in light of its intended purpose of ‘advancing education’ would need to be conducted against the totality of the organisation’s activities. For more information read our previous article, ‘Understanding public and private benefit for charities: Getting it right’.

What are the other requirements for registration as a charity with the purpose of advancing education?

Registered charities, regardless of their subtype, must satisfy certain requirements associated with the definition of charity. The Charities Act codifies the definition of charity, which requires (amongst other things) an entity:

  • is not-for-profit;
  • has all of its purposes as charitable purposes for the public benefit (or any non-charitable purposes are incidental or ancillary to, and in aid of its charitable purpose(s));
  • does not have a disqualifying purpose; and
  • is not an individual, political party or a government entity.

Disqualifying purposes include engaging in or promoting activities that are unlawful or against public policy, or promoting or opposing a political party or a candidate for political office.

How can we help?

If you believe your organisation is eligible for charity registration under the subtype of advancing education, if you would like to amend your charity subtype or otherwise review your current compliance, please get in touch with our specialist Charities + Social Sector Lawyers.

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