Category Archives: VET regulation

A submission to ASQA review

The current rapid review of ASQA will make recommendations to the government on how to ‘position ASQA as an effective modern regulator’. Modernisation is a big word. It implies change at a fundamental level across an entire organisation. Successful modernisation of ASQA could also drive positive change across the wider VET sector. The review provides an opportunity to remedy some of the major issues that sometimes make VET a work environment of murky waters. This submission offers some suggestions for the consideration of the reviewer.

The reform is intended to position ASQA as an effective modern regulator and to deliver on future reform directions agreed through the COAG reform road map.

1.Modernise ASQA’s world view

The COAG Vision for VET (9 August 2019) acknowledges that ‘economic change and transformation will continue to shape the way we work, and the skills needed to succeed as workers, as employers and as a nation.’
 
ASQA’s current modus operandi is underpinned by the assumption that the apprenticeship/traineeship form of delivery is the norm. 29.6% of students who enrolled in a VET subject last year did so to get employed (NCVER 2019). Many of these students are on apprenticeships or traineeships.
 
However, 70.4% of VET students were not looking for a job. They wanted a new career, or extra skills or they were required to do it as upskilling for their work role or for other personal reasons. 
 
The traditional craft-based apprenticeship/traineeship approach inherited from the early 20th Century does not have the flexibility to cope with adults who are turning to VET in droves to ensure that they stay skill-relevant in today’s work landscape or the raft of training options that cater for this majority of VET clients. 
 
This is a macro-issue that needs to be addressed if we want synergy between the work of the regulator and the work of registered training organisations.
 

2. Modernise ASQA’s interpretation of ‘compliance’
Modernisation began in 2017 with adoption of the student-centred audit approach. This was widely recognised as a successful innovation.

Perhaps it is time to examine the belief that compliance is binary and must be applied at a micro-level. It is a simplistic approach that causes a phenomenal amount of work for both RTOs and the regulator.

An example. Standard 1 has 27 clauses, most with numerous sub-sets of requirements. An RTO must be compliant with every item in a very long list linked to this standard. One non-compliance in the list and the standard is ‘non-compliant’. The chances of being ‘compliant with Standard 1’ are minimal.

Educators know that when the level of ‘fail’ is continuously high statistically, then there is most likely a problem with the design of the assessment instrument. The same principle applies here.

3. Modernise ASQA’s assessment audit methodology
ASQA has stayed with the granular approach to auditing an RTO’s assessment instruments that it inherited at its inception. The format of units of competency changed about five years ago, but the method of auditing assessment instruments has not.

It is not hard to find a small phrase in one of the many performance criteria in a unit that has not been covered sufficiently, as far as the auditor is concerned. BAM! Non-compliance.

An example. A theoretical unit of competency has four elements. Each element has five performance criteria. If an assessment does not sufficiently cover one of these twenty performance criteria, then the assessment instrument is non-compliant, even though it addressed 95% of performance criteria successfully.

The modern units of competency include ‘Performance Evidence’ and ‘Knowledge Evidence’. Clearly the designers of the units consider the items in these sections of utmost importance for proving competency. Surely this evidence should be the focus of the auditor’s attention. Performance criteria still feature, but if the fifth word in the fifteenth line is not covered, is this really a reason to issue a non-compliance, assuming ‘Performance Evidence’ and ‘Knowledge Evidence’ are covered sufficiently?

The reform is intended to improve and expand ASQA’s engagement with the VET sector and educative role to ensure training providers are aware of, and supported to understand, expectations and requirements.

1. Re-model the audit tool
This exchange happened in 2019 after an RTO showed an auditor the evidence they had to cover a specific requirement and they were informed that it was not sufficient.

RTO representative: What else would you be expecting to see here?
Auditor: It is not my place to tell you what is required. I simply decide if what you present meets the standards. I’m marking it as a noncompliance. Let’s move on.

This example reveals one of the major flaws in the current regulatory process. There is no shared understanding of terminology or expectations across the sector. Most RTOs want to do the appropriate thing, if they just knew what that was. No wonder consultants of variable quality proliferate in the sector. The only hope is to find out what the individual auditor wants and put that into their ‘response to the audit report’. The subjectivity of it is scary.

A possible solution
• Design a criteria-based auditing instrument set out as a rubric.
• Make this audit instrument publicly available in the interests of transparency and fairness.
• Conduct an educative campaign to ensure understanding across the sector.

This will work if there is a modernised interpretation to ‘compliance’ as mentioned above. Educators in Queensland Secondary schools have been developing criteria-based assessment rubrics for decades, so they are not a mystery. 

Criteria based rubrics would also remove much of the subjectivity associated with the audit process and contribute significantly to consistency across auditors.

2. Build and focus on VET’s body of knowledge
Language matters. Considerable confusion at the operational level of the sector results from the vacuum associated with the lack of shared understanding about terminology, specifically the language of training and assessment. This was not always the case.

Whilst the modernisation of units of competency clarified what was required to be competent in a unit, the re-design omitted some of the information that RTOs and auditors relied on to understand terminology or expectations.

The Users’ Guide to the 2015 Standards is a comprehensive document. It uses terms that are not defined anywhere, anymore. When it was compiled, many of these terms were widely understood because they had been in VET vocabulary for decades. This is no longer the case. The years slip by and new players join the sector.

One example
‘Assessment tools’ and ‘assessment methods’ are both mentioned in the legislation. There is no definition of them anywhere. Not a big deal? Maybe not, until it comes to audit time and the auditor says ‘There is no difference between a tool, a task and a method. Unless there is a definition in the legislation, then it is just semantics.’

These explanations were included in the unit of competence TAEASS402B Assess competence and were accepted generally. However, this unit was superseded in 2016. They have not been published/explained anywhere else since.

Assessment tools include:
• the learning or competency unit(s) to be assessed
• the target group, context and conditions for the assessment
• the tasks to be administered to the candidate
• an outline of the evidence to be gathered from the candidate
• the evidence criteria used to judge the quality of performance
• (i.e. the assessment decision-making rules)
• the administration, recording and reporting requirements
• the evidence of how validity and reliability have been tested and built into the design and use of the tool.

Assessment methods include techniques used to gather different types of evidence, such as:
• direct observation
• structured activities
• oral or written questioning
• portfolios of evidence
• review of products
• third-party feedback.

Both RTOs and the regulator need some solid ground to stand on related to this issue. There is plenty of room for an educative approach to assessment. Here is one example of how another regulator educates their sector on the meaning of core terminology.

Aged Care Commission: Open disclosure

The reform is intended to improve ASQA’s collection and use of data to assist with identifying poor quality training providers, and better enable training providers to give feedback on ASQA (including directly to the Department of Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business).

Currently, a complaint against ASQA must use the form on the ASQA website and this must be submitted to ASQA. Seriously? What part of this process honours the principles of impartiality or privacy, or engenders confidence in a fair hearing or protects against possible negative attention? This is unacceptable.

Interested in adding your two-bob’s worth?
If you would like to support any of these suggestions, or have something else that you want to say, please let the reviewer know. It does not have to be a long response. RTOs are the main audience for ASQA activities and the review would be enriched by experiences from the frontline.

Simply email to ASQAreform@employment.gov.au

Feedback should be sent  by COB Friday 24 January 2020. Feedback will be provided directly to the regulatory expert engaged to undertake the review.

Government anouncement of review: click here

VET sector to be ‘reformed’ again.

New-ish vision
Apparently the policy makers have had a vision and it involves VET. The recent meeting of COAG (Premiers of all states) agreed to a one-page high level statement that states ‘VET and higher education are equal and integral parts of a joined up and accessible post-secondary education system..’ The document abounds in conventional 20th Century wisdom and it is devoid of any of the inspirational rhetoric usually contained in a ‘vision’ statement. However, a COAG statement of any kind is like a starting gun. We can expect change in the sector.

COAG Vision for VET. Click here

The COAG Communique (9th August 2019) says ‘Skills ministers will work together through a new COAG Skills Council, in consultation with education ministers, to advise leaders on future reform priorities by the end of 2019 and provide a reform roadmap to COAG in early 2020.

Yep! Another high level body is to be created AND the sector is to be ‘reformed’ again.

Craig Robertson, CEO of TAFE Directors Australia, wrote a comment piece in The Australian about it. It comes from his professional perspective but does make a couple of points worth a ponder. Click here.

New VET Stakeholder Committee
This is a new advisory body (not the same body that is mentioned above – another one) that met together for the first time this month. Their mandate is to advise the Minister for Skills so that ‘stakeholder views are understood, considered and included during the implementation’ of reforms.

The full list of members can be found in the Minister’s media release. Click here

New approach for ASQA?
The departure of the Chief Commissioner heralds a possible change of direction for the regulator. The Deputy Commissioner, Saxon Rice, will act in the role of Interim Chief Commissioner. Legislative changes are also in the wind, so changes that directly impact RTOs can be expected in near future. 

Claire Field has also written an opinion piece for The Australian that comments on the opaque nature of current regulatory practice. Click here.

New VET research institute
The Mackenzie Research Institute is a new kid on the block, which has the goal of providing an evidence-based rationale for the reform of tertiary education in Australia. It is an independent body, although it has a strong TAFE focus, and intends to ‘actively produce policy-based research that challenges the existing tertiary framework in Australia’.  Watch this space. More information and initial research papers can be found on its website. Click here.

Can you sell an RTO?

The answer is ‘No’ and ‘Yes’. You can sell the business and assets, but you cannot sell the registration. RTO and CRICOS registrations are not transferable from one legal entity to another. This means RTO Pty Ltd cannot be sold as a functioning registered training organisation to XYZ Pty Ltd who then continue to operate merrily without Regulator approval. XYZ Pty Ltd would have to go through the initial registration process.

It is possible to sell shares in an RTO. The person acquiring the shares will be required to demonstrate, either upon takeover or sometime thereafter, how they will continue to comply with all regulatory requirements.

In all instances, ASQA must be notified via ASQANet within 90 days of the change. Be aware that ASQA has access to the ASIC database where ownership changes are registered. Some State government departments that manage funding contracts also have an automatic feed from ASIC about change of ownership, so it is important to know the State’s contractual requirements around notification. Some States require that they be notified before the change of shareholding/ownership.

More on ASQA website: click here

TGA set for a facelift

The National Register (training.gov.au) known as TGA, is getting a facelift. There is an opportunity to provide feedback. I am emailing these suggestions to the Department of Education and Training at the address for this upgrade project.
 
 
1. Remove email addresses
Currently TGA is a spammer’s best friend. Literally tens of thousands of email addresses are listed in the public domain. If you have ever wondered why you get so much spam to an email address that is listed on TGA, then it will be because spammers have scraped the site and sold your email address – many times. If your email address is visible (even in the back history) then it is scrapable. One list-selling company offers the email addresses ‘of all VET providers’ for $4,000 a year, updated regularly!
 
 
2. Consider privacy issue
This is the time to consider the information about executives that are published on TGA. Currently, whatever personal details that are collected by a VET Regulator automatically appear publicly on TGA. Surely it is one thing for the regulator to know how to reach the CEO of a registered organisation by telephone and quite another for that information to be automatically published and accessible globally. Telemarketers are also very pleased with TGA’s generosity.
The Australian Privacy Principles apply to the Department of Education and Training, which manages TGA, and VET Regulators, which collect the personal information. If an RTO were to publish the personal information of students on their company website, there would be an audit very quickly.
Even the names of people who own a 15% share in an RTO are now finding their names and email addresses on TGA. Seriously? ASIC has that information if anyone, outside of the regulator, wish to locate it.
 
 
3. Address audience confusion
TGA states that it has about 7 million visitors a year. It is highly likely that most of these visitors are RTO personnel. MySkills is the public face of the Australian training industry, not TGA.  A national register is all about the data, so it doesn’t need lots of bells and whistles – but compare TGA to the national register for early childhood education or the national register of higher education providers. There is much room for improvement.  A user-friendly interface that works more effectively for the visiting clientele and presents the sector in a more professional light would be an excellent step forward.
 
 
A targeted review of the website is underway and the federal government is keen to hear from the site’s users on improving the design and user experience of the website. If you would like to provide feedback (or also suggest any of these points), please send an email to this address.