Edition 709, 12 June 2017
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From a different angle
Monday, June 12 2017
In case you missed it, there has been somewhat of a big focus on the higher education sector in recent weeks, particularly with the federal Budget delivering a lot less than our sector, or more importantly students would have hoped for - which is simply ‘a level playing field’ for all higher education students regardless of their provider. Instead those who choose a private provider to meet their study and career goals will continue to be financially punished with a 25% fee on their FEE-HELP loans to pay for their tuition fees. These are full-cost fees - they are not subsidised through Commonwealth supported places (CSPs).
This disparity puts the concerns of university students about a modest increase in their subsidised tuition fee contribution into perspective.
While ACPET understands the need for budget repair may limit the opportunities for expanded access to CSPs the 25% loan fee, not paid by university students, is simply unfair. It is a key element of our submission to the current Senate inquiry into the legislation that underpins several the Government’s proposed higher education reforms. We will continue to advocate for its removal.
And yet, here is the key question. If students are paying back their loans, the ‘loan book’ is in fact an asset so why the unjust fee?
Of course, there always seems to be activity in the VET sector and last week saw the announcement by Assistant Minister Karen Andrews of a review of the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Act 2011 (NVETR Act). Professor Valerie Braithwaite, a bit of a regulatory guru, at the ANU School of Regulation and Global Governance will lead this review.
This review comes hot on the heels of proposed changes to higher education and international legislation introduced into the Parliament to better ensure provider integrity and maintain Australia’s world class reputation in these sectors.
The NVETR Act provides the legislative framework for the Australian Skills Quality Authority’s regulation of the VET sector. The issues identified with the VET FEE-HELP program and the impact on students and the sector highlight some potential weaknesses in the current regulatory powers and their implementation.
While we need to learn the regulatory lessons of the VET FEE-HELP failure, I believe there needs to be fundamental consideration and broad discussion about what we want the sector to be into the future. Now is the time for deep thinking - how can VET be best positioned to respond to and support the future skills needs of students, industry and the Australian community? With some shared understanding the best possible regulatory arrangements can be developed.
The real risk is that short term thinking will result in a push to ensure extra power, compliance and conformity – which in turn will remove the capacity for innovation, customisation and flexibility.
One of the potential consequences of some of the recent regulatory responses to identified poor practices is that quality provision that responds to the dynamic needs of business and industry and that of learners is constrained as a risk-free approach is pursued. I’m not sure this approach is sustainable into the future where innovation, flexibility, choice and quality will be critical to the sector’s success.
One of my other observations following the recent concerns is the need to lift the academic leadership and governance of the sector so that the balance of academic and commercial imperatives is better ensured. Of course, this is a more prominent feature of the regulatory arrangements governing the higher education sector.
The learnings from VFH though do need to be heeded. More compliance will not be the answer.
The answer will be in the collaborative efforts of government, regulators and industry. We must all share this responsibility.
I congratulate the Assistant Minister for commissioning this review - the timing is certainly ‘spot on’ - and I welcome Professor Braithwaite’s appointment. It should provide an opportunity to discuss what we want the sector to ‘look like’ and establish a regulatory environment that best supports the pivotal role the sector plays in supporting Australia’s future skills development.
I would encourage members to engage in the review as it proceeds over the coming months.