New ASQA boss wants ‘productive’ relationship with VET sector

By Shannon Jenkins

Thursday October 17, 2019


The new head of the trades industry regulator has reached out to the regulated following the departure of former boss Mark Paterson.

Australian Skills Quality Authority Acting Chief Commissioner and CEO Saxon Rice has said she wants to maintain a “strong and productive relationship” with the Vocational Education and Training sector.

“This relationship should be based on a foundation of communication, transparency and collaboration,” she said in a statement this week.

Rice said the positive achievements of the sector have not always received the recognition they deserve, and noted that most VET providers have shown compliance over the last financial year. However, she acknowledged that ASQA must take “strong action against the small number of providers failing to provide quality training — those providers who ultimately risk tarnishing the sector as a whole”.

The previous chief commissioner, Mark Paterson, announced he would be stepping down from the role just weeks ago. The former NSW and Commonwealth public servant was initially tasked with restoring the damage caused by rorting of the VET-FEE HELP program. He finished up on October 6.

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

The Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia (ITECA) has welcomed Paterson’s departure and looks forward to working with Rice, according chief executive Troy Williams.

“We have a shared commitment to ensuring that the regulatory environment supports training providers that seek to provide the quality outcomes that students and their employers are looking for,” he said. “We’re confident that the reforms currently progressed by ITECA, coupled with new leadership at ASQA, will offer the transparency, consistency and timeliness of regulatory decision-making.

“In recent times ASQA has been actively engaged with ITECA on ways to improve the regulatory guidance available to training providers, and that Mark has proactively led these discussions is a tribute to him. We wish Mark well in the next stage of his career and look forward to working collaboratively with his successor.”

The Commonwealth appointed former New Zealand minister Steven Joyce to lead an independent review into the VET sector last year. Joyce delivered his final report in March, and found that many providers were concerned ASQA might not treat them fairly during the audit process. 

“They have little understanding of the approach ASQA will take when it comes time for their next audit,” the final report said. “Some of these worries appear to boil down to a lack of information and guidance.”

Australian National University Professor Valerie Braithwaite also conducted a review into the regulator in 2017, and recommended the government “commit to evaluating ASQA according to its success in driving continuous improvement in the quality of education and training and protection of the rights of students, both of which are integral to desirable student outcomes”.

In light of these, Rice said ASQA now knows how it must move forward.

“We have been working hard in a range of areas, particularly in responding to the findings of the reviews by Professor Valerie Braithwaite and the Hon Steven Joyce. There is more we can do, though. Along with evolving our regulatory approach, we will be working to deepen our engagement with the sector and implement a more sophisticated educative approach to move beyond the achievement of minimum standards to lift quality,” she said.

ASQA wants to help providers get the support they need so that students can receive a positive education, according to Rice, who also said she will address internal challenges such as the consistency of the regulator’s decision-making process.

“I am keen to get on with what needs to be done to extend our oversight of the sector to include new ways of connecting with providers and providing advice that moves beyond the achievement of minimum standards. At the same time, ASQA must stay alert to serious risks facing VET in Australia and take strong action where it is warranted,” she said.

READ MORE: Regulatory agency targets VET risk areas


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