Regulatory agency targets VET risk areas

By Shannon Jenkins

Monday August 5, 2019

Source: Getty Images

The Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) has released a new regulatory strategy to address systemic risks to the vocational education and training (VET) sector.

The national regulatory agency’s latest strategy has been designed to inform Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) and the broader VET community of the risks that will receive greater regulatory focus.

The evidence-informed strategy outlines ASQA’s priorities to 2021, with a focus on international education, trainer and assessor capability, and VET in schools.

ASQA Chief Commissioner and CEO Mark Paterson says future regulatory activity will focus on tackling the most significant risks in a sector largely made up of quality providers.

“ASQA’s risk-based approach to regulation allows us to target efforts to address serious non-compliances that risk damaging the reputation of our world-class VET sector,” he said.

Paterson maintained that ASQA does not impose regulatory sanctions for minor administrative or technical non-compliance, despite “claims to the contrary”.

“All of ASQA’s regulatory activity, including audits, investigations and reviews of specific training areas or products is informed by our assessment of risk that RTOs or potential RTOs represent—ASQA does not conduct regulatory activity unless we have determined a potential threat to quality.”

The commissioner’s comments refer to growing complaints from the VET industry about the approach taken by the regulator, which was also criticised by education experts for being too soft in its first few years of operation under Paterson’s predecessor.

Last week the Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia, a peak body representing private-sector education and training providers, said federal government MP Andrew Laming had expressed these concerns in a “hard-hitting speech” to a near-empty federation chamber.

The body claims “award-winning RTOs are being accused of failing to meet regulatory standards for minor technical breaches of the legislation or on matters that have no bearing on student quality such as the colour of a logo on a website” in a statement.

Troy Williams, ITECA’s chief executive, said “good people running quality RTOs” were worried that they would face serious penalties for “compliance issues that have little to no outcome on the provision of quality providing of training to students”.

“ITECA isn’t calling for the regulatory system to be wound back, simply that the approach of ASQA be modified to focus less on what Mr Laming correctly called administrivia,” Williams said.

The peak body is pleased with the results of former New Zealand minister Steven Joyce’s review of the VET sector, however.

“ITECA and our members are supportive of the board direction set out in the Joyce report and we’re comforted by the engagement that we’ve had at a ministerial and departmental level to assist the government develop an appropriate response,” said its CEO.

READ MORE: Mark Paterson to lead VET regulator amid student loans overhaul

While recent reports have raised concerns over VET courses delivered in secondary schools, “there has not yet been national scrutiny of this area”, the regulator said.

Courses provided in schools give students “valuable opportunities” to prepare for the workforce and learn specific technical skills. However, this value is diminished when courses do not meet the required standards, according to ASQA.

Mark Paterson

The agency has planned to conduct a study and consult with other government agencies to respond to this issue.

For a fourth consecutive year, ASQA has said it will “continue close scrutiny” of trainers and assessors.

The strategy has also outlined the second phase of an initiative which aims to improve how quality VET delivery is recognised and support providers through engagement and advice.

ASQA released the report on its strategic review into international education last month, following reports of international students coming to Australia primarily to work under the guise of attending a “ghost school”.

The report found that some VET providers have failed to fulfil their obligations, including ensuring overseas students receive accurate course information and meet their required outcomes. It recommended that international students be required to attend courses full-time, strengthening cross-agency collaboration to prompt consistent access to data and intelligence, and ensuring offshore students have the same protections as domestic students.

ASQA’s new strategy outlines plans to implement the recommendations of the review, including close monitoring of providers delivering to overseas students in Australia and offshore.

READ MORE: Australia’s tertiary sector is in need of “urgent” reform, says report

The points of focus in ASQA’s strategy are:

  • Continued focus on the capacity of trainers and assessors;
  • Implementing recommendations of the recently published strategic review into international education;
  • A new focus on the delivery of VET in schools; and
  • The second phase of the “recognising and supporting quality in VET initiative” that seeks to better recognise quality VET delivery.

Five courses of concern include:   

  • CHC33015 Certificate III in Individual Support
  • CHC50113 Diploma of Early Childhood Education and Care,
  • TAE40116 Certificate IV in Training and Assessment,
  • CPCCWHS1001 Prepare to work safely in the construction industry,
  • BSB50215 Diploma of Business

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