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Australia focuses in on private VET with $37.8m integrity unit

The Albanese government has launched an AUS$37.8 million integrity unit designed to “weed out” unlawful behaviour in the Vocational Education and Training sector and protect vulnerable students.

The government was recommended to widen AQSA's role beyond regulating the quality of education. Photo: pexels

Risk of "serious organised crime" related to student visas is "most prevalent" among private VET providers, according to the leaked document

The Australian Skills Quality Authority will establish the unit equipped with technology and data capability, including a confidential tip-off line for whistle-blowers to report alleged serious noncompliance, such as inappropriate or fraudulent practices of training organisations.

A leaked review of exploitation in Australia’s visa system urged the government to widen the role of the regulator beyond education quality to include things like student attendance and compliance back in March.

The government says the initiative will boost ASQA’s capacity to enable a “compliance blitz” on non genuine providers that may be exploiting international students.

Home Affairs, the Australian Federal Police and other law enforcement agencies will conduct “intense” compliance checks on high-risk providers.

It comes just a day after the government revealed measures combatting student poaching and education system abuse, including a ban on onshore switching commissions.

The “sense of drift regarding VET is over”, minister for skills and training Brendan O’Connor said.

“We are working to weed out the minority of non-genuine VET providers, the bottom feeders, who seek to exploit people and traduce the integrity and reputation of the entire sector in the process.”

Further measures to strengthen Registered Training Organisation legislation will be presented to a meeting of Skills Ministers in November, the government added.

The Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia emphasises that the government is overlooking the fact that independent skills training providers “lead on critical student and employer satisfaction measures”.

Recent data from the government-owned National Centre for Vocational Education Research shows that 89.4% of the 4.5 million students in skills training choose to study with an independent skills training provider.

Private Registered Training Organisations, outperform public providers on key measures of student satisfaction, the chief executive of the peak body, Troy Williams, noted.

“On key measures of student satisfaction including satisfaction with teaching, learning resources and support services, private RTOs achieve better outcomes than public TAFE colleges,” Williams said.

While he acknowledged that ITECA shares the “Australian government’s resolve to protect and enhance the integrity of the skills training system… it also needs to be cognisant that when it comes to delivering quality outcomes, ITECA members achieve the best results”.

leaked copy of the Nixon Review, which is reviewing exploitation in the country’s migration system, suggested that government should consider removing Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students eligibility for “low level private VET and non-award courses”.

It should also conduct targeted compliance on private VET providers for three months, it also said. It is not clear whether the government has already done this.

Private VET providers, along with some Registered Migration Agents and education agents, had been exposed by Australian law enforcement to help organised criminals launder money.

The document said that, with 800 providers as of March 2023 when the report is dated, the VET sector is more dispersed than other education sectors and sees “more churn” with players entering and exiting the market.

The government was recommended to widen AQSA’s role beyond regulating the quality of education.

Risk of “serious organised crime” related to student visas is “most prevalent” among private VET providers which offer lower level courses and qualifications, the review – written by former Victorian chief police commissioner Christine Nixon – found.

O’Connor added that he will “continue to pursue changes to VET legislation necessary to ensure ASQA has the regulatory powers it needs to prevent and remove non-genuine training organisations from the sector”.

“A significant boost to ASQA’s capacity will enable a compliance blitz on unlawful behaviour as we combat the unethical and badly performing training providers.

“Dodgy training providers have no place in VET, international education and our migration system”

“These actions are aimed at stopping domestic and international students and graduates from being exploited by unscrupulous operators.”

“Dodgy training providers have no place in VET, international education and our migration system,” Clare O’Neil, minister for home affairs, continued.

“These actions are part of broader measures this week to restore integrity to our international education and migration systems.

“These measures support actions we are looking to take under the ESOS Act to issue suspension certificates to high-risk education providers.”

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