The Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA), Australia’s national VET regulator, has been in the news a great deal in recent weeks. CCA reviews the coverage below, which includes:
- An unprecedented attack in Federal Parliament by Queensland backbencher Andrew Laming;
- ASQA’s strategic review into international education, which was highly critical of some private for profit colleges, whose “business model” did not require overseas students to attend classes; and
- ASQA cited in the Review of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) alleging organised crime involved in Australian VET.
Andrew Laming MP attacks ASQA
The Chair of the House of Representatives Employment, Education and Training Committee, Andrew Laming, LNP (QLD) Member for Bowman, has launched a blistering 15-minute attack on ASQA, claiming its audit activity is being misused to damage and wipe out some private training colleges. Mr Laming told parliament his 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”. View the speech on YouTube.
Craig Robertson, CEO of TAFE Directors Australia said that the claims by Mr Laming should have the opportunity to be verified and recommended dialogue with ASQA. The Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia (ITECA) says it “has been in regular contact with Mr Laming in the past weeks”, and that “the ITECA Chair and ITECA Chief Executive met with Mr Laming in his parliamentary office in the days before the speech.”
ASQA was also the subject of a lengthy critical article by consultant Claire Field (“VET regulation that’s clear as mud”) in The Australian on 7 August. She calls for “the publication of all ASQA audit reports … to allow the sector to confirm the veracity of auditors’ decisions and provide proof that ASQA’s audit practices are nationally consistent.” Ms Field also writes that, “Swift and genuine implementation of the other recommendations of the Braithwaite review is also urgently needed,” as well as “cultural change within ASQA.”
ASQA Strategic Review into international education
ASQA published its strategic review into international education, Protecting the quality of international VET and English language education (31 July 2019). Although most of the report’s findings are positive, the media release says:
“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 specifically states (p. 109) that:
“Some providers appear to have formed the view that, unless ASQA has imposed an attendance monitoring condition, they are free to inform students that attendance at their scheduled classes is not required. These providers have openly expressed concerns to ASQA about the impact on their businesses should their students be required to comply with attendance monitoring conditions. They appear to consider limited or no attendance of scheduled classes as a legitimate ‘business model’ to promote to students who seek to spend their time in Australia undertaking activities other than for the purpose of undertaking VET.”
ASQA cited in Review of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) alleging organised crime involved in Australian VET
The Australian Skills Quality Authority’s Deputy Chief Commissioner is referenced in former High Court Justice Ian Callinan’s statutory review of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT). This review was completed in 2018, and tabled before Parliament on 23 July 2019. The Review states (section 6.1, p. 88):
“The acting head of ASQA called on me in person to discuss the experience of ASQA generally. She told me that delays in making decisions had repercussions beyond the AAT. ASQA was aware that organised crime was sometimes, perhaps even regularly benefiting from counterfeit vocational training programs and colleges. There were, for example, ‘ghost colleges’, little more than addresses operated by people who provided no real training or tuition. Their ‘students’ were not bona fide students. Often the so-called provider would find a job for the foreign entrant, charging commissions to both the employer and the so-called 'student employee', and arrange, again at cost, the transmission of funds to the ‘student’s’ home country.”
ASQA is quoted in The Australian (25 July 2019) as “disputing the accuracy” of Justice Callinan’s report.