Representing quality private education
providers in Australia

Well, another difficult week

Monday, March 13 2017

There is no question in my mind that the future will see tertiary education recognised for the true value that it does represent for Australia’s future knowledge needs. Unfortunately, at the moment we see vocational education and training particularly being down trodden by rules that actually favour higher education choices and instead of dealing with the poor performers in our system, the entire sector has been burdened by indecipherable red tape and the removal of choice for students.

We as an industry do not shirk our own responsibility to lift the standards of education. All of our focus this year will be on this critical issue. Unlike other ‘commentators’ we don’t see efficiency or quality will result from guaranteeing either our members or alternatively government owned providers any percentage of funding and I seriously question how any improvement can result from taking student choice away.

We simply stand for raising the bar of education standards, and allowing students to choose what is best for them.

In these turbulent times, last week saw the closure of another major provider.

Of course, there are many reasons that cause a business to close. In this case it wasn’t regulatory concerns, the loss of contracts or even the inability to find students.

Put simply, the business closed because it has not been paid for legitimate training since November 2016. I have heard debate about the amount the provider spent of advertising, that it relied too much on VET FEE HELP and a range of other issues.

Regardless of the merits of the argument, the fact is the provider was working within the rules.

We should not pretend this is the only provider in this situation. ACPET is supporting a range of colleges across the nation in similar circumstances – they have not been paid since last year and are desperately trying to hang on – for the benefit of their students.

I certainly have never seen thus type of approach taken to private business.

The next challenge is helping Colleges that ultimately do get paid, but the reconciliation of those payments is incorrect.

I have reflected previously on how did we get here?

How can a solution to smash and entire industry be supported when it was the behaviour of but a few?

Let’s briefly reflect on the evidence again.

The Productivity Commission in its Introducing Competition and Informed Used Choice into Human Services: Identifying Sectors for Reform highlighted the failings of the VET FEE-HELP program as an example of how ‘not to’ deliver contestability in the human services sector.

The impartial Competition Policy Review (Harper Review) conducted in 2015 included a section which considered competition, contestability and user choice in the human services sector.

Prof Harper found that competition is about giving people choice and diversity over things that are intimately involved with the quality of their lives, or the lives of loved ones.

Pr Harper argued that the answer is about:

  • setting up independent regulators to police service providers – this has been done but they were caught out by the size and scale of the rorting in those providers
  • encouraging private sector delivery – this principle has been completely buried
  • making poor performers susceptible to replacement – there was no oversight, monitoring or actions taken to remedy poor performance
  • boosting information including user feedback – a big challenge for the sector
  • letting funding follow the choice of the people – this principle has also been forgotten.

Of course, the Auditor-General’s report and Mark Warburton have identified where the big failings were.

There are many examples across the economy where competition does work. But each and every element identified by Harper must work in harmony.

Yet, the policy solution for 2017 was to attack the entire private sector through loan caps, contract limits regardless of quality, complex anti-business rules implemented with no transition period, a difficult student transition process and withholding payment from all providers.

Enough said – I lament that this will take a long time to fix.

On another note, Mark McGowan has become WA's 30th premier in what must be called a stunning victory. Congratulations to Premier McGowan and his team. We certainly look forward to working with the new government.

It is yet more evidence that the electorate now has no fear of tossing out governments who stop talking and listening to their constituency.

I can only see more changes of governments ahead.

In closing a final plug for ACPET’s NSW Education forum on Wednesday 15 March. We will have the opportunity to consider and discuss all of these issues.

See you there.

Rod Camm


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