Representing quality private education
providers in Australia

Where can you turn?

Monday, May 29 2017

I am pretty sure I said a year or so ago things had to get easier – turns out I got that wrong.

Last week was just another, well let’s just say poor week – for students, parents and probably plenty of others.

Perhaps the only highlight was the ABC caption introducing me as Minister Birmingham and vice versa. He may not have seen it as funny but thanks for all of the feedback as a result!!

Yes, more College closures and registrations cancelled and more appeals.

I start this week hopeful for the future but in despair at the current environment.

My Grandmother used to tell me that when things are tough all you can do is tell the truth and finish one thing at a time. I am sure you are out there thinking that Rod has finally lost it! My point is, despite everything, despite the poor behaviour and mistakes of some providers, does the sector really deserve what has transpired? The slashing of support for job pathways, limited access to loans, a lack of discretion and respect in many dealings and a cut back in funding that is unprecedented.

Naturally, I do know that what happened in those providers was a disgrace.

I do know that some of the behaviours that have been uncovered were reprehensible, and I do know that this is inexcusable.

However, the failures here were not just these providers. There were considerable learnings for educators, for Peak Bodies, regulators and government.

I remain unconvinced that there has been a genuine joined up Government-Industry-Regulatory approach to driving the policy reforms across the spectrum to ensure a lift in standards. It has been a one-sided approach.

Despite the horrors, the majority of the evidence (as in the truth) demonstrates that the far majority of all providers deliver a great result. Good outcomes, satisfaction and all that. The research highlights a similar trend.

So, to keep tracing the evidence, perhaps the definitive independent review of what happened in the VET FEE HELP program (which has started all of this) was that of the Australian National Audit Office.

A quick review of its key findings finds:

  • The VFH scheme was not effectively designed or administered
  • Poor design and a lack of monitoring and control led to costs blowing out
  • Design was weighted heavily towards supporting growth, but an appropriate quality and accountability framework addressing identified risks was not put in place
  • The Department did not establish processes to ensure that all objectives, risks and consequences were managed
  • Increasing participation overrode integrity and accountability
  • Administration did not safeguard operations nor did it support the achievement of integrity, quality, value and sustainability

There were weaknesses in the administrative processes for: approving VFH providers; developing and undertaking risk, fraud and compliance activities; controlling payments to providers; making information readily available to students about their rights and obligations under the VFH scheme; and managing and resolving student complaints.

A comprehensible list. The question we need to reflect on is are these issues being addressed with contemporary, evidenced based policy changes?

I hope so because the sector must find something of benefit in this fallout. A clear out of poor providers certainly but to the detriment of everyone.

Rod Camm


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