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Crackdown looming on short courses

DET     |      30 January 2018

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The Commonwealth Government has released discussion papers on unduly short VET courses and training product reform.

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The consultation paper on unduly short courses follows ASQA’s report in June 2017 that recommended defining and setting of mandatory training requirements under certain circumstances and related obligations for providers. ASQA made three recommendations.

Recommendation one

ASQA proposes that a definition of the ‘amount of training’ that focuses on supervised learning and assessment activities be included in the Standards for Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) 2015, the Standards for VET Accredited Courses 2012, the Standards for Training Packages 2012 and the Training Package Development and Endorsement Process Policy.

The flexibility inherent in the system may be confusing for RTOs and complex to regulate effectively. The system is open to inconsistent interpretations about the amount of training required due to:

  • the AQF volume of learning, which enables RTOs to assert the apparent short duration of their courses is due to the way they allocated supervised and unsupervised learning activities
  • the Standards for Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) 2015 which refers to an amount of training but does not describe its components.

As the AQF range applies to qualifications rather than units of competency, there is no guidance at all provided to training product developers, RTOs, learners or regulators about the expected volume of learning for each unit of competency.

In the absence of any specific guidance to RTOs or the regulators about the amount of training required specific to the training package qualifications and units of competency, there can be differing professional judgements between RTOs and the regulator about the required amount of training.

There is inconsistency in how ‘amount of training’ is regulated for training packages and accredited courses (the two types of nationally recognised training products). While training packages mostly do not set requirements for duration, accredited courses must include nominal times.

Recommendation two

ASQA proposes the development of a risk-based approach to the inclusion of an appropriate amount of training when training packages are revised or developed by industry reference committees (IRCs).

Previous reviews by ASQA have provided evidence of risk to quality in a number of sectors—aged and community care, early childhood education and care, security operations, equine programs, construction safety and training and education—and these sectors are identified in the recommendations as priorities and could be considered by their IRCs for the inclusion of a mandatory amount of training.

The lack of specification is increasing the risk of poor-quality training, where a number of factors are driving short duration courses:

  • a highly competitive marketplace, where a shorter duration is often marketed as an RTO’s primary point of difference with unscrupulous providers willing to respond to demand for unduly short courses and more reputable providers forced to compete or to exit the market
  • pressure to respond to learner and/or employer demand for duration to be reduced for qualifications required as the basis of gaining or maintaining employment
  • poor-quality assessment practices and inadequate trainer and assessor competencies as identified in ASQA’s previous strategic reviews.

The level of risk posed by unduly short courses increases where there is a correlation between short duration and high enrolment numbers. As AQF Certificate lll and Diploma courses are the most widely utilised Australian VET qualifications, impact of unduly short courses is potentially significant.

Recommendation three

ASQA proposes that RTOs would be required to publish a product disclosure statement (PDS) that includes the range of learning activities expected for each training product on their scope of registration. The PDS, to be developed by the Australian Government Department of Education and Training (the department), would be available on RTO websites and the RTO’s entry on the My Skills website.

Consumers do not have the information to inform choice

Competition is currently not driving up quality—consumers do not have sufficient information to make informed choices, due to inconsistency in how courses are advertised, use of different terminology and meanings of duration, and different measures of time making direct comparisons difficult. There are lessons from overseas to improve this.

Assigning a credit value to individual qualifications helps prospective learners and employers understand their relativity and the likely time involved in the learning and assessment process.

The diversity of RTOs’ advertising about course duration makes comparisons challenging and some RTOs do not advertise course duration at all.

Providing information in a consistent way is not mandatory

The My Skills website includes course duration information that is voluntarily self-reported by RTOs. While this provides some information to consumers about the available offerings, its value is limited. Not all RTOs report duration, and where they do, it is not presented consistently in a way that enables comparisons to be made. Also absent is information about what industry regards as the appropriate duration of courses.

How to provide feedback

Submissions on the discussion papers will be open until 9 March 2018 and can be made via a submission portal – www.education.gov.au/VET-consultation.

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