RTO Doctor focusses on an area of compliance that appears to be troubling providers each month. 

This month's focus is on the collection of tuition fees in advance (SNR11.3 / SNR22.3 or AQTF Condition 5).

The standard regarding the collection of tuition fees in advance is:

Where the applicant / provider  intends collecting student fees in advance it must ensure it will comply with one of the following acceptable options for continuing registration:

(a)  (Option 1) the RTO is administered by a State, Territory or Commonwealth government agency;
(b)  (Option 2) the RTO holds current membership of an approved Tuition Assurance Scheme;
(c)  (Option 3) the RTO may accept payment of no more than $1000 from each individual student prior to the commencement of the course. Following course commencement, the RTO may require payment of additional fees in advance from the student but only such that at any given time, the total amount required to be paid which is attributable to tuition or other services yet to be delivered to the student does not exceed $1,500;
(d)  (Option 4) the RTO holds an unconditional financial guarantee from a bank operating in Australia for no less than the full amount of funds held by the RTO which are prepayments from students (or future students) for tuition to be provided by the RTO to those students; or
(e)  (Option 5) the RTO has alternative fee protection measures of equal rigour approved by the National VET Regulator.

For many private providers who are domestic only, option 3 is by far the most popular and often the most difficult to implement or monitor.  However, once providers have got the system right, they find it one of the easiest methods of tuition fee collection.

One very important reminder is that RPL fees may also considered tuition fees in advance, particularly if you are requesting that the client pay the full amount of RPL fees upfront.

Interestingly, as we have previously noted, while ASQA have previously identified ACPET as an approved Tuition Assurance Scheme (News - 10 October 2013 which would fit under Option 2), ASQA also released a statement several months ago stating that ACPET was not an approved Tuition Protection Scheme under Option 2 but instead was approved for Option 5.  On 10 October 2013, according to the ASQA website "ASQA Chief Commissioner Chris Robinson said the regulator had approved the Australian Council for Private Education and Training’s (ACPET) Australian Student Tuition Assurance Scheme (ASTAS) as a suitable measure to protect the fees prepaid by students...ACPET’s ASTAS is currently the only tuition assurance scheme for domestic students that is currently approved and recognised by ASQA."  On the ASQA website on 22 April 2014, the following message appeared, "Option 2 - The training organisation holds current membership of an approved Tuition Assurance Scheme.     To date, no Tuition Assurance Schemes have been approved. For information on the approved scheme operated by the Australian Council for Private Education and Training (ACPET), refer to Option 5...Option 5 The training organisation has alternative fee protection measures of equal rigour approved by the national VET regulator.      The Australian Council for Private Education and Training (ACPET) Australian Student Tuition Assurance Scheme (ASTAS) is the only alternative fee protection measure currently approved by ASQA. Training organisations wanting to apply to ASQA to have an alternative fee protection measure of equal rigour considered must complete and submit the Application for approval of alternative fee protection measures."  One could easily be forgiven if they had included in their TAS policy that they had selected Option 2!

Compliance is relatively easy with this standard provided you have a clear policy statement that describes your tuition fee collection procedure and that your staff adhere to it.  One of the biggest issues we see in internal audits is providers claiming that they operate under Option 3 however in practice, they are collecting far more than they are entitled under this method.  Similarly, during the ASQA national strategic audit into the accuracy and marketing of VET providers, one of the key findings was that many providers who had an online payment gateway attached to their website allowed the collection of far more than would be permitted under option 3.  What the report fails to identify however is that unless ASQA actually conducted an audit on the respective provider's fee collection practices and policy and procedure, they cannot actually claim that the provider is non-compliant.  So as a safety measure, this is a good, timely reminder to confirm that all of your fee collection practices are consistent with your stated Fee Collection in Advance Policy and Procedure.

For those providers who have additional regulatory requirements such as CRICOS, VET FEE-HELP, funding contracts etc. you should also make sure that your additional fee collection methods are consistent with your policies and procedures.  A common finding that we have is with CRICOS providers not having a policy for fee collection in advance for domestic students because their sole clientele is international students on a student visa.  Like all things regarding registration requirements if you are a  CRICOS provider, you must always remember that even if your only clients are international students in CRICOS courses, you still have an obligation to meet your domestic student requirements as part of your continuing registration.