A review into the national regulator for the vocational education and training sector has begun following a push from private-sector VET companies.
The “rapid” review of the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) would focus on the regulator’s governance, policies, and culture, according to the Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business, Michaelia Cash.
She said the review would inform a 12-to-18 month program of improvements to ensure ASQA was “transparent and effective” in its duties. The announcement follows growing complaints from VET business owners about the regulator’s approach, and the abrupt departure of chief commissioner Mark Paterson in early October.
When Paterson was appointed two years ago, ASQA was criticised for taking too little action against unscrupulous training providers but more recently, the VET industry has begun pushing back against the regulator. Acting chief commissioner Saxon Rice has begun trying to build bridges.
Former New Zealand minister Steven Joyce led an independent review into the VET sector last year and delivered his findings in March. He noted that providers were concerned ASQA would be unfair during the audit process, and they lacked understanding and guidance. Australian National University Professor Valerie Braithwaite also conducted a review into the regulator in 2017.
In response to the findings of the previous reviews, more than $18 million in federal funding has been granted to help ASQA expand its educative role so training providers understand regulatory requirements; ensure audit decisions are transparent so providers can deliver training best practice; ensure it has the data and feedback it needs to identify and remove poor quality providers; and improve its regulatory approach.
Private-sector VET providers have been pushing for another review into ASQA, according to the chief executive of the Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia (ITECA), Troy Williams.
“For some time, we’ve been telling the Australian government that we need an approach to regulation of the VET sector that assists quality providers to deliver quality outcomes without burdening them with red-tape,” he said.
Williams welcomed the prospect of an expanded educative role for ASQA and noted the importance of an investigation into its auditing approach.
“This is great news for quality VET providers who have a strong focus on supporting students within the confines of a complex regulatory system. ASQA had argued in the past that its role wasn’t to educate the sector. We always disagreed with this view, so the new pathway is most welcome,” he said.
“Stories abound in the VET sector of audit reports that don’t resemble the issues raised in the actual audit. ITECA has long argued for a more timely, consistent and transparent approach to ASQA’s audit activity and it’s great news that the review will focus on this too.”
The director of employment, education and training at the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Jenny Lambert, recently argued ASQA had become too focused on compliance and the VET sector’s approach to assessment needed an overhaul.
“Quality is not just about compliance. It’s about how you ensure the system continues to improve. Quality is about the standards of teachers and professionalism,” she told the Australian Financial Review.