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VET regulator steps up amid compliance issues

The regulation body for VET providers in Australia has announced a series of campaigns to overhaul its efforts in “regulating international student delivery”.

The campaigns announced by ASQA will aim to better regulate international student delivery, but details are not yet available. Photo: Pexels

As well as the upcoming regulatory campaigns, ASQA has also updated its Service Charter

The Australian Skills Quality Authority, in its July update, said the regulatory campaigns would be focused around the expectation that “providers have returned to compliance”, and offer “targeted monitoring of delivery in certain industry sectors” that have been high risk for non-compliance.

“We have identified these risks through our environmental scans, sector research, issues raised by consumers and internal data collection and analysis,” wrote Saxon Rice, ASQA’s CEO.

“Like all campaigns, this will involve a range of activities, including resources and guidance to assist the sector to mitigate these risks, as well as targeted regulatory activities to ensure we maintain appropriate regulatory oversight.

“This includes being able to identify providers who are failing to meet their obligations and using the regulatory tools at our disposal to support these providers to return to compliance or exit them from the sector,” she continued.

However, while these campaigns have been announced and current information has been updated to “support providers with their compliance”, stakeholders in the industry doubt it will be enough to clear the air.

“I welcome this announcement by ASQA but it’s taken a surprisingly long time to be made and without more details it’s difficult to know if their campaigns will work,” Claire Field, a known expert in VET regulation and the tertiary education sector, told The PIE News. 

Field referenced to an incident in late 2022 where reports were made of international students being trafficked into Australia for sex work, resulting in a police investigation but no action being taken against any providers.

“Last month the NSW Building Commissioner [also] announced they will conduct their own skills audits on construction sites to tackle the issue of ‘dodgy trade qualifications’ being sold online. Clearly that points to a lack of confidence in current VET regulation,” Field pointed out.

Field also claimed she had seen evidence that was provided to the authority in mid-May that fake childcare, health and electrotechnology qualifications are also being sold online.

Rice wrote in the update that childcare was an area labelled as “high-risk”, and it would be one of the areas of the “targeted monitoring of delivery”.

“Reading between the lines, it seems ASQA is going to dust off and start to increase auditing activities again in targeted areas based on their risk assessment – this is long overdue,” Phill Bevan, an expert in regulatory oversight and project management, told The PIE.

“Without more details it’s difficult to know if their campaigns will work”

“The lack of regulatory activity in recent years is frankly scandalous, as are the regular scandals now hitting the media as poor providers have been running without effective oversight,” he said, referring to the 2022 incident.

The update also referred to a video from a series of video campaigns launched in June 2023 on international recruitment, referring to a document on standards management published in April 2022.

As well as the video campaigns and the upcoming regulatory campaigns, ASQA has also updated its Service Charter as of July 1 2023. 

“The Charter sets out revised service standards and commits us to providing a high level of service which reflects our values – you can expect us to act with honesty and integrity, respect and courtesy, confidentiality, procedural fairness, competence, due care and diligence,” Rice wrote.

“ASQA was right in moving to a risk-focused, self-assurance, audit model”

Despite ASQA’s latest efforts, the VET Skills Reform Review launched a poll at the beginning of July asking people whether ASQA is accountable and if its “decision making is transparent” – 88% of 139 who voted, as of July 12, said no.

“The annual reports gloss over provider satisfaction and engagement, but when digging under the surface into key statistics accessed via FOI, the ongoing engagement is very poor,” Bevan added.

In 2021/22, ASQA only audited 211 of its total providers – just 5.5% as opposed to 11.7% in 2020/21, or even 13.1% in 2016/17. Of the 211 it most recently audited, just 15 were found to be non-compliant.

While the non-compliance figure seems encouraging, Field noted that while the Productivity Commission does mention that ASQA changed its regulatory approach in 2020, it’s still doing far fewer audits.

“The four-year implementation of self-assurance is yet to be finalised in a model that providers can understand and implement from internal operations,” Bevan said.

“ASQA was right in moving to a risk-focused, self-assurance, audit model,” Field relented.

“Most Australian providers offer quality training and operate properly – but ASQA has clearly got a lot more work to do on getting their risk settings right to ensure they can find and deal with the illegal activities of some providers,” she added.

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