Representing quality private education
providers in Australia

Well what a weekend

Monday, April 24 2017

Kicked off Friday night with food poisoning – why does that feel symbolic of our last year!

Anyway, back to the task. This week I would like to reflect on the outstanding performance of Private Higher Education providers, the potential impact to international enrolments from the changes to Australia’s Visa arrangements and the announcement of the providers approved to deliver Vet Student Loans (VSL).

The 2016 Student Experience Survey (SES) National Report of higher education undergraduate students and the 2016 Employer Satisfaction Survey (ESS) National Report were released by the Department of Education and Training on 12 April 2017.

The Student Experience Survey (SES) indicates 80% of all students are satisfied with the quality of their entire educational experience. It is 80% for private higher education providers (up from 78% in 2015) and 80% for universities (the same as 2015).

There were also great results across Skills Development and Teaching Quality and Learning Resources, with above 80%, satisfaction. The report did highlight that Learner Engagement satisfaction levels are significantly lower for those students studying through an external study mode (26%) as compared to students studying through an internal/mixed study mode (65%). This remains an issue across the industry.

The Employer Satisfaction Survey (ESS) indicates an overall employer satisfaction level of 84.3% with their graduate employees and similarly strong results across the key domains.  Private Higher Education achieved an 81.9 % overall employer satisfaction level.

Overall, though the results for private Colleges are similar to those for universities. This deserves recognition and demonstrates that the variety and quality that comes from this important part of Higher Education is worthy of real support. For students, the data provide a fantastic ability to compare Colleges and Universities. If you go on this data alone, the future of private Higher Education Colleges is bright indeed.

It is clear that private students continue to rate the overall level of satisfaction highly – with an improvement of 2% since 2015 (let’s not forget they have to pay higher fees for the privilege due to a 25% government fee). Indeed, Privates had a higher level of satisfaction than universities on three of the focus areas. Similarly, the Employer Satisfaction Survey validates the high level of satisfaction with graduates - it is comparable to that of university graduate employees.

These results reinforce ACPET’s advocacy for private Higher Education Colleges to be eligible for the same funding arrangements as their university counterparts. The federal government’s higher education funding reforms are expected to be announced as part of the 2017-18 Budget.

In international news, the Australian Government has announced reforms to a number of employer sponsored visas, including the Temporary Work (Skilled) (subclass 457) visa. A new Temporary Skill Shortage (TSS) visa that includes a short-term stream of two years and a medium-term stream of four years, will replace it from March 2018. The Skilled Occupation List (SOL) of eligible skill shortage areas, will be reduced and replaced by the Medium and Long Term Strategic Skills List (MLTSSL).

We are told that the measures are designed to “tighten Australia’s employer sponsored skilled migration programs to ensure they better meet Australia’s skills needs, increase the quality and economic contribution of skilled migrants and address public concerns about the displacement of Australian workers.”

As you all know international education is a major success story for Australia.

While there were no specific changes to student visas, announcements of Visa tightening and the rhetoric used to support the changes does have a direct impact on the attractiveness of Australia as a destination. International students are sophisticated and informed ‘buyers’ and do contemplate future employment opportunities in considering their study destinations. Any perceived over-tightening of migration conditions will discourage some students from choosing Australia as a study destination. Education agents and overseas media are likely to focus negatively on this. Certainly, the media in China and India have reported the changes negatively.

Importantly, Minister Birmingham has responded by emphasizing that Australia is still a welcoming place for students. Peak bodies will continue to work with government to ensure any negatives can be overcome.

Work rights and the ability to apply the skills and knowledge learnt through education are very important features of building Australia’s reputation as a high quality and welcoming study destination. This does not mean students should have a right to residency – the far majority actually return home. It simply means clarity on their ability to continue on and work will help build Australia’s reputation.

On a final note, last week saw the announcement of the successful VSL providers from 1 July. It is pleasing to get this behind us, so we can now focus on the future of Tertiary Education.

However, before doing so there is a bit more to do. The key numbers are that there were 265 applications to deliver VSL from 1 July – 132 were existing providers and 133 ‘newbies’.  This of course does not include the 41 ‘listed’ providers (TAFEs, Unis, gov’t entities) as they are not subject to the same rules.

109 of these providers were approved and 146 not approved with 10 seeking further information.  This in effect means that 55% of private providers were rejected from the scheme, and almost 40% of current private providers were rejected.

Of the 109 approved, 80 were VSL transitional providers, 27 were newbies and 2 were ‘old’ VFH providers who have now only applied for VSL.

It certainly seems that what started out as an attempt to remove poor performing providers (which I absolutely support) from the scheme has now gone far beyond that. Removing 40% of current providers will create considerable disruption and turmoil to students and to an industry already under considerable strain. There is currently insufficient information available to assess the merit of the process. Why is that? Well in correspondence advising the outcomes providers were simply told that they did not meet certain criteria, for example financial performance, fit and proper person, management and governance and experience and course offerings.

Now there may be legitimate reasons behind some of this. For providers wishing to seek a review (an internal public service review not an independent one) there has been some helpful advice:

‘The Department of Education and Training invites you to provide a 2-page written submission addressing the reasons why the initial decision should be reconsidered. It is important to note that in reconsidering applications the department will not accept new material to supplement your initial application. This process is an opportunity for you to direct the department to original information that may have been missed during assessment of applications.

The department’s probity plan applies and once you have submitted a request for reconsideration departmental officers are unable to discuss the status of your application. You will notified of the outcome of the reconsideration by email.’

In any process communication is everything. Surely discussions to clarify interpretation and develop an understanding of applications does not undermine probity. I can hardly wait for the informative emails to follow.

There is one further element to consider. The loans scheme is now a key component of a National skills program. The strategy applied to assessing the impact of decisions and understanding regional/industry impacts are therefore important elements. However, the outcomes are hard to follow. As an example, three providers delivering nursing qualifications in SA have not received VSL approval and the only private aviation training provider in WA has been denied VSL funding. Where these students go now is difficult to comprehend.
In terms of overall impact, we are currently working with members who were not successful in the process. The high-level data include over 1800 VSL students and over 12, 000 VFH students will be impacted and providers report that there will be up to 50% job losses.

The more things change, the more they stay the same…

Rod Camm


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