The VET industry in Australia at the moment seems to be beset by unscrupulous marketing programs, designed it seems to do nothing more than rip of the most vulnerable people in society, by promising them degrees and qualifications that will get them jobs and which they don’t have to pay for, oh and dont you worry we will through in a free computer with that course as well.
So what is going on here, why are we seeing such a rise in this, what can we do about it and what alternatives do RTO’s have in terms of marketing.
The first two things that spring to my mind when I start to think about why we have seen such a blatant increase in this clearly unethical behaviour are;
- The influx of large commercial providers (often part of even larger overseas backed companies) into the market, who in order to survive, profit and pay for their sparkling offices and campuses need a substantial constant income stream (hence we end up with people being charged $18,000 for a Diploma of Counselling)
- The rise of lead generation websites and companies who sole purpose is to funnel students into high cost, VET-FEE Help programs to both generation profits for themselves and to provide fodder for number 1.
This should not be taken to suggest that all providers fall into this category and that all marketing is evil and unethical, but it does raise substantial issues in terms of quality of training, the ability of these students to go on to participate in the workforce, the quality of workers available to industry and of course the elephant in the room (which is always hidden behind the words, Study now – Pay later) the amount of debt some of these students are accumulating, which will have a whole range of effects on their future choices, but that’s ok we gave them a free computer.
To give you a real example of what is happening out there, I was recently talking to a relatively person who was looking for work, she had left the job she had had since finishing high school, because she wanted a change and wanted to have more options than she currently did. She saw one of the website advertising study now-later and sent them an email asking for all of the details about the course she wanted to do ( dual diploma counselling and something else). After the fourth phone call from the lead generation company attempting to get her to sign up to the program she finally ‘decided ‘ it was the right thing to do even though she wasn’t entirely sure of all the costs and details.
So she started the program, mostly online, there were a couple of face to face sessions where there seemed to be students from a range of different courses there and found that there was very little assistance available, it took weeks to get her assessments marked and there was little in the way of feedback when she did get them back. There was no help finding placements, or any assistance in that way at all, but after about 13 months she finished the program and was really please and happy (even though it took nearly 3 months for her to get her certificate) and ready to move into a new career. She found however that no one was interested in hiring her, because despite what she had been told there were not a lot of roles available and almost none for people without any real experience. So she took a casual role in a related field, not one that she was particularly interested in, and for less money than she had been getting in her previous role. The really interesting thing was that once she had got her certificate the marketing company contacted her several times again to see how she was going and when she said she was having trouble finding work, they suggested that what she needed was to do another diploma, this time in management to give her those extra skills that she probably needed to get the roles that she really wanted and oh she ‘study now-pay later’ again as well. If she had chosen that path the total cost of her study when she had finished would have been between $30-35,000 and she probably would not have been in a terribly better place than if she had done a Certificate III or IV and started from the ground up in organisation, she certainly wouldn’t be in as much debt as is now.
Now I know some of you will say that is her own fault, she should have done her research and looked at the market, the costs of the course and all range of other things. Which is of course what we would do, but we know that system, we know and can understand the fine print and the details, these marketing groups and the RTO’s providing the courses are specifically targeting people who either don’t know how to do that or for whom the information is meaningless because they can’t understand it and the lovely person on the phone has convinced them that it is the right thing to do and not to worry because they may never have to actually pay it back anyway.
What can we do about it though, firstly we can report to the various regulator (and not just the VET sector regulators) that this is going on, send them links to the websites, expose these things were we find them, and I know there is a lot of this going on already, where people are speaking up and saying something, but there needs to be more voices, the more complaints that flow in the better chance there is of getting something done.
What else can we do and what alternatives do we have, well in the words of Google,