Back on the 20th of September I posted a piece entitled ‘One set of rules for all providers?‘, suggesting that far from it being the case, as ASQA so vehemently pronounces, that there is one set of rules for every provider regardless of there size, or whether they are publicly or privately owned, the State owned providers are treated far more leniently than any private provider and given access to modes of rectification which are simply not available to non-public entities. So now six weeks or so later and after the lapse of the month deadline TAFESA was supposedly given by ASQA to rectify the debacle that was, and probably still is their training and assessment practices what has happened?
Why has nothing happened you may well ask, and that really is the burning question here. But first let me remind everyone that the last sanction listed on the ASQA decisions database against a TAFE was back in 2012. So why time and time again do we see public providers, TAFEs, being caught out breaching the RTO standards, having poor, or in some cases it appears non-existent assessment practices and never do we see any of these breeches met with any sanctions. We see this because despite what ASQA might claim and want us to believe, the regulatory system for the VET sector in this country is broken and divided and certainly not one system for all. In fact I am amazed that ASQA representatives can claim that all providers are treated the same with a straight face, when there is overwhelming evidence that this is not the case. The issues with TAFE SA alone are enough to show this. If the level of non-compliance that has allegedly been found there was found at a non-public provider, they would have been deregistered by now. Will that happen to TAFE SA? Not a chance, they will apologize, say that have changed their systems and processes and will do better, and at worse they might stop delivering some of the programs for a few months, but then it will be straight back to business as if nothing has happened.
How then have we got to a system that is so broken and so badly weighted against non-public providers. To be fair at least some of it is our own fault. As a sector we saw the issues of VET Fee Help and the actions of the Careers, ACNs and Pheonixs and we (or at the very least those bodies who were supposed to be acting on our behalf) didn’t speak up or take action against them. This of course played into the hands of the media and those like the AEU and others whose agenda is to end non-public delivery of VET, by giving them ammunition to smear the entire sector. So bad were the excesses of the few that Ministers had little choice but to react with a big stick, if for no other reason than to save their own political skins. If we then add to this the fact that TAFEs are state owned entities, which the state utilises not simply as educational facilities but as weapons of policy enactment across a range of areas, and in addition so heavily heavily unionised, that whenever something happens which the unions don’t like, the social media storm which erupts is of category five proportions. It is no wonder the system is broken. Any minister or even the regulator itself that ever suggested closing or curtailing the activities of a TAFE due to non-compliance, would be met with such a media storm, both through traditional and social channels, that it is unlikely they would emerge with their skins, let alone their careers, still intact. So as a result of this we now have a system of regulation which is deeply skewed in favour of the public provider and which actively over regulates and over sanctions private providers while all the while claiming this is not the case. ASQA has become a political weapon rather than a fair and equitable regulator.
So what is the answer? It is simply that peak bodies like ACPET need to step up and call out this atrocious and unfair treatment and the inequity which exists, because this is supposed to be a level playing field and ASQA is supposed to treat all providers the same. In fact everyone needs to step up, everyone needs to voice our opinions and call out these issues. We need to embarrass and force the regulator to do its job properly and the government to let it. Lone voices in the wilderness are not enough here. If as non-public providers you want to actually see some change to this, if you actually want to be treated fairly, you, yes you, need to step up and you need to force those bodies that are supposed to represent you to step up as well. Create a storm on social media, don’t let the news stories die, be loud. Why do you think so many people believe the rhetoric from the AEU, it’s not because they are right it is just because they are loud. And if you don’t step up then this situation will continue because no one else is going to do anything about it.
Anyway that’s just my opinion.