Senate Report into Private VET Providers
October 19, 2015 1 Comment
So as most of you are aware the Senate Committee has recently release its Report into the operation, regulation and funding of private vocational education and training (VET) providers in Australia. So I thought I would take at look at the report and some of the recommendations and put some thoughts and comments on it out there.
My first comment is on the membership of the committee which with 2 ALP, 2 Greens, 2 Liberals and one National Party member, does seem to be, just on initial observations slightly weighted to the left of the Australian political spectrum. Not that this should in essence make a real difference one would hope, however as regular readers of this bog would note I have been quite critical of the very one-sided view of the VET sector which seems to be held by the Greens and in particular Senator Lee Rhiannon. One would hope however that party political concerns could be put aside in these cases and that sensible and well-considered analysis of the facts and information be the central theme of the report. Of course those of you who make it through to the end of the report will of course see that the Greens could not help themselves and had to make their own set of recommendations which only serve to show their lack of understanding of the sector and unwillingness to move from there uninformed (or shall I say informed by the AEU and others of that ilk) view that the only problem with the sector is that there are private providers and that TAFE can solve everything.
The actual report itself makes 16 recommendations, most of which at least on the surface seem fairly reasonable. Now it is not my intention to look at each of the recommendations in detail, but rather just to comment on some of the major ones and some of the ones which might be viewed as little more controversial.
Recommendations 1-4 are just really common sense in my opinion, it is blatantly obvious that there needs to be a serious review into the VET FEE Help system, the providers utilising it and that methods of controlling the costs associated with these loans, particularly what could be termed as bad debts be considered. I myself tend towards regulation around the actual upper limits which can be charged for various courses rather than a simply lowering of the overall threshold or some other method. Insisting on certain prerequisites such as year 12 or equivalent may have an effect, but I fear unless rules like this are spelled out in intricate detail, all that will result if a repeat of the LLN skills requirements which was of course no barrier to unscrupulous providers. Lowering the repayment threshold is also not a viable consideration as it does unfairly target those who are already in vulnerable financial situations and for whom a qualification may be of the most worth.
Recommendation 5 hits the nail on the head for me, as I have stated in other pieces there needs to be far better education of VET sector consumers to attempt to ensure that the ability of those unscrupulous elements to take advantage of uneducated consumers is reduced.
There are a range of similar themes running through the rest of the recommendations, most of which talk about regulation of the system and how this might be better achieved. That there needs to be a serious and effective investigation of current providers is obvious in the extreme as is the fact that there needs to be some form of regulation of the brokerage market. My opinion on brokerages is well know, in that I simply believe that in the vast majority of cases they serve no purpose other than to simply increase the price of a qualification and provide commissions to resellers who have little or no skills in relation to the sector. It would be my personal position that I would rather the use of brokers for VET FEE Help programs be disallowed under legislation much as it is in relation to other government funding. A particular example of this being the contractual arrangements around the QLD Vet investment plan subsidies where RTOs are prohibited from using brokers to recruit students. This would in one fell swoop put an end to the brokerage industry and put the onus of ethical recruitment directly back where it should be, on the RTO and not require the need for additional regulation to be developed for brokers. Removing brokers from the system would also I believe slow down considerably the flow the money to providers who were large users of brokers and also the more unscrupulous providers who rely on the ability of brokers to provide them with a continuing stream of new students. The concept of minimum standard hours while interesting is not one I think that would either be able to be administered in any way that made sense or have any real effect on completion rates and the ability of providers to manipulate the system.
The biggest single issue that I see within the sector at the moment is irresponsible, unethical and outright illegal marketing and student recruitment practices and most of these practices could as I have said above be resolved by the removal of brokers from the system. On the general issue of quality of providers, I would make an open call particularly to those media outlets, like the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The ABC who have constantly bought up negative stories on the sector, which when one looks look at the content of, generally focus on a very small number of providers and then makes sweeping judgments about all providers, to actually come and look at the outstanding work being done in this sector by private providers. I of course know that this will never happen because well that doesn’t sell does it.
I am also completely in favor of the concept of the a Training Ombudsman whose sole role is to deal with complaints and as has been suggested before close the loop, between providers, students, governments and the regulator so that everyone involved knows what is going on and is fully informed.
One final thing and this is that with any of these reports there is always a necessity to look at the background and agendas not only of those serving on the committee, but also of those who made submissions and how those submissions were interpenetrated by the committee, what information was taken out of them and in what context. This is of particular note with respect to the information supplied by ASQA’s data and reports, where a casual viewing of the data may in fact be used to show something that a more in-depth review of it may not. It is also of note when one considers the additional comments and recommendations provided at the end of the report by the Greens. It is clear from these statements that the Greens came into the committee with a particular viewpoint and agenda and have in no way sought to be further informed or to change their ideologically motivated view in any way.
Anyway that’s just my opinion.