ASQA marks Diploma of Early Childhood for scrutiny in revised VET regulatory strategy

The Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) has released its latest regulatory strategy this morning, setting out the agency’s priorities to 2021.

Early childhood education and care (ECEC) has been identified as a key area of focus for the agency, with ASQA Chief Commissioner and CEO, Mark Paterson AO, saying the new strategy advises how regulatory activity will “remain focused on responding to the most significant risks in a sector largely made up of quality providers.”

The strategy makes specific mention of the early childhood education and care sector, noting “ongoing concerns about early childhood care and education qualifications, including training and assessment practices, poor work placement management and a lack of confidence in the job readiness of graduates.” ASQA used the statement to assert that it will “continue to monitor providers delivering CHC50113 Diploma of Early Childhood Education and Care.

Using key target areas and strategic initiatives, the Regulatory Strategy will continue the work identified in previous years to address key systemic challenges in the VET and CRICOS sectors, including in trainer and assessor capability, protecting Australia’s quality international education and training, and strengthening registration requirements.

The latest regulatory strategy seeks to inform providers and the broader VET community “of where we are seeing evidence of risk to our sector, and where we will subsequently apply greater regulatory focus.” Mr Patterson said.

Target area 1: Trainer and assessor capability

Trainer and assessor capability has been identified as a critical concern for the VET sector in three consecutive regulatory strategies—2016–17, 2017–18 and 2018–20.

Trainer and assessor capability continues to be raised by stakeholders as a systemic issue, ASQA said, and will remain a target area in 2019–21.

When seeking feedback in relation to this issue, stakeholders shared with ASQA issues relating to both a shortage in supply of appropriately skilled trainers and assessors, and the need to upgrade the knowledge, skills and industry currency of the current workforce.

ASQA said they will continue the work it has been doing to encourage compliance in the delivery of the TAE training package and provide guidance to providers.

Target area 2: VET in schools

In the last two decades, the number and proportion of students undertaking VET while enrolled in secondary school has increased significantly.

In recent years, the closure of several providers with large numbers of VET in schools enrolments has highlighted key risks in relation to VET delivered in schools, including:

  • the provision of accurate information to support students in making an informed decision to enrol in a VET program
  • ensuring teachers/trainers and assessors delivering the program are appropriately qualified
  • alignment between training and assessment delivery and the requirements of the relevant training package
  • availability of sufficient learning and assessment resources to support students
  • timely certification of students on completion of their training
  • adequacy of partnering arrangements.

In response, as part of the regulatory strategy, ASQA will write to the relevant education and training authorities in state and territory governments to provide advice about the risks identified through recent regulatory activity concerning VET in schools.

ASQA will also, in consultation with other regulators and all state and territory governments;

  • undertake a scoping study to further clarify the key risks associated with VET delivered in secondary schools, and understand how these risks interact with the delivery models in each jurisdiction
  • research the delivery and quality assurance of VET for secondary school students in other countries
  • analyse the findings of existing research and reviews
  • provide further advice to all state and territory Ministers with responsibilities for education and training concerning the risks identified through recent audits of RTOs delivering VET in secondary schools
  • consider whether a regulatory response and/or further work is required, including a potential strategic review into VET delivered in secondary schools.

Standards of concern

ASQA identifies the clauses in the Standards for which VET providers are most likely to be at risk of non compliance, by analysing both non-compliance identified through reports about providers and non-compliances found at audit.

In 2019, ASQA identified the following clauses of concern in the Standards for RTOs, which will be used, as part of the strategy, to assess the risk associated with individual providers,  prioritise the direction of their regulatory activities, and contribute to the information shared with providers (including in annual provider briefings):

  • 1.8 implement effective assessment systems
  • 1.1 have appropriate training and assessment strategies and practices, including amount of Train
  • 1.2 appropriate amount of training is provided, taking account of the skills, knowledge and experience of the learner and mode of delivery
  • 3.1 AQF certification is issued only where the learner has been assessed as meeting training product requirements
  • 1.3 have the resources to provide quality training and assessment – this includes sufficient trainers and assessors, learning resources, support services, equipment and facilities.

Mr Patterson highlighted misconceptions existing in the broader community in relation to ASQA imposing regulatory sanctions for minor administrative or technical non-compliance issues, saying “all of ASQA’s regulatory activity, including audits, investigations and reviews of specific training areas or products is informed by our assessment of risk that RTOs or potential RTOs represent.”

Mr Patterson emphasised that ASQA “does not conduct regulatory activity unless we have determined a potential threat to quality.”

In light of recent concerns in relation to how International students completing VET in Australia are educated, ASQA noted that work will continue to monitor the capacity of trainers and assessors, and implement the recommendations of ASQA’s recent strategic review into international education.

The strategy also sets out the second phase of the ‘Recognising and supporting quality initiative’, which seeks to improve how quality VET delivery is recognised and support providers through enhanced engagement and advice.

To review the regulatory strategy in full, please visit the ASQA website.


TDA Newsletter – TAFE Queensland reviewer, Michael Roche, dies suddenly

In this edition

  • The Yin and Yang of international VET – comment by CEO Craig Robertson
  • New federal skills minister outlines his VET reform plans
  • Backbench coalition MP unloads on ASQA
  • Search commences for new skills commission chief
  • ASQA invites input to annual training provider survey
  • TAFE Queensland reviewer, Michael Roche, dies suddenly
  • Diary

The Yin and Yang of international VET – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

ASQA released a very important report this past week, but it seems other matters were occupying the mind of Ministers.

The strategic review of international education in VET[1] and its recommendations may appear unremarkable but data from the report itself and elsewhere suggests it is critical and must be handled urgently. We are still waiting for ministers to respond to ASQA’s recommendations to abate unduly short courses following consultations in early 2018, so my hope could be misplaced.

When we think of international education we are drawn to headline figures – Australia’s third largest export and over $34bn in revenue.

But it’s also full of hyperbole, sophistry and danger.

As new minister, Dan Tehan in October last year in his first speech on international education claimed mutual trade benefit with the countries from which our international students flowed, only to then spend the rest of the speech crowing the benefits to Australia.

Treasurer Frydenberg’s promises of surpluses built off the back of robust economic activity rely largely on continued growth in international students and other temporary entrants. While capping permanent migration to argue congestion busting, targets for international students were increased. Apparently they mustn’t congest.

In figures released coincidentally this past week, the ongoing growth in international enrolments is spectacular, including for VET.

International Student Enrolments by Sector
Source: Department of Education

At a time when the VET sector is chasing stability and balance across most aspects of its operation – the figures appear encouraging but hide some imbalances. Balance and harmony – a recognition of the Yin and Yang of things – are hard to find when it comes to international VET.

For VET student growth, the Yin of international student enrolments growing at around 15 per cent per annum over the past three years far from balances with the Yang of domestic enrolments, which continue to decline.

When it comes to VET providers, the Yin is represented by 94 per cent of students at private vocational colleges while the Yang has just 6 per cent of students enrolled in TAFEs.

For Yin, over 70 per cent of students prefer business and general training, when Yang expects enrolments across the broad portfolio of VET courses. Yin also struggles to have students meet their minimum 20-hour per week attendance requirements.

When it comes to its older cousin, the tables are turned. The publicly inclined Yang has the far greater proportion of enrolments, unhealthily so. Oddly enough, most are in general studies similar to the Yin of its younger cousin.

For the little cousin, over two-thirds of enrolments are sourced from temporary entrants already in in Australia. For the older cousin most international students come to Australia intent on studying. Is the Yin of the younger cousin simply a convenient way to stay and work in Australia?

Confusing?  Maybe. One thing that is clear though is the Yin and Yang are out of kilter.

For the younger cousin, it’s eerily similar to the situation in 2009. For those new to international education this was the time that favourable residency conditions created a boom in private colleges offering commercial cookery and hairdresser training, only to come tumbling down when student exploitation was exposed coinciding with the tragic death of several students.

International education should be more than a quick source of cash. It’s a path for diplomatic relations and economic collaboration. I must say, though, that every time we at TDA are consulted from the Council for International Education the conversation ultimately, and too quick for comfort, turns to benefit for Australia.

The task for TAFEs and TDA is to demonstrate the benefits of international education for students, institutions, the countries to which they will return, fuelled by deep friendships stretching across the globe. TDA operates a network of TAFE leaders engaged in these matters and seeks to demonstrate the power of TAFEs working together. This theme is being explored in the TDA convention in September in Brisbane, not only on International Education but other important matters for TAFE, such as teaching and learning, regulation and quality and higher education.

ASQA, in a measured way, is suggesting action now to avoid 2009 which entrenched views in other countries that we are often no better than education mercenaries. Other commentary pointing to dissatisfaction with the actions of ASQA in upholding the integrity of the sector shouldn’t distract from responding to this report, otherwise the whole sector sinks one step lower in its global standing.

Dan Tehan and Michaelia Cash may be the power team of tertiary education here in Australia but when it comes to the administrative orders the buck stops with Tehan on International education. Tehan carries ultimate accountability but Cash is responsible for oversight of ASQA and the carriage of the recommendations ASQA is proposing. That will test their Yin and Yang.

New federal skills minister outlines his VET reform plans

Australia’s new skills minister has committed to sweeping reforms to the VET system in the wake of the Joyce review, with a strong focus on industry engagement.

In his first major address since taking the portfolio, the Assistant Minister for Vocational Education, Training and Apprenticeships, Steve Irons (pictured) has highlighted the central place of VET reform in the government’s policy agenda. 

“This government is really keen to make sure we get this right.

“We’re not going to rush to failure – we’re going to make sure the community and industry gets involved as we make the changes,” he told the National Apprentice Employment Network conference in Queensland on Friday.

The former electrical apprentice revealed the role of his “good mate” and former Canberra housemate, Prime Minister Scott Morrison in pushing for a fresh look at the sector.

“He’s really focused on the education of apprentices.

“He picked me because he said ‘You’ve been there, you’ve done it, you know how to do it and you’ve run a small business’.”

“He’s focussed and he wants me to get the job done and to make sure we do it with an industry focus,” he said.

“Personally, I’ve looked at it over the last 30 years and I think the sector’s been captured a bit by trainers, educators and academics, and I think that, going forward, changes need to be made with industry-based support.”

He said that the implementation of the Joyce review recommendations would be based around industry engagement.

As an example, he cited Holmesglen’s Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) Centre of Excellence, established in partnership with the Air Conditioning and Mechanical Contractors’ Association (AMCA).

“They’ve put in equipment which is current, not 30 years old, and they’re putting in training programs which are actually happening in buildings today, not 30 years ago.”

He said that during his time in parliament, he’d seen many governments “over-reach” with reforms not supported by industry that needed to be wound back.

He urged steps to get into schools earlier – around Years 8 and 9 – to build greater awareness of vocational choices.

“I think the department, after the meeting we had during the week, have got that message and I think they’re doing a great job and trying to create some packages that will get into schools,” he said.

He also called for  harmonisation of curriculums and licensing across the states and territories, urging “a national curriculum with national licensing to give people portability across the whole of Australia with their vocational licensing or skill sets”.

Backbench coalition MP unloads on ASQA

The chair of a federal parliamentary committee has launched an extraordinary attack on the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA), claiming its audit activity is being misused to damage and, ultimately, wipe out some private training colleges.

Queensland Coalition backbencher Andrew Laming (pictured) told parliament his “nationwide investigation” of ASQA has revealed “aggressive and adversarial conduct” toward private RTOs, forcing many to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) over trivial matters.

“It appears to me ASQA is increasingly using the AAT as a vehicle for extinguishing RTOs simply by legal cost, reputational damage and delay,” he said.

He cited several cases where the evidence he had to hand appeared to be over-reach by ASQA.  TAFEs, he said, had the opportunity to “shuffle things between units, close a module down and shift students across to something else”.

Mr Laming chairs the House of Representatives Employment, Education and Training Committee.

Craig Robertson, CEO of TDA said that the claims by Mr Laming should have the opportunity to be verified and recommended dialogue with ASQA.

Don’t forget to register

Register here.

Search commences for new skills commission chief

The federal government has commenced the search for its new National Skills Commissioner who will lead the mega agency that will oversee the country’s VET sector.

Advertising has started for the “Interim Commissioner” who will oversee consultations, design and the initial work ahead of deciding the role and functions of the National Skills Commission (NSC), which will need to be legislated.

The government committed $48 million in the last Budget to creating the new national body, as recommended by the Joyce Review of VET.

The contender will require “senior level experience in government or the private sector, together with an impressive record of success in organisational leadership and innovation.”

The initial engagement is for approximately one year, with a “substantial remuneration package” and flexible location.

Applications close August 18.

Selection documentation and further information is available through Ian Hansen and Associates: email:; or phone: Ian Hansen 0408 306 769.

Mixed signals confounding the VET sector, says Stephen Joyce

The author of the federal government’s VET reform blueprint, Stephen Joyce, says “confusing signals” coming from the sector were contributing to the lack of confidence on the part of employers and governments.

He told the National Apprentice Employment Network conference in Queensland last week that Australia was experiencing high employment growth and skill shortages, but also declining VET enrolments.

“We’re also seeing declines in government funding, both at the state and Commonwealth level, particularly at the state level.

“On the other hand, employment outcomes from vocational education are positive, yet employer satisfaction with vocational education is dropping, so there are some confusing signals being sent from the market about where we are at with vocational education,” he said.

“Meanwhile universities continue to grow, they continue to take on more students.

“And with the school leaving age being lifted, more students are staying at school, so not surprisingly, TAFEs and other providers are finding less enrolments because they are being squeezed at both ends.”

The lack of confidence was apparent among employers, RTOs and “funders”, he said.

“If governments were confident in the outcome of the VET sector generally they’d be investing more in it, but they’re not.”

ASQA invites input to annual training provider survey

ASQA is currently running its annual provider survey which allows RTOs, CRICOS providers and course owners to have their say about how the national regulator performs its functions.

The survey is closing shortly – midnight tomorrow.

This year, the survey also provides the opportunity to give feedback on the audit experience.

See here for more information.

TAFE Queensland reviewer, Michael Roche, dies suddenly

The chair of a landmark review into the operations of TAFE Queensland, Michael Roche, died suddenly last week.

Mr Roche, 64, was the former CEO of the Queensland Resources Council.

He chaired the 2012 Queensland Skills and Training Taskforce which recommended extensive restructuring of campuses and a more commercial focus by TAFE Queensland.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said Mr Roche contributed to many of the economic reforms that Queenslanders today take for granted.

TDA extends its condolences to Michael’s family and colleagues.

Diary Dates

QLD School VET Conference
Velg Training
9 August 2019
Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre, Brisbane
More Information

VTA 2019 State Conference 
15 – 16 August 2019
RACV City Club, 501 Bourke Street, Melbourne
More information

National Manufacturing Summit
21 & 22 August 2019
More information

National Skills Week
26 August – 1 September 2019
Locations around Australia
More information

TAFE Directors Australia 2019 Convention
‘The Power of TAFE’
3 – 5 September 2019
More information

2019 National VET Conference
Velg Training
12 &13 September 2019
Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre, Brisbane
More Information

Community Colleges Australia 2019 Annual Conference
18-20 November 2019
The Stamford Plaza Hotel, Brisbane
More Information

Australian Training Awards
21 November 2019
Brisbane, Queensland
More information

Australian Council of Deans of Education Vocational Education Group
5th Annual Conference on VET Teaching and VET Teacher Education
9-10 December 2019
Charles Sturt University Wagga Wagga Campus
More information


Regulator: International students “vulnerable” to dodgy agents

Yesterday, the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) released its strategic review into international education, entitled Protecting the quality of international VET and English language education, which documents the explosive growth in international student enrolments along with a number of shortcomings in the tertiary education system.

First, the report notes the explosive growth in international students numbers across the various tertiary sectors, which has been concentrated in Sydney and Melbourne:

In 2018, there were more than 875,000 enrolments generated by almost 700,000 full-fee paying overseas students in Australia, across all education sectors. This represents a 10 per cent increase on 2017 and compares with an average annual enrolment growth rate of almost 11 per cent annually over the preceding five years. The majority of overseas students were enrolled in higher education courses, with China and India the top two source countries.

Overseas student growth has been strongest in the higher education and VET sectors in recent years, as shown by Figure 5. The largest volume of enrolments and commencements in 2018 were in higher education (45 per cent and 34 per cent, respectively) followed by VET (30 per cent and 30 per cent), ELICOS (18 per cent and 24 per cent) and the non-award sector (six per cent and eight per cent)…

The distribution of overseas students, and resulting economic activity, is concentrated in New South Wales which recorded 38 per cent of enrolments, followed by Victoria with 32 per cent… In 2018, 97 per cent of overseas students studied in a major city with the majority of these students studying in Sydney and Melbourne…

The fastest growing market for VET in 2018 was Nepal, with a 108 per cent growth rate from 2017. Myanmar was the next fastest growing market with a 58 per cent growth rate, followed by Mongolia (52 per cent) and Sri Lanka (50 per cent). Figure 7 shows the fastest growing source countries for the VET sector in 2018…

As shown above, growth in the VET sector has been driven by Nepal, who are also Australia’s third biggest international student source and the fastest growing, according to the Department of Home Affairs:

Inside Story’s economics correspondent, Tim Colebatch, recently warned that the flood of lower quality Nepalese students into Australia is degrading education standards:

…one source stands out: the little Himalayan country of Nepal, just thirty million people, living in one of Asia’s poorest countries.

In 2017–18, one in every 1500 inhabitants of Nepal emigrated to Australia. In an era of strict immigration controls, that is an astonishing number for two countries so far apart, with no common language, heritage or ethnicity.

Over the five years to mid 2018, one in every 500 Nepalis emigrated to Australia — and that’s in net terms, after deducting those who returned. In 2017–18, little Nepal became Australia’s third largest source of migrants after India and China…

Deregulation has allowed universities to selectively lower their standards to bring in more fee-paying foreign students, even when they fail to meet the thresholds for English language skills or academic achievement…

This is not the first time immigration from Nepal has surged. A decade ago, we saw a scam with training visas, in which “students” from India and Nepal came for training courses in Australia, then quickly vanished into the workforce. The scam saw net immigration set record levels in 2008–09, before then immigration minister Chris Evans shut it down. But most of those who came stayed on here.

At the current pace of immigration, Australia will soon have more residents born in Nepal than in Greece.

Next, the ASQA report warns that international students are especially vulnerable to “being misinformed, misled and, in the worst circumstances, open to exploitation” by dodgy and unregulated education agents, who accounted for around three-quarters of international student enrolments in 2017:

Education agents are an integral part of Australia’s overseas education sector. They represent education providers to students and advise prospective students on courses of study available to them in all education sectors.

There is no legal requirement under Australian law for providers or overseas students to engage an agent, but most do—agents facilitated almost 74 per cent of the total overseas student enrolments in 2017..

ASQA does not regulate migration agents or education agents. Unlike migration agents (onshore), education agents are a non-regulated sector and there are no official registration processes for becoming an education agent…

The drivers of this student demand are complex and relate to a range of interrelated factors, including the ability to work in Australia while undertaking study and post-graduation. Australia’s post-study work rights, and its work-rights settings, remain competitive.

The desire to pursue paid employment opportunities, even in breach of their visa conditions, is likely to motivate some students and introduces the risk that some providers and agents will seek to exploit this demand and recruit these overseas students using misleading and unethical practices.

Overseas students rely heavily on the assistance of education agents when making decisions and can lack reliable information to hold their providers and education agents to account. This dependence makes overseas students vulnerable to being misinformed, misled and, in the worst circumstances, open to exploitation by their providers, education agents and other third parties, such as employers.

… there are ongoing concerns expressed by some stakeholders and commentators about the quality and integrity of VET and ELICOS courses, especially where students are not properly engaged and participating in their study.

Many of these concerns centre on the potential for collusive activity between some providers, education agents and those students who seek to enter Australia for paid employment, rather than to engage in study. These practices can be difficult for regulators to detect, given that the parties involved are unlikely to make complaints to the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) or other government agencies…

Many education agents operate from foreign countries. There is no government regulatory oversight of education agents, and the quality of the services provided by agents is reliant on individual providers systematically monitoring the practices of their agents. This lack of oversight can make overseas students vulnerable to poor practices, including misleading marketing and advertising, by providers and agents that deliberately evade their obligations.

Some overseas students may also come under financial pressure once they are in Australia and find themselves in situations where they work more hours than they are entitled to under their student visa conditions. All overseas students who breach their student visa conditions, regardless of their intentions or motivations, can find themselves open to exploitation by unscrupulous providers, agents and employers…

It is these persistent concerns that led ASQA to identify delivery of VET and ELICOS courses to international students as a systemic risk…

There are risk factors specific to the overseas student sector, particularly in the VET sector, that can lead to poor provider behaviour. While many providers may display these risk factors and still operate effectively and reputably, ASQA did find that some providers deliberately avoid compliance and adopt poor practices…

ASQA also singled-out “ghost colleges” that enrol overseas students but do not ­require class attendance:

Regulatory activities conducted on some providers as part of the strategic review, and in ASQA’s wider regulatory work, identified one particular concern relating to overseas student class attendance. Investigation of this issue has found several instances of providers who are not requiring overseas students to attend scheduled classes, but who are still determining that these students are progressing in their course.

Overseas students are required to be enrolled in a full-time registered course to meet the study requirements of the student visa program…

Finally, ASQA indentified instances of institutions recruiting students with poor English proficiency in order to boost student numbers and revenue:

In conducting its regulatory activities, ASQA found instances of students who were enrolled in VET courses where their English language capabilities were limited.

In one example, the student, who was interviewed during a site visit of a provider, had to use non-verbal gestures to articulate basic statements and requested others to translate so the student could respond to questions. In this example, the student had been enrolled in a business qualification for more than 12 months, having been accepted with an English test type of ‘other form of testing which satisfies the institution’. It is clear this student did not have an appropriate level of English language capability either on enrolment or developed during study…

While the obligations are on the provider to ensure students have a sufficient level of English to complete the course they seek to enrol in, there is an opportunity for poor-quality providers to overlook limited English capability when enrolling a student to maximise their student enrolments inappropriately.

While ASQA claims the international student industry is operating reasonably well overall, these are definite holes in the system in dire need of improvement.


ASQA Gets Whacked In Parliament

Summary —

The regulator for the vocational education and training (VET) sector, the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA), has been criticised by Andrew Laming MP for its approach to regulatory compliance that appears to be less focussed on protecting students and more on being critical of minor compliance issues.

Key Issues —

In parliament on 31 July 2019, Mr Andrew Laming MP, made a speech that canvassed the experience of many providers in dealing with ASQA. It highlighted how award-winning RTOs are being accused of failing to meet regulatory standards for minor technical breaches of the legislation or on matters that have no bearing on student quality such as the colour of a logo on a website.

The Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia (ITECA) has been in regular contact with Mr Laming in the past weeks. Indeed, the ITECA Chair and ITECA Chief Executive meet with Mr Laming in his parliamentary office in the days before the speech.

ITECA encourages all with an interest in the challenges facing quality RTO’s to listen to the speech. It was made in parliament on 31 July 2019 and can be found online at:

The experience of many ITECA members can be found in Mr Laming’s comments. He’s drawn attention to how ASQA’s approach keeps good people running quality RTOs up at night.

Mr Laming’s speech highlighted how many quality RTO’s face the wrath of ASQA for compliance issues that have little to no outcome on the provision of quality providing of training to students.

First elected to the seat of Bowman in 2004, Mr Laming is the current Chair of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training. Those interested in meeting Mr Laming should attend the ITEC19 Conference over 21-23 August 2019 on the Gold Coast as Mr Laming will be coming to listen to the views of ITECA members. For more information on the conference visit:

The work of ASQA was considered in the report Strengthening Skills: Expert Review of Australia’s Vocational Education and Training System authored by Mr Stephen Joyce and commissioned by the Australian Government. ITECA believes this report sets a roadmap for reform that will help quality RTOs.

ITECA has listened to its members and formed the view that the VET sector is supportive of the board direction set out in the Joyce report. ITECA has been engaged at a Ministerial and departmental level to assist the government develop an appropriate response.

Member Engagement:

ITECA’s ability to play a lead role in matters associated with this issue rests on the advice and guidance of individuals serving on the ITECA Vocational Education Reference Committee.

Further Information:

For more information on this issue please send an email to or telephone 1300 421 017.  Stay up to date via Twitter @ITECAust or via Facebook at


Strategic review into international education published

31 July 2019

A growing number of overseas students are coming to Australia for vocational education and training (VET) and the national regulator is committed to ensuring quality learning experiences.

The Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) report on its strategic review into international education finds that overseas students have good experiences studying in Australia, however work is needed to ensure this continues to be the case.

ASQA’s Chief Commissioner and CEO, Mark Paterson AO, said strong demand from overseas students has seen an increase in the number of registered providers delivering VET courses to overseas students and offering English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students (ELICOS), or delivering training offshore.

“Our latest report is a comprehensive response to risks identified in Australia’s international VET and English language education markets,” Mr Paterson explained.

“We have found that a very high number of overseas students are satisfied with their experience gaining qualifications in Australia, so we can be confident that the majority of providers are delivering quality training.

“However more work is needed to make sure providers meet their obligations, and to ensure we have the right data to monitor activity and eliminate poor behaviour.

“We are committed to working in partnership with other government and industry bodies and the regulated community to address the complex and dynamic issues facing this growing sector.”

The report contains evidence that some VET providers are not meeting their obligations to ensure overseas students receive accurate information about their courses, meet the prerequisites for courses and participate in a minimum of 20 contact hours per week. It warns that providers failing to meet these obligations can cause significant harm to overseas students, undermine the community’s confidence in the VET sector and the student visa program, and impact providers that deliver quality VET courses.

The report’s recommendations include amending the National Code to make it explicit that overseas students are required to attend courses on a full-time basis, strengthening collaboration across agencies to ensure consistent access to data and intelligence and ensuring offshore students have the same protections as students in Australia.

ASQA will publish clear information for providers about expectations for delivering training to overseas students and continue work to identify and take action against providers not complying with their obligations.

The findings of the report will inform ASQA’s ongoing risk-based regulatory focus.

The full report, Protecting the quality of international VET and English language education, is available via the link below:


TDA News- VET funding stagnates, new report shows

In this edition

  • Let’s chase value  – comment by CEO Craig Robertson
  •  Apprentice and trainee completions headed in the wrong direction
  • VET funding stagnates, new report shows
  • TasTAFE’s registration renewed for seven years
  • Wodonga TAFE appoints new CEO
  • TAFE NSW awards celebrate Indigenous achievement
  • Swinburne launches leadership index
  • Diary

Let’s chase value  – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

I suspect we are immune to sales techniques and attuned to value.

Special deals dominate our retail experience. Boxing Day sales have lost their edge and discounts are a permanent feature. Once price discounts fail, do you notice the move to promises of value that seem too good to be true – stronger, brighter, slimmer ….?

When sales plummet most rational businesses look at the access buyers have to shop, then the sales techniques. Price strategies are usually the first step but sooner rather than later questions start to be asked about the product. This past week this question was posed for VET in the form of the 2018 students and courses figures released by NCVER.

Looking at the most reliable measure, hours of training, the total for 2018 has not been as low since 2006, several years before the great opening up of training. Of more concern is the young people deserting training. In 1996, 55 per cent of the hours of training were by young people under 25 years of age but this has declined by 10 percentage points to 45 per cent in 2018. A reduction of 87 million hours of training – a loss of skills to the workforce. As I’ve indicated before, these declines need to be seen in the context of significant population growth, not decline.

This past week someone said to me that as long as VET has a sales culture, it will have a quality and integrity problem.

We’ve tried sales. After all, the rationale for contestable funding, including expanding VET FEE-HELP, was to increase access to VET.
Let’s see what sales techniques were used.

Free steak knives – we tried i-pads.

Two for one – well, actually we tried one for two – students being signed up for two qualifications and two loans under the impression it was just one.

Inducements – we do that for employers of apprentices and trainees, yet they’re not buying.

A job guarantee – research shows that only 34 per cent of courses lead to the job the training is aimed at.

Agents – they’ve been banned.

The Government is in-sourcing the sales task. They are proposing a government established Careers Institute and a government appointed Careers Ambassador.

What about value? It seems young people are the savviest of buyers. They are attuned to job prospects, and more so wage levels. In a climate of high jobs growth, they’ve chosen the job. They’ve made a value choice.

All sales textbooks are clear there must be value at the end of each transaction. I wonder how the Careers Ambassador will solve the value dilemma.

The question is when will there be a serious look at the product and its value to students.

Apprentice and trainee completions headed in the wrong direction

Completion rates for apprentices and trainees have shown a significant fall, according to the latest figures from the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER).

The 2018 completion rates for all apprentices and trainees (who commenced training in 2014) fell to 56.7%, down from 59.9% for those commencing in 2013.

Completion rates for individuals who commenced in trade occupations in 2014 were down 4.7 percentage points to 54.5%, while non-trade completions were down 2 percentage points to 57.7%.

Completion rates varied considerably by occupation. ICT professionals had the highest rate of completion (94.7%) while food trades workers had one of the lowest (41.2%).

See more

VET funding stagnates, new report shows

The VET sector has undergone funding volatility and stagnation to a degree not seen in any other education sector, a new report on education funding in Australia shows.

The report, Education Expenditure in Australia, from the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) shows that total education expenditure has grown substantially since the beginning of the century, with funding in 2015 being 79 per cent more than the level in 2000, after adjusting for inflation.

However, it says that in the VET certificate sector between 2000 and 2015, total expenditure per student has been volatile, with almost no change over the period.

“These trends have largely been driven by volatility in government expenditure, with private expenditure being relatively stable in comparison,” the report says.

For bachelor degrees and above, total expenditure per student was stable between 2000 and 2012, before increasing between 2012 and 2015, largely driven by increases in private expenditure per student.

Annual expenditure on education (primary school and above) within institutions per student by level of education, 2000 to 2015 ($2015, constant prices)

TasTAFE’s registration renewed for seven years

TasTAFE is delighted to announce it has had its registration renewed by the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) for the next seven years.

TasTAFE received notification on July 15 that its application for renewal as a registered training provider had been granted by ASQA.

TasTAFE’s registration expired on  December 31 last year, and was extended until the end of June 2019 while ASQA undertook a standard registration renewal audit earlier this year. The audit was extensive and covered many aspects of TasTAFE’s training and delivery across a number of qualifications.

TasTAFE is the largest vocational training organisation in Tasmania and trains around 23,000 students, including 4500 apprentices.

TasTAFE is responding to ASQA regarding adequate staffing for delivery of the Certificate III in Electrotechnology and will be providing additional information for reconsideration of the decision.

Wodonga TAFE appoints new CEO

The chair of the Wodonga Institute of TAFE Allison Jenvey has announced the appointment of Phil Paterson, pictured, as its new Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director.
Phil has extensive senior management experience as the Chief Finance Officer and Board Secretary of the institute since January 2016. Prior to that he was with Mars Incorporated for 13 years in a variety of global commercial and leadership roles.

He replaces the former CEO Mark Dixon who stepped down in March to take on a new role as CEO at the City of Wodonga.

Phil is a Certified Practicing Accountant and holds a Masters of Business Administration and a Bachelor of Business (Accounting) and is a member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

Ms Jenvey said the board received significant interest in the position from across Victoria and that that Phil’s appointment was recognition of the talent in its own ranks.

“Our TAFE has an excellent reputation and a strong positive culture, and we look forward to this continuing under Phil’s leadership,” Ms Jenvey said.

TDA extends its congratulations to Phil on his appointment.

TAFE NSW awards celebrate Indigenous achievement

Sixteen TAFE NSW Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, teachers and partnerships have been recognised at the annual TAFE NSW Gili Awards.

The awards which celebrate the achievements of Aboriginal students, as well as the accomplishments of TAFE NSW employees and programs were presented by the Minister for Skills and Tertiary Education Dr Geoffrey Lee.

TAFE NSW Team Leader Aboriginal Education and Training Unit, Merv Donovan said the winners had shown hard work, dedication and commitment to transforming their lives and the lives of others through vocational education and training for Aboriginal people.

Ashleigh Knight, received the prestigious Gili Award for her outstanding contributions in supporting Aboriginal participation and achievement.

NECA emPOWER Aboriginal Apprentice Readiness Program received the Industry Partnership Award and Youth Engagement Award, while Wiradjuri Language accepted the Community Engagement Award for their exceptional commitment to the community.

A number of TAFE NSW staff including Elsie Gordon, Natalie Wilcock, Rebecca Murphy and Bridget Thomas were also recognised for their commitment and dedication to the vocational education and training outcomes of Aboriginal students.

The 15 awards were presented in 12 categories at the event. See the full list of award winners.

Swinburne launches leadership index

Swinburne University of Technology has launched a new index that measures public perceptions and expectations of leadership.

The publicly-available Australian Leadership Index is based on the largest ever survey of leadership and reveals Australians’ views on leadership in the public, private, government and not-for-profit sectors.

Swinburne researcher Dr Sam Wilson said the project has uncovered fascinating insights into the publics’ perceptions of leadership across all four sectors, with many sectors falling well-below Australians’ expectations.

“Perhaps the most dispiriting and striking finding is that the institutions that are supposed to be the custodians of the greater good – federal, state and local governments – are seen as showing no leadership in this space,” Dr Wilson said.

“By contrast, the institutions with which we have regular contact in the public sector – schools, hospitals and police services – are seen as showing much more leadership for the greater good.”

Religious institutions were among the worst performers in terms of leadership for the greater good, while charities such as The Salvation Army and the Red Cross rated highly.

Each quarter, the research team surveys a representative sample of 1,000 people across Australia and a full year’s worth of data is now available on the Australian Leadership Index portal.

See more

Diary Dates

National Apprentice Employment Network
Beyond 2020, NAEC Conference 2019
31 July – 2 August 2019
Crowne Plaza, Gold Coast
More information

QLD School VET Conference
Velg Training
9 August 2019
Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre, Brisbane
More Information

VTA 2019 State Conference 
15 – 16 August 2019
RACV City Club, 501 Bourke Street, Melbourne
More information

National Manufacturing Summit
21 & 22 August 2019
More information

National Skills Week
26 August – 1 September 2019
Locations around Australia
More information

TAFE Directors Australia 2019 Convention
‘The Power of TAFE’
3 – 5 September 2019
More information

2019 National VET Conference
Velg Training
12 &13 September 2019
Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre, Brisbane
More Information

Community Colleges Australia 2019 Annual Conference
18-20 November 2019
The Stamford Plaza Hotel, Brisbane
More Information

Australian Training Awards
21 November 2019
Brisbane, Queensland
More information

Australian Council of Deans of Education Vocational Education Group
5th Annual Conference on VET Teaching and VET Teacher Education
9-10 December 2019
Charles Sturt University Wagga Wagga Campus
More information


Apprentice system needs reform: Labor

Over two-in-five apprentices and trainees who started training in 2014 didn't complete their coursesOver two-in-five apprentices and trainees who started training in 2014 didn’t complete their coursesImage: AAP/AAP

Labor has blamed federal government funding cuts for a further drop in completion rates among apprentices and trainees.

Data released by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research this week shows over two-in-five apprentices and trainees who commenced training in 2014 did not complete their courses.

The NCVER report shows for those who started training in 2014 among all occupations, just 56.7 per cent completed their course, down 3.2 percentage points from those who started in 2013.

Completion rates for trade occupations were down 4.7 percentage points compared to those who started in 2013 and were two percentage points lower for those doing training for non-trade occupations.

Labor’s assistant spokeswoman for skills Ged Kearney says the coalition government has had six years to turn this around but has failed to take action.

She says vocational education has been severely damaged by a cut of more than $3 billion in funding, the closure of TAFE campuses and allowing “dodgy for-profit providers” to gouge the system.

“The VET sector needs immediate and urgent reform,” Ms Kearney said in a statement on Saturday.

She added that while Skills Minister Michaelia Cash says she wants to see the VET and university sectors on equal footing, the Liberals have failed to commit to the funding and reform required to achieve this important outcome.

“The Liberals must put TAFE back at the centre of the sector, tackle the failures of privatisation and fund the sector properly,” she said.

“With youth unemployment stuck at more than double the national average, young people need a decent skills sector that leads them to secure work.”

In 2018, 1.1 million students enrolled in government-funded vocational education and training, a decrease of 1.9 per cent compared to 2017.


Apprentice and trainee completion rates decrease

Completion rates for apprentices and trainees who commenced training in 2014 have decreased to 56.7% (down from 59.9% for those commencing in 2013) according to new data released today by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER).

The completion rates for individuals who commenced in trade occupations in 2014 decreased to 54.5% (down 4.7 percentage points from those commencing in 2013) and to 57.7% for non-trade occupations (down 2.0 percentage points).

Completion and attrition rates for apprentices and trainees 2018 tracks the outcomes of apprentices and trainees from when they started their training, recognising the time it takes to complete an apprenticeship/traineeship.

It includes data for both individuals and contracts, as an individual may complete their training under more than one contract due to a change in employer or a break in their training.

Completion rates vary considerably by occupation. For individuals who commenced in 2014, the completion rate for ICT professionals was 94.7% and for food trades workers 41.2%.

Australian VET statistics: Completion and attrition rates for apprentices and trainees 2018 is now available from:

For more in-depth information on apprentices and trainees, visit the National Apprentices and Trainees Collection on our Portal.

The 2019 Apprentice and Trainee Experience and Destinations Survey, last conducted in 2010, is currently underway.

The survey collects information on employment outcomes, reasons for non-completion, satisfaction with training, further study destinations, and on-the-job experiences of apprentices and trainees who completed or left their training in 2018.

A report on the results of this survey will be available on in late 2019.

Enquiries: Helen Wildash, PR and Social Media Officer M: 0448 043 148 E:

About NCVER: we are the principal provider of research, statistics and data on Australia’s VET sector. Our services help promote better understanding of VET and assist policy-makers, practitioners, industry, training providers, and students to make informed decisions.

This work has been produced by NCVER on behalf of the Australian Government and state and territory governments, with funding provided through the Australian Government Department for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business.


TAFE vs Uni: ‘University Is For Learning, Vet Is For Earning’ Says Skills Minister

What’s better, uni or TAFE?

In short, VET Vocational Education and Training is better than uni if your aim is to find a job and make good money.

 ‘University is for learning, VET is for earning‘ said Skills Minister Michaela Cash recently at a business breakfast, and it makes sense, according to the statistics. VET graduates earn higher salaries and have better job prospects while spending less time and money getting qualifications.

If your aim is to make money and achieve financial success, TAFE courses and VET  courses are the way to go, and following the Joyce Report government spokespeople have been highlighting TAFEas the better option for many people.

Senator Cash encouraged more people to take on VET qualifications like Diplomas, Certificates III and IV, and Advanced Diplomas, saying that it’s a better path to a good income – since the skills taught in VET and TAFE are in high demand in Australia.

‘University is for learning, VET is for earning’Michaelia Cash, Skills Minister

VET makes economic sense for Australia, too. Australia’s national skills shortages in jobs like bricklayers, carpenters, plumbers and bakers, occupations demanding practical skills that are best learnt in vocational courses, or in care sectors like healthcare and community service.

By choosing a field in demand, you become a more valuable employee, enjoying higher salaries and benefits as companies compete to hire and keep you.

How is TAFE different to university?

TAFE and VET qualifications take from 6 months to 2 years, unlike university degrees which take 3 years minimum full-time. And while bachelor degrees can often cost over $30,000, TAFE and VET courses are usually much cheaper, especially as the fees for government-subsidised students are often heavily reduced.

Let’s not forget that courses in skill shortages are eligible for free TAFE – meaning that the student pays zero, zip, nada.




and you don’t even need an ATAR to get in. In fact, often you don’t even need to have finished high school.

Of course, university education has its place, but it’s not for everybody. For those who are truly interested in learning and pursuing a field of knowledge for its own sake, becoming a university student and pursuing higher education can be a gateway to a wider world of education.

Further, employment prospects are not solely determined by whether you choose VET or university, rather they depend upon the subject you choose: in-demand industries like IT and health will always have better job prospects than low-demand ones with high competition.

The problem lies in expecting that the traditional path – from high school to university to a job – still applies, or that it’s the best way to a good career path.

But generally, if you’re looking to graduate with work-ready skills, VET qualifications are the better option.

“What we are hearing from employers is that we need to ensure that you have work-ready employees from day one… that is exactly what vocational education is going to give you – for both the employee and yourself as the employer.”

– Senator Cash

Job-ready Skills

The expectation that going to uni guarantees you a good job (and a decent income) doesn’t reflect the 2019 work reality. University alone often isn’t enough to equip you with the skills to be job-ready when you graduate.


of University graduates surveyed in 2015 said their degree didn’t prepare them enough to find a job in their field.

Compare this to


of VET graduates who find employment after graduating.

Once a few years have passed and you’ve got your first full-time job, employment and levels even out to be about the same for TAFE and uni grads. Right out of the gate, though, TAFE qualifications are paid more and have a better chance of finding jobs.

Most employable degrees and qualifications

Projections from the Department of Education show that most jobs in the next 5 years (2019-2023) will require a post-secondary qualification. Out of the 10 fastest growing occupations, 7 require a TAFE or VET qualification such as a diploma or certificate.

So perhaps we should be talking about ‘most employable diplomas’ rather than degrees. The Australian industries with the highest job growth in the next four years are:

  • Medical and healthcare services: 116,000
  • Food and beverage service: 91,000
  • Construction services: 77000
  • Professional, Scientific and Technical Services (Excl Computer System design): 72,000
  • Social assistance services: 66,000

  • Public administration: 64,000
  • Preschool and school education: 57,000
  • Computer system design and related services: 54,000
  • Adult, community and other education: 40,000
  • Building and construction : 39,000

The specific jobs set to boom are:

  • General Clerks +22,200
  • Truck Drivers +16,200
  • Software And Applications Programmers +15,100
  • Advertising, Public Relations And Sales Managers +14,800
  • General Practitioners And Resident Medical Officers +14,500
  • Aged And Disabled Carers +77,400
  • Registered Nurses +65,300
  • Child Carers +25,800
  • General Sales Assistants +24,900
  • Education Aides +21,900

Source: Australian Government Department of Jobs and Small Business: National, State and Territory Skill Shortage Information

How much does it cost to go to TAFE? Is TAFE cheaper than uni?

TAFE courses usually cost significantly less than university degrees. And with high HELP debts on the rise, students are considering whether university is worth it, when they’re graduating with considerable debt.

High HELP debts are on the rise. The average owing HELP (formerly HECs) debt in Australia is $21,557, but debts over $50,000 have increased 30% from 2018’s data, and there are now 9x more debts over $100k than there were 10 years ago.

If you’re a government-subsidised student, TAFE courses may cost you anywhere between a couple of hundred dollars a few thousand, though it varies by course.

After the 2018 introduction of Free TAFE in Victoria, you may not even have to pay for your course at all if you meet the criteria of age, location, citizenship and education history. Eligible courses in skill shortage areas are fully subsidised by the government – meaning you pay nothing and have no HELP debt when you graduate.

Eligible courses fall into the following areas:

  • Nursing
  • Accounting
  • Agriculture
  • Building & Construction
  • Automotive
  • Aged Care & Disability Care Support
  • Hairdressing
  • Signage & Graphics
  • Food
  • Services

So, what’s the best choice? It depends what you want out of your study.

If you’re interested in learning for its own sake, and working with knowledge in a more abstract sense; or you have a particular interest in a field that requires a degree, a bachelor degree could be the first step on a fulfilling journey and an engaging career.

Some people aren’t suited to the classroom, however, and do much better learning practical skills on the job. If that sounds like you, consider VET qualifications as your pathway to a great income and employability.

You can even use them as an entry pathway to a course later on if you want to dive deeper into the theory. You’ll come out with work-ready skills and good earning potential straight away, and your job prospects will be solid, especially if you choose an in-demand field.

Wondering if uni is really for you? VET and TAFE are fantastic options and better suited to many people.

Do course durations matter to training quality and outcomes?


This study investigates the relationship between VET course durations and training quality and outcomes. Feedback from discussions with training practitioners, representatives of industry and government, and relevant Skills Service Organisations reveals that for many there is a tension between a desire to respect the non-time-based principles of a competency-based training system, and for durations to be specified and of adequate length to enable trainers the time to effectively cover required content, and students adequate time for learning and practice. Although course durations on their own are not felt to guarantee quality outcomes, they are felt to be a key factor when suitably aligned to the level and size of the qualification, and the demands of the intended occupation. The statistical analysis of subject results in four different areas showed higher proportions of subject withdrawals at RTOs with the highest median course durations. This in turn resulted in lower shares with a pass in courses of longer median durations.


About the research

The connection between course durations, training quality and outcomes is of great interest to regulators, providers, industry stakeholders and the students themselves. In 2017, the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) undertook a strategic review of the issues related to unduly short training, recommending ‘that training package developers be able to respond to industry-specific risks by setting mandatory requirements, including an amount of training’(ASQA 2017, p.114).

The ASQA review also noted that terms such as ‘amount of training’, ‘duration and volume of learning’ are often used inconsistently. Discussions with stakeholders during this research similarly revealed that the terms are sometimes used interchangeably.

This research focused on the following qualifications: Certificate III and Diploma in Early Childhood Education and Care; Certificate III in Individual Support; Certificate IV in Disability; and Certificate II and III in Security Operations. The research was conducted in two parts: a qualitative analysis through consultations with providers, regulators and industry stakeholders to investigate how course durations affect the quality of training, and a quantitative analysis of course durations and how they affect subject outcomes.

For the quantitative analysis, duration is calculated as the length of time between a student starting and finishing training activity within a course, based on graduates who have not been granted recognition of prior learning (RPL) to complete a qualification. The resultant figure was then used to divide registered training organisations (RTOs) into two groups — those with the lowest graduate course durations and those with the highest.

Key messages

  • The consultations highlighted some unease between the desire to specify minimum course durations to ensure that providers act appropriately and the desire to uphold and apply the fundamental features of competency-based training (generally perceived to be not time-based). This tension may always exist however in a system aiming to be flexible enough to meet the skill needs of different students and industry sectors, but rigorous enough to ensure that providers meet the quality standards required.
  • The common view among study participants is that a high-quality training experience is not solely determined by the length of the course. Nevertheless, courses considered to be an appropriate or adequate length are those perceived as providing sufficient time for teachers to ensure that students can acquire the theoretical knowledge and practical skills to attain and demonstrate competency, and for assessors to conduct rigorous, reliable and valid assessments of student performance. These are deemed to be the key factors in producing high-quality outcomes.
  • Quality is also perceived to be mediated by student and teacher ability and talent, as well as availability of and accessibility to required resources. These include: up-to-date and useful learning resources, equipment and materials; functioning online technologies (where permitted for training); and valuable practical experiences, via suitable work placements or realistic simulations (in the case of security qualifications).
  • Any specification or guidance on ‘course durations’, ‘amount of training’ or ‘volume of learning’ for qualifications should be based on the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) level; the complexity of competencies and knowledge that are to be achieved; and the amount of content to be covered. It should also take account of the prior experience and knowledge of individual students.
  • The statistical analysis finds that, across qualifications, typical graduate course durations for providers (as indicated by the median) vary across a range of course durations.
  • In terms of how course durations affect outcomes, the only clear observation was a consistent pattern of higher proportions of withdrawals at courses with the highest median durations. This in turn resulted in lower pass rates for courses with longer durations. For some qualifications the differences are more marked than others.
  • Regardless of course duration or the level of occupational licensing regulation applied in some jurisdictions, very high pass rates are observed for Certificate II and III qualifications in Security Operations by comparison with the average pass rates of other qualifications at the same AQF level.

Executive summary

The consultations with providers, regulators and industry peak bodies identified that course durations are among the key facilitating factors in a high-quality training program. On the other hand, the only clear observation emerging from the statistical analysis of the study’s qualifications of interest was a consistent pattern of higher proportions of withdrawals from courses with the highest median durations.

Evaluating how course durations affect the educational achievement or practical performance of students is not an easy task. Our stakeholder consultations have helped to provide some explanations about how course durations can affect the quality of the student training experience and the development of knowledge and skill, while our statistical analysis has shed some light on the relationship between course duration and subject results. Taken together, they provide us with nuanced picture, one that suggests that ‘time’ in courses is only one aspect of the issue. Other crucial aspects include understanding teacher excellence in training delivery, the extent to which students have mastered the skill and knowledge to the required standards, the relevance of the qualification to both students and industry, and the extent to which the training delivers the desired employment and or further training outcomes for the students. Also important are the indicators of employer and student satisfaction with training and the validity of assessments.

Key lessons from the field

Providers, regulators and industry peak bodies from across the community services and security areas displayed little appetite for accepting the qualifications of registered training organisations (RTOs) that advertise and/or deliver qualifications in extremely short durations, particularly those offered over a weekend. Furthermore, the research identified a widespread tension between the desire for course durations that ensure that RTOs have enough time to cover the required content, as well as to provide adequate opportunities for student learning and practice, and the application of the fundamental philosophy of competency-based training, which is, in theory, not time-based.

There is generally strong support for the notion that course durations — of appropriate length for the qualification concerned — do play a part in achieving high-quality outcomes in our qualifications of interest. Adequate course durations give teachers the time to facilitate the comprehensive learning of the required knowledge and practical skills by students; students to put the learning into practice; and assessors to conduct rigorous assessments that result in valid and reliable judgements of student competency.

Course durations are, however, considered only part of the picture, with some providers giving more prominence to them than others. Other factors play a role in determining whether the durations are sufficient to achieve the desired outcomes. These relate to the individual attributes and capacity of the students, trainers and assessors, and workplace mentors. Also important are the availability of the required support, equipment and materials and the opportunities for work placements, as well as the volume of content to be covered.

A further issue influencing durations is the requirement for employers in some growth industries to have quick access to trained personnel to meet workforce demands or regulatory requirements; that is, having workers trained in shorter time frames.

In relation to the education and caring qualifications of interest to our study, providers and most other stakeholders strongly agree that course durations do, and should, vary according to whether the student is a new entrant to the industry or has previous course-related and industry experience, and whether the student requires extra tuition and time to acquire skills to the required standard. Providers from regional locations also indicated that typically students who live in regional, remote and rural locations will need to undertake their learning via distance learning or e-learning methodologies, which are dependent on access to reliable internet and telephone connections. When accessibility is interrupted, the amount of time that can be used for learning is reduced. Students in these areas are also dependent on the availability of work placements from a more limited number of centres.

In terms of the security qualifications examined, the situation is complicated by the differing licensing requirements across jurisdictions. In some states, for example, the number of hours and days that must be completed are mandated, as are the modes of delivery to be used (namely, face-to-face delivery). In other states, more flexibility is allowed, enabling the use of online learning for some components. However, even in states where course durations are mandated, providers recognise that hours may have to be increased when students require more support. The consultations also uncovered instances where providers exceeded the state regulator’s licensing requirements — for the purposes of not only assisting students who need more time to achieve the competencies, but also to meet their own specific requirements.

The concept of ‘amount of training’ is not always understood as separate from the concept of course duration. Good examples of how ‘amount of training’ can be used are provided by the Australian Security Industry Association (ASIAL), the peak body for the security industry, in its application of the concept of ‘auditable hours’ to ensure that students acquire adequate training for their occupations. The ARTIBUS and Innovation Skills Service Organisation (SSO) has also applied the concept of ‘amount of training’ by specifying the number of times that certain skills need to be demonstrated to prove competency. The Australian Skills Quality Agency (ASQA) has reported industry support for developing and applying concepts like ‘amount of training’ to training package guidance materials to ensure that RTOs do not apply unduly short durations, while SkillsIQ, the SSO developing the early childhood education and care qualifications, also reports some interest from employers on these issues.

Any specification of course durations, or ‘amount of training’, should also take account of the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) level of the qualification, the volume of content to be covered, the complexity of the competencies, and the type of knowledge to be achieved.

There is strong support for maintaining the mandatory work placements for qualifications in Early Childhood Education and Care, and Individual Support and Disability, requiring at least 120 hours (and often more) for certificate III and IV qualifications and 240 hours for diploma qualifications. The Certificate II in Security Operations is the exception, in that this industry does not accept students for work placement or experience; instead, realistic simulations are an essential part of the training.

A review of the Australian Qualifications Framework is currently underway. It remains to be seen whether it raises any issues about the suitability of the current ‘volume of learning’ hours that are attached to different levels and types of qualifications.

Statistical findings

Findings from the statistical analysis show that most providers are not delivering the selected courses in the same duration and that they vary across a range of durations. For the Certificate III and Diploma in Early Childhood Education and Care, Certificate III in Individual Support, and Certificate IV in Disability, we observe that:

  • The main difference between the RTOs with the lowest and highest median graduate course durations was the proportion of subject withdrawals. Students studying at RTOs with the highest median course durations withdrew from relatively more subjects than students studying at RTOs with the lowest median course durations. This situation is then reflected in the higher proportions of subjects passed by students at RTOs with the lowest median graduate course durations, compared with RTOs with the highest median graduate durations.
  • For some qualifications, the differences in subject results achieved between RTOs with the lowest and highest median graduate course durations are large. In the Certificate III in Individual Support, the proportion of student subject withdrawals at RTOs with the highest median graduate course durations is over 10 times that of those at RTOs with the lowest median graduate course durations.
  • The higher subject withdrawal rates associated with longer graduate course durations amongst these courses may possibly be attributable to the fact that longer course durations may have a more substantial and sustained effect on work and life commitments than shorter course durations.
  • With one exception, subject fail rates were not observed to vary markedly with typical lower and higher durations (as indicated by the median). The exception to those general trends was the Certificate III in Early Childhood Education and Care, where there was a higher proportion of subjects failed by students at RTOs with the lowest median graduate durations.
  • Median durations were also analysed by funding source and provider type, although no consistent pattern across the qualifications was noted. By funding source, median durations for domestic fee-for-service-funded training (compared with government-funded training) were slightly shorter for the Diploma of Early Childhood Education and Care (2 months), but longer for the Certificate III in Early Childhood Education and Care (1 month). Similarly, by provider type, median durations were slightly shorter at private training providers (shorter by 2 months compared with TAFE institutes) for the Diploma of Early Childhood Education and Care, but longer for the Certificate III in Early Childhood Education and Care (longer by 1 month compared with TAFE institutes). Median durations across funding sources and provider types were similar for the other qualifications (where there was a sufficient number of graduates to analyse).

Very different patterns to these other qualifications are observed for both the Certificate II and Certificate III in Security Operations:

  • Almost all subjects were passed, irrespective of whether students were at RTOs with the lowest median graduate course durations or at those with the highest median durations.
  • Across both qualifications, the proportion of subjects passed was at least 97%, compared with 83% across all certificate II level qualifications and 79% across all certificate III level qualifications.
  • We observe the same patterns of very high pass rates even in those jurisdictions that are highly regulated (including Western Australia and New South Wales) and which also support high levels of independent assessment.
  • Further investigation may explain why such patterns of very high passes occur in the assessment of these qualifications.

Although statistical information on course durations can provide some markers for action and decision-making, it cannot, on its own, tell us very much about the quality of the training delivered or experienced. Although we can speculate that students have withdrawn because they have been able to get a job without the qualification they originally thought necessary, or that work and other life commitments have become a priority, we require more information about the actual student experience in the training program to make any definitive comment on the link between duration and withdrawals and ultimately, course quality.