Like many of you, I sat down with a cup of tea to read the Education and Employment References Committee report and as soon as I start I think, “such a weird beginning to The Senate: Education and Employment References Committee report with the following on the front page,
Getting our money’s worth: the operation, regulation and funding of private vocational education and training (VET) providers in Australia.
I feel it’s going down a really odd negative track but maybe it gets better from here? But as the report describes entrenched allegations akin to hearing court evidence from a nasty case I think not,
1.9 The committee has been provided and has heard harrowing and concerning evidence of misconduct by private VET providers. The private VET sector has been subject to a range of allegations in the public arena not limited to that of exploitative conduct, shoddy training and massive profits at the public expense.
1.10 It is an irony that in the name of social justice an exploitative scheme to enrich individuals has been allowed to flourish at the expense of the most vulnerable who end up with a debt, but no qualification, or a worthless qualification.
The report is 106 pages long and I don’t know if you like me had to read it in sections as parts of it made us feel really disappointed for our sector,
2.48 To date much of the attention has been on predatory behaviour within the private RTO industry – both in terms of misleading practices and strategic behaviour.
2.49 However, many private RTOs do not fall into this category. The committee has heard evidence of quality private RTOs with a long history in providing excellent educational offering relevant to industry and their communities.
Summarising under key headings in this blog, with quotes from the report highlighted in italics, I would like to know if you agree with my suggestions.
We need to ask ourselves, how many RTOs are the right number for Australia as,
The Department of Education and Training reports that, as of 1 January 2015, there were 4,609 registered training organisations in Australia, 3,440 of which were privately operated.
The committee is of a view that there is every reason to doubt that ASQA is fit for purpose, and that the regulatory architecture of VET may need a revamp.
Specific recommendations were made for ASQA including:
Department of Education and Training and the Australian Skills Quality Authority conduct a concerted and urgent blitz of all providers to ensure that they are consistently complying with the national standards, especially those relating to student recruitment
Australian Skills Quality Authority be given powers to directly regulate brokers or marketing agents in the VET sector, and to protect students
…Australian Skills Quality Authority be given the powers to take swift and strong action against Registered Training Organisations found to be providing inadequate training to their students
Australian Skills Quality Authority maintains its close scrutiny on and gives priority to the Early Childhood and Aged Care training sectors
…underpinning legislation for the Australian Skills Quality Authority be revamped in order to give the regulator sufficient powers to adequately regulate the Vocational Education and Training sector, to protect the rights of students and to act more firmly and quickly to stamp out abuses
Australian Skills Quality Authority improves its processes to enable it to more swiftly share information with other levels of government, regulators, government departments and law enforcement agencies
3.9 The introduction of entitlement demand driven funding programs has created an unprecedented environment in the vocational education sector. 3.10 As noted in chapter 2, the poor design of state based contestable funding regimes and the VET FEE-HELP program has led to a situation where students and taxpayers are the victims of a provider-led feeding frenzy.
Demand needs to be employer and industry focused first rather than demand from students and training providers – this is where mismatch and market failure will occur. When we get this right, considering industry and regional priorities, critical job roles and capabilities, Australia’s VET system will be transformed!
When considering higher degrees,
The committee is of a view that expanding a demand driven entitlement to the private sector to access Commonwealth subsidies for sub-bachelor and bachelor degree programs entails unacceptable risk to the reputation of Australian higher education.
With many RTOs considering moving into higher education delivery, this would be a fee for service activity underpinned by strong academic governance and professional standards.
In the report there are many comments about inflated prices linked to VET FEE-HELP but as a sector we need to ask what the true costs of VET qualifications are?
An analysis of inputs vs. outputs, with a sampling approach across providers for the same qualifications and skills, would provide an evidence based approach to pricing.
Sales and Marketing
…urgent and concerted efforts are made to further raise awareness of the rights of students and existing Standards relating to providers in the VET sector… including the longterm unemployed or disadvantaged, migrants and people with disabilities
Aside from the Standards for Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) 2015, there must be an understanding of the Australian Consumer Law and ethical sales practices. A recommendation is made for,
… an Ombudsman focused on domestic students in the VET sector be created, and further suggests that this position be industry-funded
Examples, particularly those that have been profiled in the media of predatory sales tactics, are disgusting and I believe this evidence should lead to an instant deregistration of those RTOs.
The authority to immediately deregister an RTO by ASQA should be reflected in legislation and as Rod Camm the CEO of the Australian Council of Private Education and Training says, If colleges are dodgy, kick them out.
On the topic of VET FEE-HELP there are numerous recommendations.
Department of Education and Training should have to approve any instances of Registered Training Organisations subcontracting out components of their VET FEE-HELP eligible training to non-registered third parties
…government caps or otherwise regulates the level of brokerage fees paid for VET FEE-HELP students to maximum amount of 15 percent the amount of the loan
…government apply, in consultation with industry and quality providers, minimum hours standards to VET FEEHELP eligible courses
…evidence of rampant abuse, accelerating costs, and doubling of bad debt the government launches an immediate review into the operation and regulation of VET FEE-HELP
… review considers the most effective way to control costs of courses for students under VET FEE-HELP by either instituting a lower and separate loan limit or a cap on student loan amounts”
…limit provider access to VET FEE-HELP so that only providers with the highest reputation for quality have unfettered access to the scheme
…government mandates minimum entry standards of year 12 completion or equivalent for access to VET FEE-HELP loans for Diploma level courses and above
The Committee opposes suggestions to lower the repayment threshold to $30,000 or $40,000
Perhaps the approval for VET FEE-HELP providers should be halted until these issues have been addressed.
What this analysis highlights, not really touched on in the report, is the importance of VET workforce capability and skills.
Having recently developed a VET Workforce Skills profile with common skills for all VET practitioners plus relevant functional skill areas covering Assessment, Employer and Industry Engagement, International VET, Learning and Facilitation, Systems and Compliance, knowing your strengths and gaps is critical.
If you would like to find out more about the online self-assessment producing an individual report and skills needs analysis resulting in group reports for your RTO please VET Workforce Skills profile.
National Vision and Leadership needed now!
Overwhelmingly the VET sector needs a national vision with a purpose statement that clearly states why Australia needs a World-class VET system which is the key to unlocking Australia’s talent.
Industry priorities, regional drivers, critical job roles and capabilities should be the main considerations for public investment with the outcome being the creation of jobs and a workforce with the skills that employers want.
A national approach with well-balanced provision, effective training and assessment, policy tools and regulation requires relevant Ministers and leaders to commit to work together in a very practical sense and act swiftly because there is only one way up from the bottom.
Influenced by evidence, insights and submissions members of the senate committee included:
- Senator Sue Lines, Chair, ALP, WA
- Senator Bridget McKenzie, Deputy Chair, Nats, VIC
- Senator Deborah O’Neill, ALP, NSW
- Senator Lee Rhiannon, AG, NSW (until 14 October 2015)
- Senator Robert Simms, AG, SA (from 14 October 2015)
- Senator Linda Reynolds, LP, WA (from 12 October 2015)
- Senator the Hon Arthur Sinodinos AO, LP, NSW (until 12 October 2015)
- Senator Kim Carr, ALP, WA to replace Senator Nova Peris OAM, ALP, NT (from 12 February 2015)