Staff issues, assessment lead to college deregistrations

Higher Education reporterSydney

Just one-quarter of vocational education and training colleges meet their regulatory obligations when they are audited, a Senate estimates committee heard today. And almost half still fall short after they’ve been given time to lift their game.

The national VET regulator’s forthcoming annual report — currently being printed — will show that just 25.8 per cent of providers are “fully compliant” at initial audit, the Education and Employment Legislation Committee was told. That figure rises to 53.4 per cent after the “rectification period”.

These results are both better and worse than in 2014-15, when just 18 per cent of providers passed muster initially but around 70 per cent complied when they were rechecked, the committee heard.

The Australian Skills Quality Authority cancelled the registration of 125 colleges last financial year — some 18 more than the previous year, and more than twice as many as the year before that, the committee heard.

A further 56 providers had their registration partially or fully suspended. Altogether, ASQA threatened regulatory sanctions 516 times and imposed them on 232 occasions.

The main reasons were “inadequate numbers or qualifications of teaching staff, and inadequate assessment processes”, chief commissioner Mark Paterson said.

Deputy chief commissioner Michael Lavarch said “unduly short” training such as “weekend diplomas” was also a fraught area. “Too much training in this country has occurred over too short a time frame,” he told the committee

The Australian Skills Quality Authority ‘strongly’ refutes claims of deliberate cuts to RTOS

LEGAL REVIEW: Assistant Minister for Vocational Education and Skills Karen Andrews launched a review earlier this year into the law covering the Australian Skills Quality Authority. The review report is due by the end of the end. Picture: Alex Ellinghausen

There are no plans to cut the number of training organisations offering national qualifications, despite concerns raised in the sector.

An Australian Skills Quality Authority spokesman said the authority, “rejects – in the strongest possible terms – any claim that the goal of its regulatory activity is to reduce the number of RTOs in Australia.”

The spokesman was referring to a story in The Advocate which suggested ASQA aimed to cut the numbers of RTOs by almost 18 per cent, based on the number paying fees next year.

The spokesman said  there were 4593 RTOs in Australia at 30 June 2017.

“ASQA regulates 4098 of these and the remainder are regulated by … Victoria and Western Australia,” he said.

“ASQA estimates that 3704 of its RTOs will pay next year’s annual registration fee,” he said.

A further 300 would pay fees to Queensland and the remainder would probably leave the sector.

The spokesman also said the authority had found issues with the abilities of trainers and assessors in the sector.

“ASQA has applied enhanced scrutiny to applications from RTOs to add qualifications from the new TAE package to their scope of registration,” he said.

The intention was to protect students and employers, not cut the number of providers offering TAE qualifications.

The issue of RTO cancellations has seen an online petition set up asking for an investigation into ASQA’s operations.

Among the areas raised in the petition was the allegedly high proportion of cancelled registrations which were appealed, then revoked, meaning the company remained a registered training provider.

The online petition claimed too many RTOs had had their cancellation decision revoked or put on hold.

It said the concern was the disruption to training companies, their students and their families during the period of uncertainty arising from a cancellation that was appealed, only to be revoked later.

However the ASQA spokesman said, “The claim that a high proportion of ASQA’s decisions have been revoked following appeal has no basis in fact.

“Between 1 July 2011 and 30 June 2017, there have been 301 applications to tribunals or courts seeking review of an ASQA decisions that have been finalised,” he said.

“Of these, ASQA’s decision has been set aside in only 11 applications, or 3.7 per cent.”

In June this year, the federal government commissioned a review of the law governing ASQA, to ensure it could effectively and efficiently regulate the sector. It is also looking at ASQA’s response to student and industry needs.

The report is due out soon.

In this edition

TAFE students help Australia enter the global top ten at WorldSkills

Australia has moved into the top ten skills nations in the world, following the performance by the ‘Skillaroos’ at the WorldSkills International competition in Abu Dhabi.

Australia jumped from 12th at the 2015 São Paulo competition to 10th this year, following three days of competition among 77 countries across 51 skills. The Australian medal winners were:


  • South Australian carpenter Ryan Grieger, trained at TAFE SA
  • Industrial mechanic millwright Brad Ingham from New South Wales, trained at TAFE NSW Orange


  • Beauty therapist Lily Campbell from New South Wales, trained at TAFE NSW Wagga Wagga
  • Victorian bricklayer Trystan Sammut, trained at Federation University

Best in Nation

  • Hairdresser Gaby Ware from New South Wales, trained at TAFE NSW Port Macquarie, who achieved the highest overall individual result across the Australian team.

WorldSkills Australia CEO Brett Judd said that the individual performances of every team member were commendable which ultimately contributed to an outstanding overall team result.

The top 10 countries after this year’s international competition are China, Switzerland, Korea, France, Brazil, Austria, Chinese Taipei, Italy, Liechtenstein and Australia.

Closing ceremony in Abu Dhabi
Brad Ingham

Clockwise from top left: Gabby Ware, Trystan Sammut, Lily Campbell and Ryan  Grieger.

TAFE could disappear within five years, says academic

The TAFE system is at a breaking point and could disappear within five years unless there is urgent reform, according to VET expert, Professor Leesa Wheelahan from the University of Toronto.
“If we don’t change the system and we don’t value TAFE we’re going to lose it,” she said on ABC PM last Friday.
“We’re going to lose it within five years – we are at the point where we can go one way or the other – one way is to lose TAFE, the other is to save TAFE and build it,” Professor Wheelahan said.
Her comments followed her presentation at the ‘Future of public TAFE institutions’ conference in Sydney, attended by industry, unions and academic experts.
Professor Wheelahan said that tinkering with the TAFE system was no longer an option.
TDA Chief Executive Craig Robertson said that TAFE was still highly regarded around the world but the situation was akin to a “ticking time bomb”.
“For too long there has been just a focus on delivering a very limited range of skills for the jobs of today.
“What we need is new investment and deeper, broader training for young people, in particular,” he said.
Listen to the ABC PM program, ‘Education experts sound alarm about the future of TAFE’.
See last night’s ABC TV News report on TAFE.

UK steps up its promotion of skills expertise internationally

The UK government has launched a new body that will actively promote the country’s expertise in vocational education and training to the world.
The UK Skills Partnership was announced by Secretary of State for International Trade, Liam Fox, and will comprise representative of universities, vocational training, international schools, education technology, early years education and English language training.
“The UK is a world leader in education exports, and anywhere in the world, British education is in demand,” Mr Fox said.
He said the new body will “build our capacity, reach and engagement in international activities, and collective insight on matters relating to vocational skills development in international markets”.
See an article in The PIE News.

VET’s role in innovation to be opened up

The role of VET applied research in innovation will be a key topic in the national OctoberVET discussion taking place this week in NSW.
Researchers Linda Simon and Francesca Beddie will discuss their recent NCVER report, which argues that VET needs to develop a new approach to teaching and industry engagement if it is to be recognised as part of the innovation system.The event takes place this Thursday in Sydney. See more.
Other events being run as part of AVETRA’s OctoberVET can be found here.

Industry project examining generic skills in teamwork and communication

PwC’s Skills for Australia is undertaking a cross-sector project examining the case for standardised units of competency in teamwork and communication.
It will potentially develop common units which would be adopted across multiple industry sectors.
PwC has opened up a survey which can be used to provide views and feedback about the proposal.
See the survey

Diary Dates

OctoberVET 2017
AVETRA (Australian Vocational Education And Training Research Association)
October & November 2017
Victoria, NSW, Western Australia, Queensland & South Australia
More information

International Australasian Campuses Towards Sustainability (ACTS) Conference
THINK BIG for Global Goals
1 – 3 November 2017
RMIT University, Victoria
More information

National Apprentice Employment Network
National Conference
1 – 3 November 2017
Radisson Blu Hotel, Sydney
More information

Australian Training Awards
23 November 2017
National Convention Centre, Canberra
More information

STEM in Defence Summit
Australian Defence Magazine

30 November 2017
Hyatt Hotel, Canberra
More information

Australian Council of Deans of Education Vocational Education Group (ACDEVEG) 
VET Teaching and VET Teacher Education Conference
7 & 8 December 2017
TAFE Queensland, Southbank Campus
More information

Education Minister Simon Birmingham announces foreign students have to scrub up English skills to study in Australia

FOREIGN students will be forced to brush up on their ­English skills if they want to study at Australian universities and colleges from next year.

More than 150,000 international students who come to Australia every year will have to pass tough new ­English language exams before they can begin their preferred courses.

They will have to undergo at least 20 hours of face-to-face teaching a week in intensive courses designed for non-­English speakers who want to study in Australia.

Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham said the overseas students who had poor English skills were disadvantaging themselves and their Australian classmates.

“What we hear from universities, vocational education providers and from the regulator is that some students are slipping through the cracks,” Senator Birmingham said.

“Some students simply don’t have the English language skills they need to succeed. It means they draw away from getting involved in lectures, tutorials and group study work while their classmates and teachers struggle to bridge the language divide.”

Federal Education and Training Minister Simon Birmingham. Picture: Mick Tsikas (AAP)

Google Pledges $1 Billion to Improve Education Levels Worldwide

Google says over the next five years it will spend $1 billion on nonprofit organizations helping to raise education levels around the world and commit its employees to a million hours of volunteer work doing the same.
CEO Sundar Pichai announced the goal Thursday morning in Pittsburgh, the city where he arrived in the U.S. from India 24 years ago.
Pichai also unveiled a program called “Grow with Google” aimed at training Americans how to get jobs or grow their businesses. The program aims to outfit people with computer and entrepreneurial skills.
The company is partnering with online education companies like Udacity and Coursera as well as charitable organizations like Goodwill and 4-H.

–The Associated Press

Student loans: Former education secretary Morgan to lead inquiry

Nicky Morgan to chair committee examining university costs in England and the possible introduction of a graduate tax

Nicky Morgan, the former education secretary, is to lead an inquiry into the rising costs of the controversial student loans system in England and its possible replacement by a graduate tax.
The House of Commons’ Treasury select committee, which Morgan chairs, will next week launch an investigation into the system of student loans, a subject transformed into a major political issue by the steeply rising levels of debt carried by graduates after leaving university.
Morgan’s inquiry comes after Theresa May announced changes to funding and repayments for undergraduates in England, by freezing tuition fees at their full-time level of £9,250 a year and raising the income level that triggers graduate repayments from £21,000 a year to £25,000.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has estimated that the changes will shift the cost of higher education by £2.3bn a year from graduates to taxpayers, with 83% of recent graduates unlikely to repay their income-contingent loans in full.

“Student loan debt is projected to be around £160bn within six years, and the government has announced that it will review the whole student finance system. The committee will scrutinise the current system and any future developments closely,” said Morgan.

The Treasury committee is to scrutinise the recent changes to student loans, including the repayment thresholds, interest rates, level of tuition fees and the impact on student finances.

But the committee will also look at more controversial areas, including the viability of a graduate tax to replace the loans system, as well as the government’s plans to manage and eventually sell its stock of student loans.

In her speech to the Conservative party in Manchester conference this month, May pledged to take action on student debt and to “undertake a major review of university funding and student financing”. But since then there have been no details of a review taking place.

The inquiry was backed by the Russell Group of leading research universities. Tim Bradshaw, the group’s acting director, said: “I have previously called for the interest rate attached to student loans to be looked at again and am pleased that this will be considered by the committee.”

The system introduced since 2012 means undergraduates take out loans of £9,250 per year for tuition fees, and maintenance loans of up to £8,400 a year for students living away from home outside of London (and £11,000 in London).
Graduates have to pay interest on the debt while studying and after graduation, of up to 6.1% based on income. But they only have to make repayments worth 9% of their income above £25,000, while those who earn less than £25,000 pay nothing.

Any debt or interest remaining unpaid 30 years after graduation is written off by the government, leading the system’s supporters to argue that the funding does not strictly qualify as debt or loans.

The Treasury committee’s first hearing will be held on Wednesday. The inquiry will run alongside similar hearings being run by the House of Lords’ economic affairs committee, which will hear evidence from Martin Lewis, the personal finance guru, on Tuesday.



International student welcomes tougher English language test for university entrants

International students have weighed in on changes to tertiary education requirements, which will force them to pass tougher English language tests in order to be eligible for courses from next year.

An international student has welcomed changes to the English language requirements for tertiary education, saying it will make it easier for students to live in Australia in the long run.
The changes mean students will need to formally pass an English course before they can enter tertiary education.
Education Minister Simon Birmingham said the stricter standards would include at least 20 face-to-face teaching hours a week, with classes having no more than 18 students at a time.There will be a compulsory formal assessment on English language skills before students can enter a tertiary course.
Journalism masters student Yi Wang said she had to pass an English test to start her Australian studies, but felt the test was not foolproof.

“Some of my friends they have already passed an English course at the English teaching school, but they can’t speak English. They can’t really speak fluent English in their daily life,”
she told SBS World News.

“I think it is a little bit overburdening for examination. They have good and competency in English before they enter their first year study of university.”

Ms Wang, who is from Beijing, said she enjoyed being able to study in Sydney and she said tougher English requirements could be helpful for international students when it comes to settling in faster.

“If the test is harder, then we will study harder, for us the rest of living in Australia will be easier because we can speak fluent English and we can fit in in this place,” she said.

Simon Birmingham says International Students will be formally assessed on their English language skills before being admitted into tertiary courses.

Mr Birmingham said English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students would have to formally assess students seeking direct entry to a tertiary course.

“The vast majority of language courses are providing high quality outcomes, which is why more than 90 per cent of international students report high levels of satisfaction with their study experience in Australia, but some slip through the cracks and it’s unacceptable for that to occur,” he said.
Mr Birmingham said for the first time the standard would also apply to vocational and training courses like TAFE.
“This is about protecting international students and ensuring that they get the education and training they deserve. Because reputation is what drives students and attracts students to Australia and it is why we must safeguard and protect that reputation at all costs into the future,” he said.
It is also being seen as a crackdown on English colleges to prevent teachers from passing students with poor language skills.
At the moment there is no formal process to assess overseas students.
They can currently pass a course, either here or overseas, without proof and gain direct entry to university.
International Education Association of Australia chief executive Phil Honeywood said the change would ensure a quality education for international students.
“We’re going one more step to ensure that Australia is seen not just as a safe and affordable study destination, but as a destination that emphasises quality in everything we do,” he said.
There are some 600,000 international students in Australia. Many are from Asia, with upwards of 90,000 from China alone.
Federation of Chinese Associations of ACT’s Sam Wong felt there should not be sweeping changes to a $28-billion sector based on what he says is anecdotal evidence.
“I think it is a little bit overburdening for examination. They have good and competency in English before they enter their first year study of university.”

Business unveils radical planes to raise the status of vocational education

Australia’s tertiary education funding system is distorted, unfair, creates the wrong incentives and needs to be dramatically overhauled, Business Council of Australia CEO Jennifer Westacott will tell the National Press Club on Wednesday.

On the eve of the Turnbull government’s higher education funding reforms being debated in the Senate next week, Ms Westacott will release a BCA discussion paper that goes much further. She will urge root-and-branch reform that puts funding in the hands of consumers and corrects an imbalance that favours universities over TAFEs and vocational colleges.

In her speech Ms Westacott will call for the creation of a “single tertiary system with a reinvigorated VET [vocational education and training] sector as a cornerstone”.

The BCA proposes that every young person be given a capped “lifelong skills account” – effectively a tertiary education voucher – which is partly a government subsidy and partly an income contingent loan (such as the current HECS-HELP loan scheme) which the student can use to pick and choose their credentials from either the university or the vocational education system.

End the bias

Ms Westacott believes such a system would end the bias which encourages students to choose university education over vocational education. Universities are currently better subsidised, and better supported by government-provided student loans, than vocational education providers.

“Once and for all we need to fix this cultural bias, reinforced by a funding bias, that a VET qualification is a second-class qualification to a university one. It isn’t,” she will say.

She also believes the BCA’s plan will allow students to meet the need for continued study to keep pace with change, or make a career switch.

“The great feature of this scheme is Australians would be able to dip in and out of their account as required throughout their working life,” she will say.

Because higher education is mainly federally funded and vocational education is mainly funded by the states it will require a new national body – jointly run by the Commonwealth, the states and the territories – to manage the system.

‘Big reform is hard’

She will say that “big reform is hard” and that it will require compromise to achieve the outcome, as well as letting go “of rigid ideologies that are not serving us well, such as the view that more funding is always the solution”.

She believes the changes can be achieved within the current $20 billion total government budget for higher and vocational education.

Mr Westacott also plans to mount an impassioned defence of VET, which has been hurt by state government cuts.

“Not one dollar should be removed from VET until state and federal ministers work out what we are going to do with this important sector,” she will say.

The BCA has long taken a close interest in education policy, but for Ms Westacott the interest is personal because she was a less privileged child who made her way through education, her partner and her sister are both teachers, and she is a former head of the Victorian education department.

In her speech she will also propose a new platform to help people find jobs that suit them, with up-to-date information about the qualifications needed, tuition fee funding through subsidies and loans, a comparison of education providers and the likely income they will earn.

“This is an essential tool if the funding is in the hands of the consumer,” she will say.

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