Reinventing VET FEE – Help
January 22, 2016 13 Comments
So I think no matter what happens in September or October at the next federal election the VET FEE-Help (VFH) will change in 2017 and I think for a lot of us in the sector, particularly those who have been around for a while, changes to the system cannot come quickly enough. We have seen the VFH system spiral out of control over the last couple of years. I have on a more than a few occasions previously suggested that while there have certainly been unscrupulous, profiteering activities by a small number of providers the main issue with VFH was that the system and the contracts around it were simply not appropriate.
Even if we simply consider the process of applying for status as a VFH provider, the focus was almost completely on the financial aspect, sure there were a few nods to policies and procedures, but in the long run financials were what the decisions were based on. Part of me understands mindset here, providers are regulated by ASQA and therefore if they where a registered provider then the compliance around quality of training and outcomes should have technically at least been taken care of. But without a doubt this mindset is wrong, not because ASQA is not doing its job but because registration as a provider is simply a compliance process and not a quality process. In addition it seems to me to be obvious that simple compliance is insufficient when we are talking about contractual arrangements of the nature of VFH.
So given the government has said that they have open table policy in terms of changes to the VFH system what changes do I think need to be made in order to make the system work more effectively, given that I think we need to have an income contingent loans system for vocational education.
- Ban completely or restrict heavily the use of education brokers. I disagree somewhat with ACPET’s stance here and also the argument that it is difficult to find students without the use of a brokerage. Student recruitment and marketing should be controlled in house with no loopholes for the RTO to blame third parties for any issues.
- Extra scrutiny paid to providers who delivery a significant portion of their programs online, because well lets be honest it just hasn’t worked and figures show that strongly.
- ASQA registration, financial information and a nod to quality through polices is simply not enough. That being said, being anything less that medium risk with the regulator should have their VFH status refused or paused until such time as they can show that they are back at medium risk or below.
- RTOs must have been trading/delivering training for a substantial period of time, I think at least five years. No provider should be able to start-up and get VFH status. I think the must have been delivering Diploma level courses for 5 years concept is a bit wrong-headed as there are quite a number of legitimate reasons why a high quality provider may have chosen not to become involved in Diploma level qualifications and a range of reasons not relating to directly to VFH for them to decide to take them on.
- Buying, transferring ownership, rolling up into a holding company or any activities like that should void the VFH status of the RTOs and a reapplication process with their new status commenced.
- Payment should be on completion of units or subjects not commencement. If you can’t cash flow your business to cope with this then your business model is probably wrong.
- Significant movements in a providers VFH enrolments, particularly increases and particularly in programs with low employment outcomes should trigger audits from both the department and ASQA.
- Active monitoring of marketing advertising and student enrollment practices needs to be instituted.
- Complaints process that triggers cessation of payments for the particular student or for all payments where there are significant numbers or types of complaints.
- Automatic 5 year ban from operating or being a high managerial agent of a VFH provider where there have been negative findings relating to another RTO they have been involved with.
- Automatic cessation of payments where any action is taken by ASQA, ACCC, The Department or any other similar body against a provider.
- Where potential students may be eligible for alternative funding options to VFH to access a course they must be notified of those other options.
- Limit fees. I have often said I struggle with Diploma prices over $10,000 given that 3-5 years ago they were as low as $5,000. This should particularly be the case where the course has low employment outcomes or workforce needs (Diploma of Counselling for example). Set a standard limit on fees and if providers wish to charge more than this they must make their case as to why as part of their application for VFH status.
- Give the Department the power to simply cease payments immediately where any matter of concern arises until that matter has been decided.
- Cancel all existing VFH provider status and make every provider reapply.
- Transition any continuing students to the new system and even new providers where necessary.
- Strong government information campaign around VFH, what is legal and what isn’t.
So there are my thoughts on at least some things that would make a much better VFH system. I know that some of you are going to disagree strongly with my on some of the points I have made and I would be really interested in hearing why you disagree and what you think an alternative would be.
Anyway that’s just my opinion.