We have provided a heavily edited version of our submission due to privacy and confidentiality issues but in our traditional approach to transparency and accountability, we are committed to sharing as much as possible with you regarding what we believe.
This submission is based on identifying what we see as some of the core issues that are currently plaguing (and destroying) our world-renowned system and proposes some suggestions for changing the status quo. This submission intentionally provides an overview of the historical context of VET in Australia, what the purpose of VET appears to be in today’s economic market, discusses who might be the stakeholders of the VET sector currently and discuss the current perception of VET in Australia because typically, as is shown in the initial stages of our submission, history does have a habit of repeating itself in this sector. Until these key concepts are clearly understood, there is little point in trying to improve the quality of VET.
There is discussion about the quality and inconsistency of auditing staff around the country and the impact that this has had on the VET sector and the impact it will continue to have if left unaddressed. An area of significant concern to RTO Doctor is the discussion that needs to be held surrounding Industry Skills Councils, the Quality Assurance Panel of the now defunct National Skills Standards Council (NSSC) and the quality of the training packages that they are required to produce, continuously improve and endorse.
There is a discussion regarding the accountability and transparency of the complaints and appeals process being implemented by ASQA and a final discussion about the concept of de-regulation proposed by the current government as being the most appropriate way forward. The report concludes with a summary of the RTO Doctor position on the reform taking place as well as summarises our recommendations (31) for an improved system that we can all be proud of. We included reference to a range of LinkedIn discussions as well as provided the threads in the relevant appendices as supporting evidence for our recommendations.
It is a very lengthy report that was delivered directly to the VET Reform Taskforce email address as well as directly to Michael Read, Policy Adviser, Skills & Training for the Minister.
In summary, the recommendations of RTO Doctor are:
In the mid 1980’s when Australia was facing significant economic challenges including new markets, technology, high unemployment, significant retrenchments due to emerging technology and a global marketplace, governments forged strong partnerships with large industry bodies, professional associations and unions in an effort to enhance employability, increase skill development and be better prepared for a globally and highly competitive marketplace. The Government used the VET sector as a Band-Aid approach to fixing these issues. This situation has been reproduced time and time again and is happening right now, nothing has changed. Use the lessons from history to refocus and rebuild the VET sector.
Understand the there is not one purpose for VET but many. The purpose of VET will be different for different people. For the government it means one thing, for the community another. For TAFE it means one thing, for the private RTO it means another. For the employer and the student, it can often mean something very different again. How can we develop a basis for a new system when we don’t actually understand its true purpose? Whose needs are the Taskforce really trying to meet? Once it can honestly and transparently answer this question, it will have a clearer path forward.
A vast range of stakeholders who are not adequately consulted about VET or even the efforts of reform undertaken by this current government have been neglected and would be able to provide a significant amount of valid, reliable and critical views to this reform. RTO Doctor recommends that the Taskforce use this opportunity to invest the time into genuinely consulting with all stakeholders who have been left out of this review.
The perception of VET equaling TAFE needs to change. It is not entirely clear how this perception was created but the government does nothing to make it clear that less than 10% of providers in the VET sector are TAFE. When secondary schools (public and private), employers, major business, unions, media all believe that TAFE = VET, there is a real problem that needs to be addressed. The government’s focus on weeding out dodgy private providers does not support this recognition, particularly when it absolutely knows that some public providers are amongst the non-compliant in the country. This is perhaps not a reflection of just being non-compliant but the business model that public providers are required to rely upon and never needing to have to diversify their market, to be able to have any and every qualification on their scope of registration regardless if they have the staffing, resources or capability of delivering them, at times staff who haven’t seen a real industry workplace for 10 years or so and not really being able to maintain currency with the massive changes that are taking place in this dynamic system. It is absolutely these providers who will no doubt be amongst the country’s self regulating providers and yet they are without a doubt, Australia’s biggest risk in the VET sector currently.
Auditors, in particular, the auditors who will be the determinants of the 20% of providers who will have the privilege of self-regulating, need to be fit for purpose. The audits that they conduct must be across their entire scope of registration and unplanned with perhaps 48 hours notice so as to give a genuine picture of what their compliance is like. At RTO Doctor, we know that with 20 working days, we can turn around a provider from being critically non-compliant to passing an audit with no non-compliances when the client is prepared to spend the money. If the ‘regulatory body/Taskforce’ (as yet unidentified) is to provide the elite 20% with too much notice, they will effectively be able to clean up their operation entirely.
RTO Doctor does not support self-regulation or de-regulation but rather, more focused regulation. As pointed out in recommendation number 5, anyone with enough money can fudge an audit and it must be remembered that a compliant audit is only a picture of a point in time. Further, the creation of such a system is elitist, does not ensure access and equity and for those providers who work with the most marginalized members of the community, they will be unnecessarily disadvantaged and potentially discriminated against.
The action of regulation of the sector needs to be taken more seriously, especially when more and more external accrediting authorities are relying on the outcomes of the VET sector’s regulators. If an audit report identifies critical non-compliance that is systemic, the follow up audit should not only ensure that the critical non-compliances identified originally were corrected but that the systemic nature of those non-compliances have been addressed.
The sampling of qualifications during an audit needs to be reconsidered so that at no time when a re-registration or monitoring audit for example is being conducted, high risk areas are neglected.
The consistency of the auditing process and auditor judgments, perhaps better auditor training is absolutely necessary to ensure that there is no longer the ability to question the validity of an auditor’s findings.
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The Commonwealth regulator must publish research that is factually and academically sound if it is to be relied upon for policy development and decisions.
The Commonwealth regulator must be open and transparent about its complaints and appeals process and where it has any form of potential evidence, that it use its powers to conduct monitoring audits and fully investigate any complaints, regardless of where the complaints come from.
Where the Commonwealth regulator is seeking data for its ‘satisfaction surveys’, the questions should not be simple yes or no answers to loaded questions. This is falsifying its own data to protect its own existence.
Where the regulator has sufficient evidence to cancel statements of attainment or qualifications under legislation, it must do so to protect the community from harm. It is absolutely not acceptable for a regulator to cancel a provider’s registration or deem a provider critically non-compliant based on a provider not meeting the requirements for assessment and issuing of that qualification. If the provider has achieved that outcome at audit, the legislation provides for it, those qualifications and statements of attainment must be cancelled so as not to jeopardise community safety. Where required, students (graduates) should be retrained and reassessed in the areas missing from the qualification before being re-issued with a qualification or statement of attainment that they have achieved. At no time should the student be responsible for paying any additional money to ensure that they have received what they agreed to with the provider.
Where the government has an opportunity to collect evidence about the fraudulent use of government expenditure, regardless of how that information is presented to it, it must fully investigate that allegation and recover costs. It is entirely inappropriate and unconscionable that a regulator would refuse to accept the evidence because of where it comes from or handball it to another government department.
The risk framework being developed for the future VET sector needs to ensure that it not based on the model used for the CRICOS re-registration project. As was discussed and highlighted in this report, this framework was fundamentally flawed and will provide no positive outcome during this reform process.
The identification, provision and support of language, literacy and numeracy issues are a multi-sector issue and should not be addressed uniquely by the VET sector. The VET sector should rightly address it where it appears on a case by case basis but fundamentally, the lack of LLN skills of the majority of the population belongs to sectors other than the VET sector including the early childhood, primary education and secondary education sector. The VET sector should not be responsible for fixing problems which are fundamentally based in the development of the early years. While the VET sector is supportive of addressing these needs when required to do so, it is not this sector’s responsibility to fix the underlying problem that currently other educational areas are negligent in performing their role.
There needs to be consistent and harmonious legislation across the country that makes sense and is fit for purpose. When every jurisdiction has different requirements for the conduct of a traineeship or apprenticeship because each jurisdiction wants to put their stamp of approval on it, the Commonwealth government needs to demonstrate leadership and force the States/Territories to toe the line. An entire country is run by a prime minister (however good or bad he/she may be) and it is not up to an elite few State / territory leaders or even CEO’s of government departments to make their own rules.
There needs to be urgent and transparent information in relation to the future of the VET sector and whether or not the AVQS will be adopted. Private providers can no longer be expected to meet their obligations under the VET Quality framework’s Financial Viability Requirements or under the Corporations Act 2001 when the regulatory reform process is restricting their trade. This needs to happen urgently. It has been asked many times by many providers and nobody will provide an answer.
There needs to be made available in clear terms what the role of the Accountable Education Officer will be if the AVQS is to go ahead. It is our experience that there are very few people around the country who could adequately fulfill this role and certainly not enough for all providers who fit into this sector. If this will be made a requirement, the government needs to release this information as an urgent priority to allow providers the time to up skill their staff, locate a suitable person or manage a relinquishment of the registration.
Any future (and current) regulator must monitor and regulate the provision of training. Any revised standards must include the monitoring and regulation of training.
All regulators have a responsibility to help their clients maintain their registration requirements and become better providers, currently the Commonwealth regulator refuses to take on this task. All States/territories previously did this very well; Victoria and Western Australia continue to do this very well. There was and is no need for the Commonwealth regulator to come out with a big stick and an ego and say we’re here to close down the shonky providers, be afraid, be very afraid. We at RTO Doctor have heard these statements in public forums and this behavior is disgraceful and unbecoming of public servants.
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Auditors must be performance managed and/or contracts reviewed when their audits are found to be incorrect or the findings do not match the evidence provided. It is suggested that one way of doing this is the development of an independent body to confirm that the evidence and the audit outcomes are accurate by conducting a moderated sample of audits. Where the moderated result proves an incorrect finding, or where an appeal fails, the auditor must be held accountable for getting it wrong and performance managed where appropriate.
An independent body who would become the ‘auditor of auditors’ must be established with very clear terms of reference. This body must have expertise in the standards and the regulatory frameworks that operate in the VET sector. There is a conflict of interest where the current regulatory authorities can ‘self-regulate’. Further, where previously other government agencies have been commissioned to audit the auditors, there remains a conflict of interest and often, these agencies do not have the knowledge of the VET sector to adequately audit the performance of the regulator against its own standards and the decisions it has made.
There should be a series of basic best practice templates made available for all providers to access free of charge as part of their annual registration fees. Currently the inconsistency of interpretation by auditors about what is adequate and what is not is contributing to a massive amount of confusion that could be alleviated by providing templates that are to be contextualized by the provider.
The Commonwealth regulator needs to implement a genuine help desk as opposed to the one it currently has. If it doesn’t have the qualified and experienced staff to implement such a service, they should be using the significant contributions that providers make every year to providing this service.
While it is acknowledged that the NSSC has now been disbanded and along with it the Quality Assurance Panel, the concept, while fantastic is fundamentally flawed and needs to be revised. It’s terms of reference, funding, membership and the processes to be undertaken for endorsement of training packages must be reviewed based on the discussions presented within this report.
The quality of training packages is a critical issue that can only be addressed by providing less frequent updates but when those updates are made, they are of the highest quality. A training package should never be endorsed full of errors and as unprofessional as they have been over recent years. If the government wants higher quality training packages, it must be prepared to adequately invest in them and it must be prepared to employ the right people to develop them. Their quality assurance should not be undertaken by the easiest route and the cheapest pathway with the least resistance but someone who is capable of ensuring that the product being put up for endorsement is appropriate for endorsement.
The concept of equivalence is closely related to recommendation 29. RTO Doctor believes however that Industry Skills Councils must only deem equivalence where an RPL process or mapping exercise would identify no gaps in training and assessment.
RTO Doctor does not support 100% cost recovery of regulatory activities unless all regulatory activities across the country operate in the same manner. Further, where 100% cost recovery is justified, then there is no excuse why many of the recommendations we have made cannot be implemented. RTO Doctor firmly believes that if 100% cost recovery would ensure a system that is genuinely reformed and for the betterment of our nation and future, is completely transparent, fair, equitable and protects consumers, ensures transparency and accountability of the regulators who are claiming the 100% cost recovery, then they would support it. Perhaps a solution to the 100% cost recovery effort is that the regulator must dedicate a realistic percentage of its annual budget to the establishment of an independent body of auditors to keep the regulatory authorities accountable.