A quality VET system: Is this possible with 3,829 RTOs? – comment by CEO Jenny Dodd

A quality VET system: Is this possible with 3,829 RTOs? – comment by CEO Jenny Dodd

It feels like déjà vu. Australia’s vocational education and training sector (VET) is undergoing another reputational issue with the reporting in the media of non-genuine students being induced to Australia and exploited for sex work.

I add my voice to that of Claire Field, an advisor to the tertiary education sector and reported in Campus Morning Mail on Wednesday 9 November that the regulator for VET, ASQA, must review the finances of for-profit RTOs. But is it more than that? Is it asking the question – are the market settings right?

It is not enough for the regulator to remind providers of their responsibilities. That is like keeping the whole class in because one person did the wrong thing. Quality RTOs know their responsibilities. For those operating unscrupulously these are meaningless words. It reminded me of conversations I had at the time of VET FEE-HELP. I remember being told the providers who took millions of dollars out of Australia and manipulated countless students did nothing illegal. While there may be loopholes in policy and legislation, we clearly need a national training system that stops the entry of organisations which operate for personal gain only.

In Australia there are approximately 3,829 training providers – 29 are TAFEs or TAFE divisions of dual sector universities. That leaves 3,800 training providers which are non-government owned. TAFEs are radically different business models to all other providers. Not only are TAFEs public organisations owned by the States and Territories, with staff who operate to public service codes of conduct, they are large organisations with on average about 900 staff. That compares to the average size of an RTO, being 12 training staff.  This produces a very different business model. It is pleasing to see that the draft revised RTO standards recognise that difference.

We have had a contestable VET market for a long time now. TDA acknowledges the role of enterprise RTOs, we are willing partners with community based not-for-profit RTOs, and we support the role of quality independent for-profit RTOs. However, the level of exploitation that has been revealed by the media recently raises the question whether we should be spending more and more on regulation of the long tail or should we raise the barrier to entry? Even the notion that some people buy and sell RTOs at a rapid rate for investment return calls into question why other RTOs should be paying, through cost recovery, to ensure the regulator has the resources to monitor these activities to uphold quality and the reputation of the sector.

When we think about the revised standards for RTOs and the new ASQA self-assurance model, lots of ASQA resources are being deployed to oversight this market system. Is this helping innovation? Is this developing the skills we need for the future? Has the current market model had its time, and the environment Australia finds itself in now requires different ideology and investment priorities?

Therefore, questions must be asked about the long tail of VET providers.  Some providers will always find loopholes to avoid the key purpose of Australia’s VET system, which is to contribute to building Australia’s skills capability by offering quality outcomes for students. How do we get to a market structure that reduces the cost of regulation, improves outcomes, and ensures Australia’s VET reputation? Reducing the number of providers may be what’s needed now.

TDA Convention 2022 kicks off this week!

It’s been a long time in the making, but the TDA Convention 2022 is nearly upon us.

TDA is delighted to welcome and reunite over 470 delegates in Adelaide tomorrow to be part of the conversation on Courage, Change and Challenge: The Future of TAFE.

The TDA Convention 2022 program runs from 11.00am on Tuesday 15 November and concludes at 1.00pm on Thursday 17 November.

The program features a range of high calibre speakers and diverse topics encompassing the voice of TAFEs, industry, government, communities and students.

Ellen Fanning, an award winning public affairs broadcaster and journalist, is the MC for the event. Breakout sessions showcase excellence and innovation in TAFE-industry partnerships, championing the student voice, promoting access and equity, the value of TAFE in communities and regions, skills for emerging industries, micro-credentials, VET reform and building the capability of our own workforce – just to name a few.

The full online program including speaker biographies and the program handbook can be accessed here.

Winners of the inaugural TAFE Staff Recognition Awards will be announced at the TDA Convention 2022 Dinner tomorrow evening. The Networking Reception at the Adelaide Oval on Wednesday evening will be a further opportunity for delegates to mingle and catch up with colleagues.

TDA is indebted to TAFE SA, the Host Partner, and the TDA Convention Advisory Committee for its support in facilitating the exceptional student engagement throughout the TDA Convention 2022. TDA would also like to thank and acknowledge all of the sponsors and exhibitors supporting the TDA Convention 2022.

If you need any assistance on site (or if you just want to say hello in person), the TDA Secretariat is Jenny Dodd, Lyndal Manson, Melinda Fischer and Palak Bhatia.

The team at Absolute Events & Marketing, our convention organisers, can be contacted on site via 0477 898 082 or 0477 891 861.

South Metropolitan TAFE gains key role in WA defence industry plan

South Metropolitan TAFE in Western Australia will receive new state-of-the-art training equipment under the state’s latest defence industry blueprint that will give it a key role in naval manufacturing.

Premier Mark McGowan announced that South Metropolitan TAFE’s Rockingham campus will receive four multi-axis computer numerical control (CNC) milling and lathe machines which will enable hands-on experience in manufacturing components for defence maritime trades.

The funding will also allow South Metropolitan TAFE to deliver post-trade training in advanced CNC operations and programming above Certificate III level. This includes delivery of two of seven new low-fee Defence Ready skillsets.

The state government has also provided 16 new welding simulators for South Metropolitan TAFE’s Naval Base campus skillset.

The Western Australian Defence Industry Workforce Development Plan 2022-27 was launched last week. It sets out the approach to skilling WA’s defence industry workforce through collaboration across schools, TAFEs, specialist training providers, universities, and unions.

Victoria to overhaul apprenticeship system

The Victorian government will establish an apprenticeship taskforce to overhaul the system and strengthen protections for apprentices.

Premier Daniel Andrews said the taskforce will report directly to the Minister for Training and Skills and the Minister for Industrial Relations. Outcomes will be delivered in partnership with unions and industry and will entail legislation, if necessary.

It will examine:

  • Regulatory arrangements, including clearer objectives and functions for the regulator;
  • Strengthening screening processes and oversight of training plans;
  • Simplifying complaint reporting and enforcement for apprentices encountering mistreatment at work;
  • Improving reporting and accountability for employers;
  • Establishing a more rigorous process to ensure that employers who have mistreated apprentices – including by failing to pay wages and entitlements – are prevented from employing apprentices.

The review follows release of a report by the McKell Institute in September on shortcomings in Victoria’s apprenticeship system.

Officials torpedo 'TAFE vs private RTO' funding claim

Federal departmental officials have demolished the argument that TAFE receives a disproportionate share of government funding compared with private training providers.

The Deputy Secretary of the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations, Nadine Williams, told a Senate Estimates Committee last week said that while there may be a “high volume” of students with private training providers, many of those students were doing short courses, or courses that may be just a single unit.

“If you think of the difference between, for example, first aid training and a full Certificate 3 in Individual Support – there are a lot of short courses, and the like, that tend to go through (the private system),” Ms Williams said.

“While we look at there being a high volume of students that may go through the private system, the nature of what they’re studying is very different. So, when we look at it, we tend to think about it more in terms of the type of training that we are funding,” Ms Williams said.

Officials from DEWR said that in 2021 there were 3,561,000 VET students at independent providers, 778,000 at TAFEs and 248,000 at other institutions.

This has led to the false claim that private RTOs do the “heavy lifting” in the VET sector.

Ms Williams pointed out that the number of students with private providers includes those who “self-fund”, and employers who pay for workers to undertake training.

Lewis Conn, Acting First Assistant Secretary with DEWR said that in terms of government funding for VET, TAFEs support 652,000 students, independent providers support 601,000 and other institutions support 172,000.

VET FEE-HELP redress extended for 12 months

The federal government is extending the VET FEE-HELP student redress scheme for 12 months, and will also waive indexation applied to VET student loans affected by a departmental IT glitch.

The VET FEE-HELP redress scheme was due to close to new applications on 31 December. It will now be extended for 12 months so that students have a chance to access the scheme if required.

The Minister for Skills and Training Brendan O’Connor said that the government will also waive indexation worth $1.6 million on approximately 6,400 VET student loans that were caught in the departmental IT issue.

The Department of Employment and Workplace Relations advised affected students in September that historical student loan debts had been unexpectedly applied to their ATO accounts, after they were stuck in the department’s IT system.

Mr O’Connor said he has been advised that there are “more historical student loan records to reconcile in the department’s system”, and that no indexation will be applied to these records.

He said that over 95 per cent of total affected debt relates to loans for study between 2017 and 2022.

DEWR will continue to engage directly with affected students and providers.

An independent review into the issue is underway.

$18.5m for higher education microcredentials pilot program

The federal government is providing $18.5 million for a microcredentials pilot in higher education to help fill skills gaps in national priority areas.

Round 1 of the pilot, which is open now, will be available to Table A universities who will be able to apply for a share of $2 million to develop microcredentials in partnership with industry. They will also be able to apply for $2 million to deliver the microcredentials that they have developed.

Round 2, commencing next year, will offer a share in $14.5 million, and will be open to Table A, Table B and Table C universities, along with non-university higher education providers to support the delivery of microcredentials, including those developed as part of Round 1.

Total funding of $16.5 million will be provided from 2023-24 to 2025-26 to deliver microcredentials to up to 4,000 students.

The pilot will target priority areas – Natural and Physical Sciences, Information Technology, Engineering and Related Technologies, Health, Education, and Behavioural Science.

See more

Nationwide consultations commence on RTO standards

A series of consultations will be held around the country over coming weeks on the newly-released draft revised RTO Standards.

There will be face-to-face consultations in all capital cities, and additional online forums for those unable to attend in-person or for those in regional, rural and remote areas.

Places in the forums are limited to no more than three representatives, and RTOs are asked not to attend more than one forum.

consultation paper on the revised standards indicates a focus on quality training design and delivery, less prescriptive requirements, and greater clarity.

There is also the opportunity for written feedback via a survey. Responses close on 31 January 2023.

See more

OctoberVET Ballarat program released

The organisers of OctoberVET Ballarat have released the program for the face-to-face event that will take place on November 23.

The theme is ‘Inclusivity and the future of VET’, and the keynote speaker is Adjunct Professor Robin Shreeve, an ‘elder statesman’ of VET, who has held many senior appointments in government agencies and in TAFE systems in Australia and the U.K.

There will also be presentations from five FedUni VET researchers, reporting on national, state and local research projects; from Dr Lizzie Knight from Victoria University, and from A/Prof Trace Ollis from Deakin University.

See the program

Forum to shine a light on VET workforce

‘A new focus on VET teachers’: The 8th annual conference of the Australian Council of Deans of Education Vocational Education Group (ACDEVEG) is on Thursday December 8 from 3.00-7.00pm online.

The theme picks up on the new level of interest in the VET workforce, both in Australia and internationally. The event includes several local speakers, and senior officials from the OECD and the UK on the theme of the work of VET teachers and managers, and strategies to support and develop them. There will be the opportunity for audience input and discussion.

See the program and registration here.

Queries about the program may be sent to acdeveg2020@federation.edu.au

Extended transition for fitness qualification

The Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) has approved an extended transition period for SIS30315 Certificate III in Fitness to 30 September 2023 for ASQA regulated RTOs commencing delivery of the qualification to Year 11 students in 2022 as a VET in Schools program.

Diary Dates

TDA Convention 2022
Courage, Change and Challenge – the Future of TAFE
15-17 November 2022
More information

VDC Teaching & Learning Conference
VET Development Centre
17 & 18 November 2022 (Online)
More information

OctoberVET 2022 Ballarat: Inclusivity and the future of VET
23 November 2022
FedUni SMB Campus, 136 Albert St, Ballarat
More information

TEQSA Conference
23-24 November 2022
Sofitel Melbourne on Collins (and online)
More information

Australian Council of Deans of Education Vocational Education Group (ACDEVEG)
A new focus on VET teachers: 8th Annual Conference on VET Teaching and VET Teacher Education
8 December 2022 (Online)
More information

AVETRA 2023 Conference
27-28 April 2023
More information

World Federation of Colleges and Polytechnics (WFCP) 2023 World Congress
23-25 April 2023
Montréal, Canada

Journal of Vocational Education and Training (JVET) Conference
13-15 July 2023
Keble College, Oxford, UK
More information