Community Colleges Australia (CCA) has provided a submission to the Australian Government Department of Education and Training on the new VET Student Loans program. This program was passed at the last day of 2016 Parliamentary sitting – Thursday 1 December – and is due to go into effect on 1 January 2017, one short month after passage.
CCA has welcomed the VET Student Loans program as bringing long-needed reforms to the scandal-ridden VET FEE-HELP program, but has expressed significant concerns that the draft regulations discriminate against adult and community education (ACE) VET providers.
The CCA submission to the Department of Education and Training points out that the new program needs to be fair to community not-for-profit VET providers, which have a sterling reputation in delivering high-quality, efficient and scandal-free VET training. The VET Student Loans program regulations discourage its use by Australia’s community education providers, by treating community not-for-profit providers exactly like for-profit RTOs.
CCA believes that the crude “public versus private” split (with community “lumped in” with private providers) needs to be replaced, so that ACE providers/community colleges are put in the same category as TAFEs and other public providers. The current approach does not recognise the sound governance, community-based pedagogical practices and positive outcomes of ACE RTOs.
The CCA submission points out that, “Of the limited number of ACE providers that utilised VET FEE-HELP, none have been implicated as behaving inappropriately under the scheme. Completion rates under the scheme were very high, in most cases well over 80%.”
CCA has also pointed out that access to information about the new VET Student Loan scheme has been difficult to access. The one month turnaround from the bill passing to the introduction may see unnecessary restrictions and barriers put into place that make it impossible to utilise (strong evidence supports this happening); and design faults that will be “locked in” and may be impossible to remove.
CCA has also requested a relaxation of the “two state subsidy/skills list” requirement: courses are approved only if they are current and on at least two state and territory subsidy/skills lists, or are science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) related or tied to licencing, accreditation, or registration requirements for an occupation.
CCA points out that, “states and sectors often have unique skill needs, and the skills lists compiled for state use reflect this. The necessity for two skills lists from divergent locations is unnecessary and will be costly for agile and timely skills development.”
CCA has noted correspondence from Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham, Minister for Education and Training, to Senator Stirling Griff (Nick Xenophon Team), dated 1 December 2016, that the Government “will consider requests by Not-for-Profit providers to include additional courses in the Courses and Caps.” CCA is keen to ensure that the as-yet-undetermined process for additional course approvals works fairly and efficiently for community not-for-profit providers. (Note: On 8 December 2016, the Department of Education and Training set up a very quick process for “requests by Listed and Not‑for‑Profit providers to include additional courses in the Courses and Caps Determination, specifically for these providers, that are not currently on the published eligible course list.”)
CCA looks forward to working collaboratively with the Government to ensure that the new VET Student Loans program is properly and efficiently run to the advantage of all Australians, and to ensure that community not-for-profit providers have an opportunity to participate in this scheme.
About the new VET Student Loans scheme
As announced by Minister for Education and Training, Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham, the new scheme will:
- limit eligibility to courses to those that align with industry needs and have a high likelihood of leading to employment opportunities
- cap loans at $5,000, $10,000 and $15,000 to reflect the cost of delivery (with higher caps for courses with high delivery costs such as aviation)
- require students to regularly engage with the VET Student Loans online portal to ensure they are active and their enrolments are legitimate
- set a much higher bar for providers to enter the program, with a new application process to assess providers’ relationships with industry, student completion rates, employment outcomes, and their track record as education institutions
- strengthen legislative, compliance and payment conditions, including increased powers to suspend poor performing providers from the program, cancel their payments and revoke their approval
- ban brokers, cold-calling, providers using third party lists to contact students, or incentive-based sales tactics
- limit the subcontracting of training to stop providers ‘selling access’ to higher-fee loans arrangements to training organisations that don’t meet the higher bar to qualify.
More information about the program is available from:
- The Department of Education and Training website
- Final reading by Assistant Minister for Vocational Education and Skills, the Hon Karen Andrews MP