Representing quality private education
providers in Australia

The power of data

Monday, February 13 2017

It is no surprise that I have commented a number of times this year already on the turbulence that is still harming our sector and the real challenges we are continuing to experience.

Two of the many issues impacting relate to students ‘opting in’ under Vet Student Loans and our ability as an education system to track students.

In relation to providers wishing to teach out VET FEE HELP students this year, a critical part of the process is for students to ‘opt in’. The problem is that the process is not working as well as it should. The process is not transparent and there is considerable confusion amongst students. There are many reports of large numbers of students who have not been even asked to opt in, and students who have called the Enquiry line, only to be told that they don’t need to opt in (this of course is incorrect). While we are all raising these issues, the problem is exacerbated by the Department’s refusal to disclose opt in information to providers. Instead of providers being able to reconcile the data and ensure students have received the right advice, everyone is in the dark.

This is a major concern. We all understand the problems of the previous scheme and the exploitation of students by a small number of providers. However, that is no justification to disrespect an entire industry. It should be about the students and it is difficult to understand why government can’t share this data with providers – to make sure it is accurate. The risk to providers is that despite their investment in students, the funding when it eventually starts in March will not accommodate many of the students.

Confusing indeed, particularly when it is this process that will determine who can continue their study and for providers who can receive funding for the teach out.

This will hurt a sector already on the edge.

The changes to VFH and the delays in payments as we transition to VSL have damaged many providers.

AT ACPET, we are currently managing 14 College closures and are case managing around 14,000 students. The concern is that there are more to come and problems in the payment process will escalate this risk. The response from our industry has been fantastic and I do thank you for that.

Perhaps our biggest challenge in managing such a large number of students is that as an education system, we don’t have the data readily available to enable the tracking of students. This has an impact well beyond provider payments and College closures.

When we first take over a College closure there are almost always problems with the data. How many students, their contact details and evidence of their academic progression are always difficult. Yet, this data should be available, both from the provider but also from a central data warehouse.

Put simply, Australia needs a tertiary education dataset that is collected in real time (quarterly reports are insufficient) and is integrated across vocational education and training and higher education.

The Productivity Commission released an Issues Paper last year on this topic, identifying that the prime purpose of strengthening education data is to improve education outcomes. There are actually many reasons!

The Mitchell Institute also released their submission to the Productivity Commission’s Enquiry into Improving Australia’s National Education Evidence Base.

Light reading certainly.

While there are many reasons to improve our data collections, for the purposes of this discussion my point is that we have a critical data gap that limits our ability to track students throughout their educational journeys through to further study and work. 

While VET now has a Unique Student Identifier, it is VET specific and does not include higher education. It also does not help students in identifying their academic progress in real time, or help contact the students themselves.

My desire is that the USI should be collecting student details and academic progress in real time as they progress. It would protect the student by ensuring their results are recorded and it would help understand the pathways they choose, and of course the outcomes from their studies.

However, that is only the start. The data need to include the full spectrum of Tertiary Education.

This of course also ties closely to quality. 2017 will be a watershed year for ACPET and our members in this area. ASQA is implementing a new model, designed around risk principles and to enable ASQA to analyse complaint information, provider compliance history, media reports (unsure of the evidentiary nature of this), enrolment and profile data and funding sources.

You would have thought that was always the case.

Regardless, I will write further on this in future editions, and will provide you with insight into ACPET’s Quality Endorsed Service and how it can make a real difference. 

Enjoy the week.

Rod Camm


ACPET | Members Login | Search | Legal