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ASQA National News

Transparency of accredited course content

27 July 2018

Early in January 2018, ASQA contacted course owners about a recent decision by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Industry and Skills Council (CISC) to improve the transparency of all accredited courses by publishing additional information on the National Register of vocational education and training (VET) (training.gov.au). This information was to include the titles and codes of units of competency and modules, as well as a brief description of the course.

This will increase the transparency of accredited course information and enables Unique Student Identifier (USI) transcripts to include information on units of competency/modules. This will enable prospective students and employers to better understand course content and suitability.

Updates to trainer and assessor credential requirements to come into effect from April 2019
6 July 2017

The Hon. Karen Andrews MP, Assistant Minister for Vocational Education and Skills, has released an amendment to the training and assessment credential requirements in the Standards for RTOs 2015. These have been updated to align with the Training and Education (TAE) Training Package.

The TAE Training Package was updated in April 2016, with the core units ‘Design and develop assessment tools’ and ‘Address adult language, literacy and numeracy (LLN) skills’ being added to the TAE40116 Certificate IV in Training and Assessment. The core units of the Assessor Skill Set were updated to include the unit ‘Design and develop assessment tools’.

To ensure the VET workforce has appropriate skills in designing and developing assessment tools and identifying and evaluating LLN requirements, Skills Ministers have agreed to update the Standards to align with the changes to the TAE Training Package.

Skills Ministers agreed that trainers and assessors who do not hold the relevant units will have until 1 April 2019 to meet the new credential requirements.

For more information, please refer to:

A resilient VET sector holding steady

1 July 2018

Australia’s vocational education and training (VET) system proves its strength and resilience, with 2017 data showing student numbers at 4.2 million.

The report released today by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER), details total VET student and course figures for last year, including a stable overall student participation rate at 24 per cent for 15 to 64 year olds.

RTOs remain satisfied with regulator’s audit processes

24 May 2018

Australian Skills Quality Authority’s (ASQA) conducts regular audit surveys amongst registered training organisations (RTOs) to monitor satisfaction with the regulator’s audit processes.

The latest surveys sought feedback from RTOs that had a site audit finalised between 1 July and 31 December 2017. One hundred and eleven of the 308 RTOs invited to provide feedback completed the survey.

This article sets out a summary of the survey results across five survey question categories

Increasing scrutiny on new entrants to the training market

1 May 2018

The Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) will further enhance its scrutiny of entities seeking to provide nationally-recognised vocational education and training (VET) and English language courses to students in Australia and overseas.

Chief Commissioner Mark Paterson said that ASQA had, since it was established in 2011, assessed more than 2500 applications from prospective training providers wanting to enter the sector.

But, as Australia’s VET and English language education sector makes a significant contribution to the nation’s economy as well as the lives of more than four million students, ASQA wants to make sure that all course providers deliver the high quality quality training and assessment that students, their employers and the wider community expect and deserve.

Updated statement on TAFE SA (RTO 41026)

4 April 2018

The Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) is serious about ensuring the quality and integrity of the Australian Vocational Education and Training sector.

Even State Technical and Further Education Registered Training Organisation’s (TAFEs) are subject to having qualifications revoked if found non-compliant. When TAFE SA received a notice of intention to suspend 16 qualifications from its scope of registration, it set about swiftly to rectify the areas of non-compliance. Despite that, 10 qualifications were still to be suspended.

ASQA releases findings of national strategic review into course duration

30 June 2017

The Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) conducted a national strategic review of issues relating to unduly short training programs. Recognising that the long-term quality of Australia’s vocational education and training (VET) sector is at risk of unduly short training, resulting in learners not gaining the competencies specified in the training packages for certain industries.

ASQA is vigilant in ensuring there is no loss of confidence in Australia’s VET courses – and is rapidly rooting out unscrupulous providers who seek to take advantage of the flexibility that competency based, and not time based training, offers.

Fatigue ends life of training provider Vocation
28 Nov, 2015
Source: The Australian
Author: Kylar Loussikian

Vocation imploded last year after a damning government audit stripped it of funds.

The tin can could have been ­rattled longer — for another six months by some estimates. But in the end it wasn’t just a lack of capital that ended the Icarian life of Vocation, one of Australia’s first listed private training providers; there was also fatigue.

The company spectacularly imploded last year after a damning government audit stripped it of funds, and management slowly rebuilt an internal sales team.

Investors were also tired, wary of a private training college industry rife with rorting, unscrupulous conduct and under the intense glare of the federal government and its regulatory apparatuses.

Vocation, which this week became the first listed training provider to call in administrators, was once worth more than $770 million.

And the remaining listed education stocks aren’t looking all that healthy either. Australian Careers Network, which runs the lucrative Phoenix Institute, has been in a trading halt for weeks and isn’t likely to exit soon.

Another, Ashley Services, has seen its share price drop more than 80 per cent after a big earnings downgrade in April.

Vocation, a roll-up of three large training colleges — former chief executive Mark Hutchinson’s Avana, Brett Whitford’s Customer Service Institute of Australia, and BAWM — floated in late 2013, with Keating-era treasurer John Dawkins appointed chairman.

By mid-2014, the company had become dogged by rumours of a sweeping Victorian government probe, which it first denied and then suggested would be immaterial.

That was, as it turned out, definitely not the case. That review, which revoked $19.6m in public funding and shuttered two of the company’s most lucrative colleges — BAWM and Aspin — sent Vocation’s shares from $2.29 to just 90c, while a number of profit downgrades further depressed the share price to below 10c.

The shares last traded two weeks ago at 12c, when chief executive Stewart Cummins ­finally called in Ferrier Hodgson, leaving 12,000 students across the country with an uncertain ­future.

In hindsight, it was both a failure of the company and the regulators — the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority and the federal Australian Skills Quality Authority, which was conducting its own undisclosed probe into Vocation.

The size of the funding pullback was the largest in the VRQA’s history — more than the total of all other penalties. It would have been difficult for the company to foresee, unless its transgressions, described in a statement as the provision of “inappropriate” and “lower-quality” courses, were great.

One of the many travesties is public, but Vocation investors may never know exactly what the problems were. Despite a lengthy Freedom of Information process, aggressively appealed by the company at every turn, The Weekend Australian failed to obtain the original audit documents.

Whatever the problems, sources within the company said they would pale in comparison to some of the allegations levelled at ACN’s Phoenix Institute, and indeed the horror stories circulating about the private training industry.

The stories include the wholesale enrolment of community groups and even nursing homes, with their elderly residents, many of whom with weak English-language skills, signed up to courses intended to have tangible employment outcomes.

Those stories don’t concern Phoenix Institute, but it faces other allegations, brought by the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission, that are no less damning.

They include allegations the college paid an unemployed indigenous man $100 to assist it in enrolling others living in a public housing estate into its courses.

Phoenix, the ACCC alleges, also enrolled a woman on the Disability Support Pension living in public housing, despite being told she would not be able to undertake the course.

ACN strongly denies the claims, and is planning to appeal a separate decision taken by ASQA to deregister the college, which is one of the company’s biggest earners. Since it acquired Phoenix in January, the amount of funding obtained under the federal government’s VET FEE-HELP loan scheme jumped from $1.9m last year to $106m this year to date.

The VET FEE-HELP scheme allows students to access nearly $100,000 in government loans to study at colleges, with the debt to be repaid once a student earns more than $54,000 in a year.

However, low completion and progress rates have raised fears a significant amount of that money will never be repaid.

One college enrolled 4000 students in 2014, managing to graduate only five students.

It is the speed of growth in the industry that has many investors worried.

Steve Johnson, a fund manager at Forager Funds, said the initial red flag was the listing of a “whole heap of these companies … particularly businesses with no assets at all”.

“In the case of ACN, the capital was less than $5 million, and all of a sudden it was worth hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s a big flag to us there was something untoward happening,” Mr Johnson said.

“It was actually the speed of the growth that worried us the most, and we didn’t understand how you could build a legitimate business that could genuinely train that many people in such a short period of time.”

Vocation, on the other hand, had very little exposure to the VET FEE-HELP market — just $3.2m this year. A wry observer quipped that if Vocation had entered that part of the industry with quite the same vigour as many other players, it may have been a different story.

There is no doubt Vocation’s troubles, and those of ACN and Ashley Services, will serve to scare already wary investors away from the education sector.

Despite this, IDP Education, which floated earlier this week, rose 28 per cent to close at $3.40 in its first two days of trade.

It appears both the government and Labor are set on “turning the tap off”, with a new tranche of legislation due to be voted on this week. It will not be an easy end of the year for training colleges.

Vocation goes into voluntary administration

26 Nov, 2015
Source: The Australian Business Review
Author: Kyla Loussikian

Troubled education provider Vocation has entered voluntary administration, announcing “with great regret” the board has been unable to secure funding to keep it alive.

The company said today that contrary to earlier indications, “it is now clear that current and potential investors are not willing to inject additional funds”.

Vocation on Monday asked the Australian Securities Exchange for an extension of its ­voluntary suspension from trade, in place since mid-November.

Vocation (VET) had been hoping to raise capital from institutional and sophisticated investors as it tried to repair its balance sheet.

Instead, Ferrier Hodgson has been appointed to act as voluntary administrator.

The firm said it intends to “explore all options” to allow its entities to continue operations.

DataRoom revealed last week market concerns that the salvage plan had collapsed.

The company negotiated an amended loan facility with its ­financiers in July, which committed it to a minimum $3 million in ­repayments over the year from a cash balance of about $9m.

Vocation, which at that time had gross debts of $11m, is required to make a $1m payment by the start of December. It is unclear whether it will be able to do this without additional capital.

Vocation this year logged a statutory net loss of $300.3 million for the 12 months ended June 30 compared with a loss of $3.5m a year earlier.

The company has reduced debts sharply this year, after a damning Victorian government review stripped funding from two subsidiaries and forced their closure, leading to a share price collapse.

Vocation’s stock plunged 57 per cent in one day last October when the company, which had repeatedly denied media reports of trouble in its Victorian business, finally admitted it had lost $19.6 million in government funding.

The Victorian review and subsequent share collapse led to the filing of three separate class actions against the company, all alleging misrepresentations and breaches of the continuous disclosure regime.

In a statement, the company said its turnaround strategy had been “proceeding well” with “solid increases in student enrolments (and) greater discipline in training operations”.

Vocation shares hit a high in September last year of $3.35 and yesterday closed at 12c.

Australian Careers Network’s Phoenix Institute loses registrations

24 Nov, 2015
Source: The Sydney Morning Herald
Author: Sarah  Danckert

Australian Careers Network’s troublesome college the Phoenix Institute has been stripped of its registrations by federal regulators.

The loss of key federal registrations that give Phoenix access to government funding for student courses is another blow for the embattled Australian Careers Network, which only listed in December last year.

On Tuesday, Australian Careers Network revealed the Australian Skills Quality Authority had pulled the plug on Phoenix’s registrations that allow students
at its courses apply for VET Fee-Help loans. Phoenix was also removed from the Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students.

The company plans to seek an urgent stay of the decision in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, which would allow the company to continue to operate as a registered training organisation.

“Phoenix does not agree with these decisions and proposes to seek an urgent stay of the decisions and otherwise apply to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal for a review of all the decisions,” Australian Careers Network chief executive Ivan Brown said in an announcement to the Australian Securities
Exchange.

Last week Australian Careers Network also extended its voluntary trading suspension to December 18 so it could get its house in order. Its shares last
traded at $3.43.

As revealed in Fairfax Media this month another college operated by Australian Careers Network, Consider This Training, is also of risk of losing its registration as the result of a full scale audit by the federal regulator following a raft of student complaints.

Phoenix, Consider This Training and another Australian Careers Network college Australian Management Academy have had their Victorian government
funding cut.

The Victorian government had also tried to sever the funding for all other Australian Careers Network colleges but put that plan in abeyance following a legal challenge by the ASX-listed company.

Phoenix has run into trouble in recent months after an outcry over its agents doling out free laptops to induce people into signing up for education and training courses that often weren’t appropriate for their needs and abilities.

Fairfax Media has also previously revealed agents working for Phoenix had targeted people in vulnerable communities, including low socio-economic enclaves and people with intellectual disabilities, in their sales activities.

Many Phoenix students have complained the agent did not properly explain their enrolment and signed them up to a VET Fee-Help loan often in excess
of $15,000.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission recently flagged its intention to take court action against Phoenix for “misleading or deceptive
and unconscionable conduct”.

Six of 10 top private college groups under a cloud

5 Nov, 2015
Source: The Australian
Author: Nicola Berkovic, Legal affairs correspondent

Six of the top 10 organisations running Australian private colleges — which together received more than $620 million in government-funded student loans last year — are under regulatory scrutiny or have been accused of questionable quality or marketing practices.

Four of the six colleges — the College of Creative Design and Arts, Cornerstone Investment, Study Group Australia and the Australian Institute of Professional Education — are the subject of regulatory audits.

One of the colleges, Unique International, is the subject of legal action by the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission and has been deregistered. A sixth, ACTE, which operates Evocca College, is set to be the subject of a possible class ­action by hundreds of students for alleged breaches of consumer and credit laws. Despite the many hundreds of millions of dollars flowing to the six organisations in government-funded VET FEE-HELP student loans, together they had just 1874 students finish their courses last year.

The Australian can reveal that the College of Creative Design and Arts, which runs colleges across Queensland under several brands, including Keystone College, had just 32 students complete its courses last year. It had a progress rate of 11.7 per cent, but ­received more than $35m in government-funded VET FEE-HELP loans last year and had 3576 students enrolled.

Those students were charged hefty course fees. Keystone’s six-month diploma of business costs $13,990, while the same course at TAFE Queensland costs $4900.

Several of the company’s ­directors are involved in running numerous training companies, including consultancies that show other businesses how to become registered training organisations. They declined to talk to The Australian yesterday.

New Zealand-born Aloi Burgess, 40, is one of the college’s ­directors and also a director of at least 10 other training-related companies, according to ASIC records. Mr Burgess owns four properties in Queensland.

One of the companies he ­directs, National Training and Development, is a student brokerage company, which was accused last year of signing up an intellectually disabled student to a training course outside Centrelink. The student was enrolled at Aspire College, of which Mr Burgess is also a director, in two courses costing $30,000.

Mr Burgess is a former ­national sales manager for Evocca College, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Another fellow director, Lindsay Hamon, is a director of at least seven other training organ­isations, according to one website, as is fellow director Karen ­Whitehead.

The website states that Mr Hamon has held “strategic CEO roles that drove year-by-year doubling of revenue across five RTOs”.

The College of Creative Design and Arts last night issued a statement saying the government’s figures were “12 months out of date and not accurate in reflecting student outcomes”.

“Notwithstanding this, CCDA has acted swiftly to put in place strong measures to assist students to progress and complete their courses,” it said.

It said these included a language program to “pre-identify students” who were “not yet ready to enrol for a CCDA course”. It said it had also “increased its staff-to-student ratio by opening physical branches in five states”.

Mr Burgess is also a director of the Australian Indigenous College, which is not registered but delivers courses under the registration of Study Group Australia — another company the subject of an Australian Skills Quality Authority’s targeted audit.

Study Group Australia managing director Warren Jacobson said the regulator had asked for information on a narrow range of matters and his company had strict compliance and quality controls in place.

“We will provide the ­information that they’ve asked for and I imagine we will get back to business,” he said.

Vulnerable People being exploited by unethical RTOs

25 Sept, 2015

The shameful action of far too many RTOs continues.  Not only are People with Disabilities being exploited, but it appears those who ask questions about unethical practices are subject to not too subtle threats.

See story in The Age

ASQA Update: Sept 2015

8 Sept, 2015

Message from ASQA’s Chief Commissioner

Like other government departments and statutory authorities, the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) is currently finalising its annual report, which will be tabled in Parliament soon. However, I wanted to share with you some key statistics about ASQA’s regulatory activity between 1 July 2014 and 30 June 2015.

They are that ASQA:

  • finalised almost 1,400 audit activities
  • made 27 decisions to cancel registration
  • made 54 decisions to suspend registration
  • issued 158 written notices of intention to cancel/suspend registration
  • issued 17 other administrative sanctions
  • rejected 25 (9.2%) applications from organisations seeking initial registration as a new provider, and
  • rejected 25 (3.2%) applications to renew provider registration.

These statistics demonstrate that ASQA takes the task of regulating the vocational education and training sector very seriously and that it is willing to use the powers available to it against those providers that do not comply with the legislation and required standards.

During the four years since ASQA was established it has:

  • conducted more than 5,000 audit activities
  • issued almost 500 notices to cancel/suspend registration
  • made 220 decisions to cancel/suspend a provider’s registration
  • rejected 159 applications to establish a new RTO, and
  • rejected 149 applications from existing RTOs to renew their registration.

The message to training providers that do not comply with the requirements of the Standards and training packages is this – it’s not a matter of if you will be caught, but when. The Australian Government has given ASQA additional resources and regulatory tools to help it in its work, and we will use them to ensure poor quality providers are removed from the sector so that students, industry and employers can have confidence in the sector.

Chris Robinson
Chief Commissioner and Chief Executive Officer
Australian Skills Quality Authority

GEM Applauds ASQA for Continued Quality Control

GEM College applauds the Australian Skills Quality Authority’s continued resolution to ensure quality in the Australian VET sector. On 5th August, the registration of two Melbourne based RTOs was suspended.

See article on ASQA website here.

The Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) took a decision to immediately suspend the registration of these two Melbourne-based registered training organisations (RTOs) after a company director of each was charged with various offences following the resolution of an Australian Federal Police (AFP) investigation.
ASQA – the national regulator for the vocational education and training – suspended the registration of St Stephen Institute of Technology (RTO 22336) and Symbiosis Institute of Technical Education (RTO 22331).
“ASQA has been assisting the AFP with its investigation – Operation Aristotle – into individuals who either own or are high managerial agents with these RTOs,” ASQA Chief Commissioner Chris Robinson said.
“Following the laying of charges against the individuals by the AFP, ASQA has taken regulatory action under the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Act 2011 to suspend the providers’ registration.
“The suspension of the providers’ registration means they must cease all training and assessment activity; they cannot enrol any new students; they cannot advertise or promote any training courses; and they cannot issue any vocational qualifications or statements of attainment.”

Unacceptable Performance by RTOs

“The Australian” reports that just a fraction of students who studied at two of Australia’s largest training providers have graduated with qualifications, with many ending up with debts nearly double the average of the federal government’s VET Fee-Help scheme.

Workright Australia (GEM College) have completion rates well above the national average. Workright has now applied for VET FEE-HELP to provide students who may need assistance with the ability to access quality training which has had significantly better than national average results for over 20 years.

See article in The Australian here.

Not a single student enrolled in Careers Australia courses under the VET Fee-Help loan scheme in 2011 had graduated by the end of 2014, according to the figures released by the Department of Education and Training. Just 10 per cent of students commencing in 2012 and 13.4 per cent of students commencing in 2013 had graduated by the end of last year.

Simon Birmingham, the Assistant Minister for Education and Training, said he had already expressed concerns about low completion rates, which were “completely unacceptable”.

“In relation to completion rates the Australian Government has introduced a series of reforms that will ensure students are not signing up to courses for the wrong reasons,” he said.

“This includes requiring providers to ensure students have the necessary prerequisites to complete a diploma or advanced diploma qualification.”

The federal government has moved to ban inducements including free laptops and meal vouchers that were drawing students into courses across the industry. In July, the government introduced a ban on marketers labelling VET Fee-Help courses “free” or “government-funded”.

While students pay no upfront cost, debts incurred through the scheme are to be replayed once graduates earn over $53,345.

Grattan Institute modelling shows that about 40 per cent of all money lent to students in vocational courses would never be recovered and have to be written off, compared to 21 per cent let to university students.

The figures, provided to a Senate committee, also show the average loan per full time student studying at Careers Australia was $18,199 in 2013. This compared to a VET Fee-Help average of $10,621.

Evocca Colleges, another of Australia’s largest training companies, had just 32.9 per cent of VET Fee-Help eligible students commencing in 2011 graduate by the end of 2014.

Of students starting in 2012, 22.4 per cent graduated in that time, while 9.4 per cent of students commencing in 2013 had graduated by the end of last year.

In Evocca’s case, the average loan was $16,878.

In a statement, Careers Australia disputed the Department of Education figures.

“In some cases, completion can be delayed because all nursing students must complete a work placement program before graduating, and sometimes students must wait until a place is available,” the company said.

“It should also be noted that not all students begin their study at the start of the year (and) some of them may not have been enrolled until late in the year, and would therefore nor graduate for at least two calendar years.”

Despite the figures provided to the Senate committee showing no students enrolled in 2011 graduated, Careers Australia said the actual completion figure was 75 per cent.

Evocca chief executive Craig White said the figures were higher than the industry average.

“You have to compare these numbers against an industry average number for all VET Fee-Help students commencing in 2013 across both public and private providers, which was 26 per cent,” he said.

“Our distance completion rates were 19 per cent, what that tells you is that the campus completion rates are a lot higher than the 32 per cent, which is exactly why we are actively expanding the campus model because we know it’s better for the engagement and progression of students.”

If You Would Like to Know More, Enquire Here.