Just what is happening?

VET – Breaking News

ACPET and the Industry were advised on Friday that Government will take responsibility for all tuition assurance matters in 2018. The 2018 interim arrangements will see the Department of Education and Training manage tuition assurance services for VET Student Loans. The Department also intends to extend these interim tuition assurance arrangements to grandfathered VET FEE-HELP students, VET providers (Fee For Service) and FEE-HELP students and providers in 2018.

As identified in the FAQs at www.education.gov.au/help-and-other-information
this in effect means that providers will be exempted from the requirement to hold tuition assurance in 2018 subject to some as yet unknown conditions.

This is obviously a considerable change. While we expect to help Government ensure that industry remains engaged in the design and implementation of such important arrangements, it also means that ACPET will be able to get back to its core.

In that regard, our Board has already firmly established our priorities

This will see ACPET driving:

  • Our industry certification scheme, that will recognises members who deliver the very highest standards and student outcomes
  • Lifting educational and ethical practice requirements and thereby ensuring our membership adheres to stringent ethical principles and are held to high quality standards
  • Comprehensively engaging across the sector, to ensure ACPET better understands and represents the views of members, and delivers highly valued services research
  • Providing tailored and targeted support to Australia’s tertiary education and training exports and transnational initiatives
  • Creating a policy and engagement platform that articulates the value and benefits of Australia’s tertiary education and training sector
  • Creating strategic partnerships that create opportunities for our members and supports the growth of the sector
  • Further to this, we have received a very clear message from our members that we need to strengthen our membership base and be confident in who we are representing.

With this in mind, I am pleased to advise that ACPET has significantly upped the ante and implemented more stringent tests for prospective members. The bar is much higher and together with our ‘associate membership’ period we look forward to working with the very best of private education.

Combined with our Industry Certification program, which is exclusive to members, we look forward to working with Australia’s best educators.

Higher Education

This week I would like to comment on some trends in the regulation of higher education. There has been some pretty interesting, and somewhat worrying commentary in the last week.

No, I don’t mean the reforms that are, or were, before the Senate.

I am referencing what appears to be a regulatory trend, particularly for private colleges.

But first, does the sector produce results?

A quick summary of the most recent ABS data:

  • Degree and above enrolments are 3-4 times that of Cert III/IV
  • Unemployment for those with a post school qualification is at least half that of those without (read that twice)
  • 2.8 million extra people (15-74 years) earnt a Cert III or above qualification over the last decade. The number with the highest being a Degree or above was up 1.67 million.

So, education really does matter! But now some of the worrying trends.

A report, Professional Accreditation: Mapping the Territory, has identified the costs of red tape. The Report says providers are “unanimous” in their concern about the escalating cost of course accreditation, particularly in the health professions where “direct and indirect costs risk becoming prohibitive”. The Report identifies that the burdens being placed are both onerous and extremely expensive.

Well I can say it has a far larger impact on our providers.

Universities are self-accrediting and therefore only need to seek accreditation from professional bodies.

Private colleges and private universities also must have their courses approved by the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA).

While the costs are an issue so too is the time to get all the approvals in place.

One does wonder how we can expect our higher education institutions to innovate, invest in technology and offer quality education at an affordable price.

This though is not the only issue impacting.

We well know what happened in VET FEE HELP. Enough said. I think we also recognise that the Minister had to make drastic changes as a result. While perhaps not agreeing with all of the changes, the Government did stop the bleeding.

However, perhaps on the principle of when you are onto a good thing stick to it, the same approach is now being taken to higher education. We are now seeing the legislation and rules put in place to address VET FEE-HELP concerns being rolled out across higher education.

My question here though is just what is the problem the Government is trying to fix? And will the raft of new legislative and other requirements really help or simply bog providers and regulators down in compliance?

I remain a fan of TEQSA and how it operates. However, the 2016/17 TEQSA Annual Report identifies some concerning trends that add weight to these concerns.

The report identifies that TEQSA undertook four compliance assessments on registered providers due to increased risk of non-compliance with the HES Framework or the National Code. This work included “very direct and rapid regulatory action regarding the Australian School of Management (ASM), which ultimately led to cancellation of its registration.”

I fear that the actions taken with this provider and the general concern about what happened in VFH is having a larger impact.

Let’s look at the numbers. The Report identifies that the medium number of days to make a decision on an assessment has blown out from 165 days in 2015/16 to 295 days in 2016/17 (almost a year), even though the volume was the same.

In terms of re-registrations, the percentage of decisions made within 6 months has suffered the same trend, declining from 41.2% in 2014/15 to 8% in 2016/17. Again, despite having the same number of providers in operation, the medium time to process these applications is now 377 days. New registrations are on a similar trend. Only 25% of accreditation decisions are being made within 6 months.


I do understand that TEQSA received a record number of new applications and that there were concerns of adding risk to the sector.

This we must support.

However, surely there must be a better way to manage the risks and assure improvements to standards than by adding such significant delays to processing times.

TEQSA, together with the industry has a shared interest in this agenda.

Yes, we in industry must take responsibility for delivering to the highest standards and having those results independently verified. However, the key is that by taking these steps how can we help TEQSA in the identification and management of risk and therefore help ensure good quality providers can keep delivering to their ever growing student cohorts.

I may be boring you but I am not finished.

TEQSA is the regulator – that is a good thing.

However, recent changes to the Higher Education Support Act, in particular, casts some doubt about roles. There appears to be a significant escalation of regulation through the legislation. Without, going into the detail, it is fair to say the approach taken to VET student Loans has been picked up and dropped on private higher education providers.

Again, why? What is the problem they are trying to fix?

My last point today goes to industry. Paul Oslington wrote a stinging piece in the Australian last week. It is well worth a read.

He very effectively laments on the significant conflicts of interest playing out in the design of the sector, and the impact this has – predominantly locking out genuine competitors and increasing regulation for those competitors alone.

The cost of this? Less student choice, less competition and diversity and higher costs for students.
In terms of my concerns identified above, he also points out that while the problems in VET are used against changes to allow private colleges to operate fairly in higher education, it actually has a very different market structure from VET and there is also a much stronger regulatory framework, with public universities and private institutions accredited according to the same standards by the same body. Additionally, there have been no signs of the wholesale predatory behaviours evident in VFH.

If you need any further convincing, look at the data in the QILT surveys.

High performance indeed.

Rod Camm
Chief Executive Officer

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