ACPET dismayed, as well

8 December 2015

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ACPET’s Rod Camm expresses dismay over the raft of changes in relation to VET FEE-HELP legislated last week  -and fair enough, too, because the blameless will be collateral damage in cracking down on the utterly blameworthy rorters.  But Camm also poses the question that has occurred to most VET sector participants and observers: how could this have been allowed to happen?  He answers the question thus: 

Without….checks and balances this could only mean Government has been approving this phenomenal growth, in a relatively small number of public and private providers, blind.

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Of course the last week was, and the week coming, will be dominated by discussion about the Higher Education Support Amendment (VET FEE-HELP Reform) Bill 2015.

As you would all be aware, the Government introduced the changes with no forewarning or consultation.

On hearing of the changes, I flew to Canberra to meet with Ministers, the Opposition and Senators in an attempt to rectify the problems, particularly the Freezing of VFH accounts at 2015 levels. Unfortunately, the Bill was passed that day, less than 24 hours after it was introduced.

Many members have expressed their concerns and it is important that you continue to do so. What disappointed me was that I, along with other representatives from the sector are appointed to a VFH Reform Working Group. To be on this group we were required to sign detailed confidentiality agreements. The Group only met a week ago where we discussed a range of reforms. Unfortunately there was not a word of the changes the government was about to introduce. Not sure I will attend this group again.

In terms of the future, I have been advised in no uncertain terms that neither the Minister nor Department have any discretion to vary VFH allocations for 2016 (based on the formula in the legislation), and that the Government had two choices, to close VFH down or to freeze the program at current levels. This means that the only way to fix this is for further legislative amendments, which can’t be until next year, assuming the Government agrees to do so.

ACPET will continue to address our concerns at all levels of the Government.

So, how did we actually get here?

There have been some strong voices this week apportioning blame for the VFH meltdown. However, if you are under any illusions the answers lie in the legislative amendments.

Let’s start by remembering what has been happening under this program:

  • Student loans have more than doubled to $1.74B in 2014
  • Since commencing in 2009, $3.1B has been funded
  • Student numbers increased by 103% from 2013 to 2014
  • Completion rates remain at about 10% below that of sector average
  • On-line VFH completion sits at 7% completion rate compared to 23% for students funded outside of the program.

In a +$3B program the Government only last week introduced changes to give it the power to:

  • Pay providers considered high risk in arrears to ensure student data is authentic
  • Suspending payments for new enrolments where there are concerns about a provider’s performance until agreed actions to lift performance are completed
  • Ensuring providers have appropriate tuition assurance for their number of students
  • Appointing investigators to better cope with expertise and resourcing requirements.

Really?

Surely we could not have a +$3B program where the Government could not investigate rorting, suspend payments and even monitor performance? Without these checks and balances this could only mean Government has been approving this phenomenal growth, in a relatively small number of public and private providers, blind.

The case of the prosecution rests.

While some argue ACPET should have done more, and this is perhaps the case, in the weight of the lack of program management, where even as the Tuition Assurance operators we did not know of the growth until after it happened (12 months later) we were swimming upstream, and that is putting it politely.

All of our Senate Inquiry submissions and public statements have pushed for changes. Yes some of them have now been introduced but the Freeze really was ill conceived. If they had consulted we could have had a bi partisan approach to real change, fully supported by the quality end of our proud industry.

And despite all of this, still no national Ombudsman.

While we have distributed what we know of the implications of the changes, if you have questions about how to calculate your notional allocations for next year, please contact your local executive officer.

Other news in the media of course relates to the closure of Vocation RTOs and the Phoenix Campus in Melbourne. Our only priority is to focus on the students and we are working with administrators and government and the management of Phoenix to ensure the students can continue their studies.

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