Australian Skills Quality Authority
13 February 2013
CHAIR: We now turn to ASQA. Welcome Mr Robinson and your officers. Senator Nash.
Senator NASH: Mr Robinson, how many audits have been done to date?
Mr C Robinson : I will just have to get the figure out. We will come back to that in a moment.
Senator NASH: How many staff are currently working for you?
Mr C Robinson : We have just under 200 staff at ASQA at the present time.
Senator NASH: In terms of complaints, if there are any, how does that process work?
Mr C Robinson : There are two kinds of complaints—and someone might make a complaint about ASQA! We have a complaints unit for complaints that students or stakeholders want to make about RTOs. We have had over 1,200 complaints so far.
Senator NASH: Over what period of time?
Mr C Robinson : Since we started on 1 July 2011. I will get you the exact figures in a moment. The complaints can be many and varied. Some of them might be from students who have a particular issue with their RTO. We require that they have gone through the complaint process that the RTO is supposed to have in place to resolve the complaint internally before it goes to an external unit. We have had 1,254 complaints in our first 18 months. Various things are done with those because they are quite varied in nature.
Senator NASH: Did you have an expectation at all? Was that figure surprising, or not at all surprising? Or because you had not been there before did you not know what to expect? It sounds like a lot, and that is why I ask the question.
Mr C Robinson: Yes, it is quite a few, to be honest. Some of them relate to things that might be a breach of standards. If that were the case, we could follow it up with that RTO; we might go and audit them and look at the issue that was raised in particular in that audit. It may go through to a point where we would give that RTO a direction, or it could even affect their continuing registration as the RTO if it was a serious breach of the standards. So far, it is quite a number. I was not really sure how many to expect.
Senator NASH: Can I ask you to take it on notice to give us a snapshot of the types of complaints, in so far as you can, to give us a bit of a sense of their different natures?
Mr C Robinson: I can give you—
Senator NASH: I would prefer that you take it on notice because we are really tight for time. In terms of audits where specialist training is being offered, do you second people in a specialist area, or do you have those resources within ASQA anyway?
Mr C Robinson: We can do. There is a training package covering the range of training areas. They set out the competencies that are required if you are going for a diploma level qualification or a certificate III or a certificate IV in a particular industry area. They specify quite clearly the competencies that people are supposed to be getting for each training program. One of the things we assess in compliance audits is whether or not the training provider has ensured that the people are getting instruction in those competencies.
Senator NASH: If it is a specialist area and you get somebody in to assist with the audit, does that cost go to the RTO, or do you absorb that from within your budget?
Mr C Robinson: We charge fees for the applications that they put in.
Senator NASH: So it would just be added on?
Mr C Robinson : It is included in the cost. We do sometimes get outside experts to be involved in an audit in certain circumstances.
Senator NASH: Have any failed the audit to date?
Mr C Robinson : After our first 18 months some 100 RTOs are no longer registered because they did not get through the process.
Senator NASH: For those that fail, is there a process whereby they can attempt to redeem themselves, or is it just 'one strike and you're out'?
Mr C Robinson : If the noncompliances are less serious, there might be a direction on them, there might be a lesser sanction, where they are required to address the issue but we do not deregister them. We have commenced or completed 2,200 audits so far.
Senator NASH: If a company takes over an RTO, does the existing RTO continue trading as it is, or does it wind up and start again as a whole new RTO?
Mr C Robinson : If there is a buyout, the RTO is required to notify of the change of management arrangements and we make an assessment, depending on the circumstances, as to whether the new RTO can in effect add that one to their licence or some other action is required for them to establish their bona fides. It is case by case.
Senator NASH: I want to use the specific example of the mining industry. Let us say you have got someone who has been working in a mine for a couple of years. They have been properly trained to work in a mine and have been logging their hours. They then go to an RTO. What happens then? Does the RTO take that prior learning into account and give them a ticket, or are they required to go through a whole training process at the RTO?
Mr C Robinson : The RTO can do an assessment of the skills and competencies that a person has, against the qualifications they are interested in. In some cases they may issue a whole qualification without any further training. In other cases they may issue some issues of competence and require them to do more training in certain areas to get the full qualification.
Senator NASH: If the training that they have already been ticked off as having done in the mine aligns with what they would do as training anyway, is it appropriate for the RTO to refuse to give the qualification?
Mr C Robinson : They can give credit. They do an assessment of those. They may get those skills and competencies assessed without doing more training. It is called recognition of prior learning or recognition of current competencies.
Senator NASH: That is what I thought. So would it be appropriate for an RTO to refuse that prior learning and require the person to go through their full training program before they ticket them?
Mr C Robinson : Only if the person does not have the skills and competencies. If they were using it as a business model rather than a legitimate assessment of their skills and competencies, that is an area that could be raised with us as a breach in the way they are doing things.
Senator NASH: So if an individual felt that an RTO had unfairly not recognised all their prior learning—if the RTO had said they would have to do all the training through the RTO before it would give them a ticket—that is something that could come to AQSA?
Mr C Robinson : It could do, yes. I am not sure if we have had any complaints of that nature particularly, but we could have, and that is the sort of issue that could be raised with us as a concern, because the RTO was really requiring them to train in an area where they already have the skills and competencies.
Senator NASH: The skills—
CHAIR: Thank you, Senator Nash.
Senator NASH: Can I just finish that—
Senator NASH: I just wanted to finish the sentence.
CHAIR: Senator Nash, we are done.
Senator NASH: Chair, can he finish the sentence. I do not have any more questions.
CHAIR: All right. Finish the sentence.
Senator NASH: Could you finish the sentence for me, please.
Mr C Robinson : They could complain if they were being asked to enrol and do training in an area where they believed they had the full skills and competencies, particularly if they had not been offered a process for having them assessed instead of doing that training.
Senator NASH: Thank you very much.
Senator RHIANNON: Of those 1,354 complaints that you mentioned, were they—
Mr C Robinson : There were 1,254.
Senator RHIANNON: Sorry. Was that as a result of an audit, or are they just complaints that have come direct to you? I am just trying to understand the process.
Mr C Robinson : They are complaints that people have lodged. We have a process. People can lodge complaints. There is a form on our website and an explanation of how you can do it. There are various people. Some of them are students and some of them are other people with an interest in something that has happened in a training provider.
Senator RHIANNON: So any auditing you do is quite separate from these complaints.
Mr C Robinson : Those complaints can lead us to do an audit. We do audits, for example, when they are applying to start a new RTO or reapplying to re-register—after each five years they have to be re-registered. We would look at whether we need to do an audit, but we do in most cases for re-registration and in all cases for new registrations.
Senator RHIANNON: So how many RTOs have been found noncompliant?
Mr C Robinson : As I say, we have in the end taken action to deregister or refuse the re-registration of 100 RTOs.
Senator RHIANNON: What percentage of total RTOs audited does that represent?
Mr C Robinson : In total we have audited 2,200—but that includes audits that are still underway and not finalised—since we commenced operation on 1 July 2011.
Senator RHIANNON: So what is that? A bit under five per cent?
Mr C Robinson : 1,380 of them have been finalised, so it is 100 out of 1,300 that have failed to such a degree that their registration has been discontinued because of it.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. I was reading some information from TAFE Directors Australia where they make a point about large amounts of public money being expended on the regulation to oversee these developments and they refer to the expenditure 'to oversee 90 per cent of providers, for effectively 10 per cent of public VET training delivery across Australia'. Is that a fair analysis—that 90 per cent to 10 per cent?
Mr C Robinson : Sorry—that 90 per cent of public providers do what?
Senator RHIANNON: The TDA makes a point about public money being expended on regulation to oversee 90 per cent of providers that are effectively providing 10 per cent of public VET.
Mr C Robinson : They are talking about public training there, and of course a large chunk of the publicly funded training is delivered by public providers—TAFEs. But actually there are nearly 5,000 training providers in the country as a whole, and most of them are not public providers. They do a considerable amount of training, but it has not been fully measured to this point because there has not been a national statistical collection about measuring total VET activity. The main national collection to this point has been to measure the publicly funded activity, but there have been some moves in recent times to change that situation through some recent decisions of the ministerial council.
Senator RHIANNON: Okay. I will come back to that one, just because of time. I want to ask about teaching in private VET the English Language Intensive Course for Overseas Students—the ELICOS. Are there any minimum requirements here for ELICOS teachers?
Mr C Robinson : There is a code set out in the act, and there are specific standards for ELICOS. I believe they include the qualifications that teachers are required to have.
Senator RHIANNON: I was particularly interested in what the standards are for the International English Language Testing System. You can take it on notice.
Mr C Robinson : I will take that one on notice. There are standards that we assess them against. They are specific to the English language providers and are different to the ones the VET providers are generally assessed against.
Senator RHIANNON: So they are different?
Mr C Robinson : There are different standards, especially for the English language sector.
Senator RHIANNON: If a private VET ELICOS college removes experienced teachers and replaces them with less experienced staff who are paid a lower rate, how does ASQA judge the impact this will have on the quality of teaching?
Mr C Robinson : We would have to assess whether that move had been a breach of the standards. If it was a breach of the standards, that could affect their registration. But I do not know, speaking in generalities, whether that would be a breach of the standards or not.
Senator RHIANNON: Let's try and take a specific example. If that situation arises, how would you interact with that? Would you look at that specific case? Do you rely on a complaint coming to you? Are you proactive in having a watching brief on this?
Mr C Robinson : We assess risk, but we also use the information and intelligence that we get from people in the sector, people making complaints or industry organisations that are not happy with the products coming out of the provider. So there are a range of ways in which we get complaints. We can go in and examine a provider at any time. It is not dependent on an application for re-registration being filed. We can look at them at times other than that if there is an issue to address.
Senator RHIANNON: You have said there are a range of ways that you can do it. Could you outline what they are. What systems are in place or being considered to ensure minimum standards of teaching quality?
Mr C Robinson : In our standards, the VET sector training packages generally set out requirements for industry experience in different sectors, and the national standards go to the issue of qualifications that teachers ought to have. There is a similar set, as I understand it, in the ELICOS area as well. We assess whether people have met those particular standards or not in relation to assessing their continuing registration.
Senator RHIANNON: In making that assessment, are you looking at the conditions of the work—the working conditions and levels of pay—in terms of judging that quality?
Mr C Robinson : They are essentially a matter for the industrial relations sector. Sometimes those things lead to complaints being made to us by staff of an organisation. If they were about whether people were being paid award wages or the like, we would be tending to refer those on to the industrial relations authorities to have a look at.
Senator RHIANNON: But wouldn't you recognise that the conditions under which people work impact on how they work and therefore the standard of teaching?
Mr C Robinson : The focus of our assessment would be more on whether these matters are leading to an unacceptable level in the teaching standards being achieved, the teaching programs and the assessment approach. We fundamentally assess providers around the quality of their delivery, the quality of their assessment and, as you say, the qualifications required of the staff. There are other related matters that may contribute to that which may be of concern to us, but we would fundamentally be assessing whether they are affecting those core issues in the standards.
Senator RHIANNON: So do you look at industrial relations conditions or not?
Mr C Robinson : We look at the quality of the teaching and the quality of the assessment. If those issues were flowing through to that issue then we could take some action, but we might also refer some of the matters across to other authorities if we thought there was some sort of issue of breach there.
Senator RHIANNON: Have you done that?
Mr C Robinson : Not that I am aware of in relation to IR issues.
Senator RHIANNON: Can you take that on notice if you need to?
Mr C Robinson : Yes.
Proceedings suspended from 18 : 59 to 20:02