The senate has almost passed a bill that will majorly change ASQA’s regulation of the VET sector—the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Amendment Bill 2019, a result of recommendations from the Joyce and Braithwaite reviews. While ASQA has recently softened and started collaborating more with RTOs, the changes in the bill may significantly affect how audits are conducted.
It’s important to note that the third and final parliamentary reading hasn’t happened yet. Once it does, and the bill is fully passed by the senate, we’ll have a better idea of the exact changes.
How might the changes affect your training organisation? Here’s a summary of the key updates from the first two readings of the bill:
ASQA, unlike TAC and VRQA, have focused heavily on reassessment over the last two years, asking RTOs to fix mistakes where they haven’t retained evidence in line with the Standards, or where RTOs have issued qualifications and units not on their scope. This change gives ASQA 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. While this does seem to better protect individuals at risk, the power afforded to ASQA seems immense. “Reasonable grounds” is vague, and likely to create heated arguments during decision appeals with the AAT.
Also, when a qualification or SoA is cancelled, will the RTO be forced to refund the learner? And will this affect their financial viability?
New condition 22A
“An NVR registered training organisation must demonstrate a commitment, and the capability, to deliver quality vocational education and training.”
During registration, each RTO must prove its worth and commitment by providing quality performance objectives, as per recommendations from the Braithwaite Review. This helps to weed out organisations who register to make a quick buck through selling on their registration, migration, or tax loopholes. ASQA has focused on this area for some time, looking to stop individuals who set up “cleanskin RTOs,” only to sell them to another provider who may not need to jump through the same hoops. While it’s likely that quality performance will continue to be measured through learner engagement and employer satisfaction surveys, the new methods that will satisfy this condition aren’t yet clear.
ASQA must ensure that no personal information is provided within audit reports, something that they usually get around by using initials or student numbers. Not a major change here, just aligning with other legislation.
The Minister for Employment, Small Skills and Family Business (currently Michaelia Cash) will be able to issue directions to ASQA, in an attempt to improve its performance, and remove bureaucratic hurdles that slow important changes. This includes the ability to change any fees that are passed onto RTOs. Understanding that ASQA is technically independent, the government will see this as a key way to advise the regulator on the use of its powers.
The government’s explanatory memorandum states a requirement for “the National VET Regulator [to] prepare and publish audit reports.”
While most state funding contracts require that RTOs publish their audit results, this will be a challenge for ASQA. The timing of their publication is also unclear—will the regulator be required to wait until issues have been rectified, and the audit outcome finalised?
Consider your last audit report, what impact could the release of this information have on your RTO? This provision will be watched closely.
ASQA must provide reports to RTOs on a range of decisions, in line with audit report rules. This a broad statement at the moment, as the Minister is the one who makes the rules for ASQA. We should know more about this after the third reading of the bill.
Student and employer outcomes and experiences with an RTO can now be published by the government, in an attempt to better inform the public of their training abilities. We can assume that the government will be engaging with more students and employers to get this information, which may motivate RTOs to better understand its regulatory obligations. Again, the format of this information will determine its usefulness.
The bill attempts to clarify and confirm that RTOs can request the review of some of ASQA’s decisions, such as:
In summary: more regulatory requirements for RTOs, which can be a time-consuming pain, but hopefully a long-term improvement for the VET industry. Also more power for ASQA—time will tell whether this is a good thing. Finally, there’s greater transparency for learners and employers, which is awesome, but needs to be in the right format to be effective.
The bill is currently receiving applause and derision from different sides. Our advice for RTOs? Keep focusing on your students, your trainers and your assessment evidence. If you’re committed to staff development and compliance, you shouldn’t struggle with any the proposed changes, and will likely satisfy ASQA when the time comes.
Thanks to Lauren Hollows for her input and feedback on this article.
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