A few weeks back, the senate passed a bill with major changes to ASQA’s regulation of the VET sector—the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Amendment Bill 2019. We covered this just after it happened in a previous article, outlining how the changes might affect your RTO. With the release of new information from the government, we now have more insight to share.
Subsection 31 and Section 39
Registration renewal applications must now be made strictly within the timeframe—apply within the designated period, or it won’t be considered.
Refused registration applications or cancellations can now come into effect as little as the next day—a worrying change that might see legitimate RTOs being shut down with rapid speed. Specifically, the amendment states that “the refusal will take effect either at the start of the day after notification of refusal is given to the organisation, or at the start of any later day that is specified in the notice.” This means ASQA will determine how quickly the RTO will shut down, but have attempted to assuage our fears by declaring a single day to be an extreme circumstance. Regardless, this change might make the AAT process more stressful for RTOs.
The new shutdown timeframe also poses major practical problems. In the wake of a shutdown, how will you manage enrolled learners and staff? Depending on the size of the RTO, it could be a logistical nightmare. There’s a lot of questions on how this amendment will turn out, but we’ll just have to wait and see.
Finally, ASQA will now set the registration length. This could be seven years if you’re blessed with a big tick, or something shorter if not. Re-registration no longer guarantees a full seven year period. Also, similar changes are in place for accredited course timeframes.
As discussed in our previous article, ASQA now has the power to contact learners directly to notify them that their qualification or statement of attainment is being cancelled, where they have “reasonable grounds” to believe that the RTO won’t do so. For ASQA to act on this, they’ll need a solid reason, such as the RTO refusing to communicate with them, or already being shut down. This will not apply to RTOs who are actively working with ASQA. We know there’s dishonest RTOs who issue qualifications to absent students, lacking any evidence for learning. We know they employ hoards of consultants who try to fix their problems, only to be ignored or sabotaged by owners and managers too focused on the bottom dollar. The losers are always the same: the students who have no idea what is going on in the background, and the staff who are unaware of the disturbing mass of non-compliances.
Hopefully, this amendment might be an early warning alarm that gives staff and students more protection, but again, it’s a double edged sword. We’ll have to wait and see how this pans out.
Under the student audit model, recalling qualifications has become a painful task for RTOs in the last few years, and unfortunately, the pain won’t stop anytime soon. To prevent the recall, you'll still need to prove to ASQA that you've given extra training to the learner to make them competent, but if you can't, the fine is now $21,000 per offence. It's critical to take your training seriously, as the cost of fixing these mistakes is substantial.
Those unscrupulous enough to be selling diplomas should take note.
From section 25
The need for an RTO to communicate changes to ASQA has intensified. These include:
There’s also been some updates in ASQA’s expectations and definitions of an executive officer and high managerial agent. It’s worth checking ASQANet to confirm that your key officers are up to date, and in line with the new requirements.
Also, the phrase “is likely to” is used for these amendments, and must be considered. For example, if your RTO is intending to move your training online, then you’re likely to be making “significant changes to [your] delivery methodologies,” and will now need to report this to ASQA. Essentially, you’ll need to let ASQA know if your risk factors are changing, and to avoid a whole lot of pain, we suggest you have a plan in place before approaching them.
If a decision review has been requested by the RTO, the AAT may decide to delay the effects of the decision (e.g. shutting down the RTO) until the review is complete, which might suggest a more collaborative process between the two parties, and helping to reduce the number of AAT cases. It’s a leap of faith for training providers and a significant shift for the regulator, so let’s hope both parties take advantage. The more collaboration, the better!
From various amendment sections
There’s the possibility of new audit report rules, with the amendment stating that “the Minister may, by legislative instrument, make rules (audit report rules) prescribing matters required or permitted by this Act to be prescribed by the audit report rules.”
We have one new rule so far: audit reports “must not contain personal information unless personal information is needed to identify,” which makes sense in our newly minted information age. But aside from this, we must wait to find out whether ASQA will publish RTO audit reports on their website.
From section 22
“New section 22A provides that an NVR RTO must demonstrate that it has a commitment and the capability to deliver quality vocational education and training.”
In the past, a number of RTO registrations have been for the sole purpose of onselling a “cleanskin RTO,” creating pressure for all RTOs to demonstrate their legitimacy. This includes an understanding of education, the VET sector, and how their training helps to contribute to the Australian workforce and economy.
The AAT can specify how documents are submitted to them (e.g. email, or a particular electronic file format), as well as setting a submission deadline. This might put additional pressure on RTOs going through an appeal, but might also allow for more flexibility in sending documents to the AAT.
“General directions issued by the National VET Regulator in relation to the VET Quality Framework, need to be consistent with the VET Quality Framework.” In line with ASQA’s potentially premature release of their general direction on third parties, this might mean there’s more double-checking of directions to RTOs, to ensure their completion.
Not an RTO, without a third-party agreement, and planning on selling a diploma? You could be fined $126,000. Seems fair to us.
Some positives and negatives, but again, time will tell how effective these changes turn out to be.
Thanks to Lauren Hollows for her contributions to the article.
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