New Senate inquiry into VET

24 November 2014

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A wideranging inquiry into the regulation and funding of private vocational education and training providers is set to kick off in the Senate  amid concerns about private VET providers misusing public funding and warnings that proposed  higher education changes could see shoddy practices emerge in the higher education sector.

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Piggy bank The inquiry’s terms of reference, negotiated between Labor and the Greens, and apparently supported by sufficient of the cross bench to get the proposal up,  call for examining: private sector access to public funds; regulatory regimes governing the sector; the VET FEE-HELP scheme; the overall quality of education provided; associated learning requirements; and graduate outcomes for those completing training with private providers.

It’s also proposed that the inquiry will scrutinise marketing and promotional techniques both private providers and third-party brokers employ, incidents of non-compliance with regulatory frameworks and political donations from private providers.

The inquiry would follow the Coalition Government’s recently announced crackdown on “unscrupulous or misleading behaviour by ‘brokers’ who act as an intermediary between students and training providers, as part of the new standards for RTOs”.

This comes amid industry efforts to weed out poor performing providers in the wake of Australian Skills and Quality Authority (ASQA) data released earlier this month that revealed high rates of initial non-compliance with national regulatory standards amongst providers.

The data led to ASQA and ACPET defending the sector, saying providers swiftly addressed most non-compliance issues and that action was being taken to identify and deal with a minority of firms that were ruining the industry’s reputation. ACPET plans to release a draft code of conduct and new set of guidelines dealing with these issues before the end of the year.

Opposition spokesperson  Kim Carr told New Matilda the inquiry would have implications for the Government’s plan to deregulate the university sector, a key plank of which is to open an $800 million pool of public funding to private providers of higher education courses.

Carr said he is particularly concerned about the Victorian VET experience, where deregulation of the sector by Labor Premier John Brumby allowed private providers to massively expand and take advantage of public funding.

He attacked the Liberal state government for moving further towards a system more advantageous for private providers and suggested federal legislation may be needed to bring the private providers back into line.

This is so important for individuals and for the country. This is not just an isolated set of allegations now and I’m concerned to see there is quite strong action taken by the parliamen.

Rodd Camm, CEO of the Australian Council of Private Education and Training, welcomed the inquiry, but denied rorts in the VET sector are “widespread”.

You can’t be opposed to [the inquiry]. We’re willing to have the sector scrutinised. I do not think there is widespread misuse [of public money], I think it’s at the margins of the sector, but not withstanding that there have been some fairly high profile failures. We have to stamp it out.

Camm said it is “a bridge too far” to link problems in the VET sector to the higher education sector, which he said had higher benchmarks and barriers to entry.

See
Senate VET inquiry launches today
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