Defining Quality In Independent Tertiary Education

National Monday Update — 23 September 2019Troy Williams, ITECA Chief Executive

Australia’s independent tertiary education system has a track record of providing students and their employers with the quality outcomes they are looking for.  This is best demonstrated by the fact that more than 70% of the 4.1 million students in vocational education and training selected an independent provider, and close to 10% of the students in higher education also selected an independent provider.
The Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia (ITECA), with the great support of our members, has been working to build the reputation of the sector.  The effort has been considerable, working to create the regulatory environment that allows quality independent providers to develop innovative ways to support students whilst ensuring that minimum safeguards are in place.  The biggest challenge that ITECA and Government has faced has been in defining what quality looks like.
That said, it’s easy to say what quality isn’t when it comes to tertiary education.  The record $26.5 million penalty awarded against a rogue provider serves as a case study.  The Federal Court has handed down a decision that highlights the business model of this provider, developed under the VET FEE-HELP program, which showed little care for students and that has caused immense damage to the reputation of the sector.  
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) was right to take action and it is pleasing that an independent judicial process has identified the provider’s activities as having a callous indifference to students. ITECA supports strong and decisive action in these circumstances. 

At the time the VET FEE-HELP program existed, ITECA advised the Australian Government of our concerns with the architecture of the program.  Although the flexibility embedded by the program enabled many students gain valuable skills, it was also a program that was sadly exploited by some unscrupulous operators.  Since the program closed a lot has changed.
Of course, recent examples in South Australia and Victoria have demonstrated that difficulties exists across the public and independent sectors in achieving the quality that best serves students and their employers.  The reputation of the entire tertiary education system suffers when problems of this magnitude develop.  These issues, and the overriding concern for the good health and reputation of the sector, underpins ITECA’s focus on using the positive experience of our members to support government as it seeks to reform the current regulatory and funding landscape.
ITECA has been at the forefront of changes to support quality in the independent tertiary education system.  Our members played a key role in establishing the ITECA College of Vocational Education and Training Professionals that recognises the commitment of individual trainers, assessors and managers to quality.
Using the experience of our members, ITECA is actively engaged with the Australian Government to create a student-centric approach to regulation.  The Joyce Review into the vocational education and training system is one important part of this policy advocacy.
The biggest task that ITECA has, and a challenge before government, is to define what quality in tertiary education looks like.  Once we’ve done this, we can measure it and from there we can work with government to develop a co-regulatory model that protects students without creating mountains of red tape.

ITECA members are actively working to define quality across the independent tertiary education sector and it’s a great time to get involved in this work.
Troy Williams 
ITECA Chief Executive


Marshall Govt’s VET plan will privatise TAFE by stealth

The Marshall Government’s new VET plan shows it is determined to sell South Australia’s TAFE system to the highest bidder and allow private training providers to line their own pockets at the expense of TAFE students.

The plan will give profit-seeking private training providers access to TAFE SA sites at the same time that TAFE budgets in South Australia are being slashed.

AEU Federal President Correna Haythorpe warned other states and territories not to follow suit, saying it would severely impact the ability of Australians to access affordable, high-quality vocational education. She said it would leave hundreds of thousands of trainees and apprentices across Australia at the mercy of profit-seeking private training providers.

“The Marshall Government’s agenda on vocational education is clear. It plans to wash its hands of responsibility for VET by privatising TAFE SA and allowing private training providers to line their pockets at the expense of students,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“It’s clear that big business is aligning with Liberal governments at both a state and federal level in a push to squeeze TAFE out completely and hand responsibility for vocational education to private providers.”

“The private sector’s idea of VET-sector competition is to drive down costs and standards and drive the ‘competition’-that means TAFE-out of business. Then it can jack up prices and force students to pay through the nose,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“TAFE is one of the crown jewels of the Australian education system. It has proudly provided vocational education for generations of Australians in everything from plumbing to nursing, childcare and IT.”

“The Marshall Government’s plan is a poorly-disguised bid by private training providers to line their own pockets at the expense of TAFE by hiding behind words like ‘choice’ and competition’,” Ms Haythorpe said.

Ms Haythorpe said that the Marshall Government’s new plan was the culmination of a years-long campaign to slash budgets and government support for TAFE SA:

  • SA government-funded VET student numbers have reduced from 150,000 in 2013 to just 63,000 in 2017
  • The SA Government’s total recurrent VET funding contribution has been cut by 40% since 2013, with recurrent VET expenditure per person now the second lowest in the country (after NSW)
  • Thirteen TAFE SA campuses have closed and more than 700 jobs have been lost, while moreTAFE campuses were earmarked for closure in the 2018 state budget

Ms Haythorpe said the moves by the Marshall Government to marginalise TAFE SA and favour private training providers were reflected nationally.

“Despite the clear and undisputed benefits that a robustly funded and administered public TAFE and vocational education sector provides our economy and our society, there has been a concerted and continual drive from successive Coalition governments to marginalise vocational education and deprioritise TAFE,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“This anti-TAFE push is gathering speed. In its first Federal Budget the Morrison Government included no additional specified funding for TAFE-amazingly, it failed to mention TAFE at all.”

“History has shown that private providers aren’t interested in quality education. ITECA represents profit-seeking private education providers and is focused on taking government TAFE funding and giving it to private providers,” Ms Haythorpe said.

Ms Haythorpe said that TAFE must remain a strong public provider of vocational education in Australia. She called upon the Morrison Government to:

  • Guarantee a minimum of 70% government funding to the public TAFE system. In addition, no public funding should go to private for-profit providers, consistent with other education sectors.
  • Restore funding and rebuild the TAFE system, to restore confidence in the quality of the courses and qualifications and the institution.
  • Abandon the failed student loans experiment, and cancel the debts of all students caught up in private for-profit provider scams.
  • Re-invest in the TAFE teaching workforce and develop a future-focused TAFE workforce development strategy in collaboration with the profession and unions.
  • Develop a capital investment strategy in consultation with state governments, to address the deplorable state of TAFE facilities around the country.
  • Support a comprehensive independent inquiry into TAFE.

“Any proposal which undermines the importance of the Commonwealth and state and territory governments working together to build a strong, vibrant, fully funded public TAFE will be fiercely opposed by the AEU,” Ms Haythorpe said.

/Public Release. View in full here.

Australia’s VET system set to shape our future workforce

The Morrison Government’s renewed commitment to the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector will make it central to shaping Australia’s workforce for the future.

Speaking at the 28th National Vocational Education and Training Research Conference today, Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business, Senator Michaelia Cash, said she would lift the profile of Australia’s VET sector and aim to make it the first choice in post-school learning for millions of Australians.

“It is a valuable career choice for many Australians and should not be seen as being something less important than a university degree,” Minister Cash said.

More than 4 million people undertook vocational education and training in 2017. At the end of last year, there were more than a quarter of a million apprentices and trainees.

“We know that people with VET qualifications are highly regarded and sought after by employers, but we need more people to choose VET as their path to success,” Minister Cash said.

“The Morrison Government already has in place a number of programs and tools designed to increase the profile of the sector and encourage more Australians to choose a VET qualification.

“These programs will be especially important because, as our economy evolves and our workforce changes, VET will be the way we train and re-train the workforce of the future.

Minister Cash also delivered a message to education providers of the VET sector that more cooperation with industry was required to create better outcomes for students.

“Employers look to vocationally trained workers because of their suitability in skills and experience. Australia’s VET system must better connect with industry, respond to community needs, and have clear, consistent funding.

And with the growth in the VET sector, Minister Cash said there was always room for improvements.

“The sector still bears some of the scars of Labor’s mismanagement of bad student loans, underfunded courses, quality issues and the diminishing of TAFE.

“It is this Government’s promise to continue the hard work of reforming the sector, providing better quality courses, and better outcomes for trainees and employers.”

The Australian Government’s $525 million Delivering Skills for Today and Tomorrow package announced in the April Budget will also ensure that the sector can help supply Australia’s future workforce.

The package provides every Australian with the opportunity to grow the skills needed to succeed in an evolving workforce and, concurrently offers employers a pipeline of qualified workers they need to grow and prosper.

Minister Cash said the package reflects the Morrison Government’s commitment to growing the number of new apprenticeships.

“Under our landmark skills package, up to 80,000 additional apprenticeships will be created over the next five years in priority skill shortage areas, assisted by new apprenticeship incentives. Youth unemployment will be targeted with an offering of 400 scholarships in regional Australia to the value of $8 million.

“The Government is committed to creating more than 1.25 million jobs over the next five years and I’m confident that more and more of the people filling these positions will be coming to employers through the VET system,” Minister Cash said.

/Public Release. View in full here.

Minister praises vocational study over uni

Michaelia Cash
Minister Michaelia Cash hopes to raise the profile of the vocational education and training sector. (AAP)

Skills and Employment Minister Michaelia Cash wants Australian students to choose vocational training over university study when they finish school.

The federal government hopes Australian students will put their hands up for vocational education over university study.

Skills Minister Michaelia Cash will on Thursday address the vocational education and training sector at a conference in Adelaide, outlining the Morrison government’s aims for the field.

Senator Cash hopes to raise the profile of the sector to ensure it’s the first pick for students choosing their next steps after high school.

“It is a valuable career choice for many Australians and should not be seen as being something less important than a university degree,” she will say.

“We know that people with VET qualifications are highly regarded and sought after by employers, but we need more people to choose VET as their path to success.”

Senator Cash will also urge education providers to work closer with industry to ensure students receive better training.

“Employers look to vocationally trained workers because of their suitability in skills and experience,” she will say.

“Australia’s VET system must better connect with industry, respond to community needs and have clear, consistent funding.”

There were more than 250,000 apprentices and trainees at the end of last year, while more than four million Australians undertook vocational education and training in 2017.

Under the Morrison government’s $525 million plan, up to 80,000 extra apprenticeships will be created over the next five years in areas with skills shortages.

Youth unemployment in regional Australia will also be combated, with 400 scholarships on offer to the value of $8 million.

VDC News-Rethinking Australian tertiary education?


July – Dec 2019 VDC Professional Learning Program Now Released

The July – Dec 2019 VDC Professional Learning Program is offering an extensive range of continuous PD opportunities for the VET workforce through one hour webinars, half and full day workshops as well as a range of special events. Enhanced workbook resources are also provided for all workshops. The July to December program is now live at VDC 2019 Professional Learning Program or for further information visit VDC website.

Martin Powell
Martin Powell
Chief Executive Officer, VDC

The 2019-20 Victorian Budget: What’s in it for VET?

The Victorian state budget was released on 27 May. The big winner is TAFE.

Here is what the budget has in store for vocational education in Victoria over the next year.

Rebuilding TAFE

[Read More]

Higher apprenticeships: a never-ending story?

Guess what’s back? NCVER released their long-awaited paper on Higher Apprenticeships in early April this year.There are a range of perspectives about them amongst stakeholders. Some hold traditional views about apprenticeships, while others have a broader perspective on how they could be modified and expanded.

[Read More]

Rethinking Australian tertiary education?

Following the federal coalition government’s re-election maybe it’s time to make some important decisions about the future of tertiary education?

That’s what is being proposed in the most recent publication from Victoria University’s Mitchell Institute anyway.

[Read More]

New shadow ministry announced

In case you missed it federal portfolio responsibility for VET has switched from the Department of Education to the new Department of Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business.  Meanwhile, Tanya Plibersek, has retained the education and training portfolio in the new shadow frontbench line-up. In the outer shadow ministry, Graham Perrett was appointed Shadow Assistant […]

[Read More]

One more technical institute in Australia with hundreds of Nepali students faces deregistration

Many vocational and training institutes in Australia are facing regulatory actions for failing to meet quality.

Yet another wing of the Australia Institute of Business and Technology with hundreds of Nepali students has been deregistered by the country’s regulator for the vocational and training sector for failing to meet the admission compliances.

The Australian Skills Quality and Authority (ASQA), the regulatory body, which had deregistered AIBT in February, now has taken similar action against its international wing—the AIBT-International.

The institute, along with two other vocational and training institutes—NSW Business College and Zarah Institute of Education—faced the action with effect from June 19. The business college and Zarah institute have few Nepali students, but a majority of around 1,200 students at the AIBT-International are Nepalis. The regulatory body said the institutes were deregistered as they were found not to be abiding by the existing education rules.

The AIBT has been running two institutes targeting international students, mostly Nepalis, where students were enrolled in diploma courses on nursing, IT, community service and accounting.

“We are in a dilemma. The college has asked us to continue classes but we are worried about our future,” an IT student from the institute told the Post requesting not to disclose the identity because he feared action from the college administration.

In recent times, many vocational and training institutes (VET) in Australia are facing actions from the regulatory agencies for failing to meet quality and to demonstrate fair marketing practices.

Representatives of the Council of International Students Australia, an organisation of international students in the country, say some 200 such training institutes faced actions in the past year.

However, unlike AIBT, others have very few Nepali students.“Hundreds of international students including from Nepal are going through a tough time following the ASQA’s action,” Bijay Sapkota, president of the council, told the Post. “We are taking some legal steps to seek a permanent solution to this problem.”

The AIBT authorities told the Post that there was no need for the students to worry as they have already taken legal steps against the ASQA’s decision.Every institute can seek a review of the decision from the regulatory body.

The Administrative Appeals Tribunal has been set up to hear such cases, but the AIBT has directly filed a case at the Federal Court of Australia, which is the superior court of record and a court of law and equity of the country, calling for declaring the decision invalid and directing the regulatory body to revoke its decision.

“The court hearing is likely early this month. By then, we hope that we can deliver good news to our stakeholders and valued students,” Fiona Kee, head of compliance at the AIBT, told the Post in an email interview.

The representatives of the education consultancies also say students don’t need to worry even if the institutes are closed, as their credit transfer and fee protection will be taken care of.

“The students should not stop attending classes as long as the institutes function,” said Rajendra Rijal, vice-president of the Education Consultancy Association Nepal, an umbrella body of the country’s educational consultancies.The incidents of Nepali students getting in trouble at their foreign academic destinations, mostly in Australia, are increasing as their numbers have gone up significantly in recent years.

Records at the Ministry of Education show only 16,504 students had acquired ‘No Objection Certification’ letters, which are required to study abroad, in the fiscal year 2013-14.The number increased fivefold last fiscal, with 62,800 students acquiring the certificate to study in 72 countries.Among them, some 32,200 students got the certificate to study in Australia.Nepal is currently the third largest contributor of international students to Australia. Rijal said the Australian authorities have started saying that this is not an “organic” growth.

“I think the time has come for us to reconsider before sending students for the VET programmes,” Rijal told the Post.

“The Australian authorities also have started tightening visas for such programmes,” he said. “Visa rejection for such programmes is around 70 percent at present.”