In 2014, ASQA recorded an increase in complaints with a VET FEE-HELP component. In order to address what appeared to be a systemic issue with certain approved VET FEE-HELP providers, ASQA initiated a project that included targeted audit of 21 RTOs (registered training organisations) that were also registered as VET FEE-HELP providers.
The project was announced by the Hon. Senator Simon Birmingham—then Assistant Minister for Education and Training—on 24 February 2015. ASQA released an initial report of the findings of these targeted audits on 20 October 2015. As a result of these audits, ASQA cancelled the registration of four RTOs and imposed conditions on the registration of a further 10 RTOs.
Update—actions taken in 2016
ASQA has continued to closely monitor and target RTOs approved for VET FEE-HELP. This has included further monitoring of some of those RTOs targeted in the 2015 audits. Currently, ASQA is scrutinising 18 RTOs approved for VET FEE-HELP.
ASQA has also continued to engage with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and the Department of Education and Training to share intelligence and coordinate regulatory activity.
Enhanced compliance audit process for targeted audits of VET FEE-HELP providers in 2016
The recent announcements of ASQA’s strategic reviews for 2016-17 and its 2016-17 Regulatory Strategy identifies learner protection, particularly by VET FEE-HELP providers, as one of the three target areas where ASQA will be directing its resources in the coming year. In line with this, ASQA’s audits of VET FEE-HELP providers will include examining individual student experiences (from pre-enrolment to completion).
ASQA will be adopting a revised methodology in conducting compliance audits of VET FEE-HELP providers from 2016. This change means that, depending on the findings arising from a compliance audit of a VET FEE-HELP provider, ASQA may decide to ‘finalise’ the audit process and immediately begin the process for making a formal decision about the provider’s registration.
Up to this point, typically providers are given 20 working days to rectify issues identified during the audit process and provide evidence of this rectification to ASQA before the audit is finalised. If ASQA believed a sanction was warranted following this first rectification opportunity, then a “notice of intention” process provided a second opportunity to provide rectification evidence.
Going forward, depending on the level of risk and the seriousness of concerns identified, an RTO may no longer be provided with two opportunities to submit rectification evidence before ASQA finalised its decision making process.
In these circumstances, the RTO will still be afforded natural justice through the notice of intention process under the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Act 2011 (the NVR Act). Under these provisions, the RTO is given a written notice stating that ASQA intends to make a decision and inviting the RTO to give a written response, which ASQA must consider before making a decision. The change will, in essence, give the RTO a single opportunity to respond to the audit findings prior to a regulatory decision being made, which is akin to the audit process used by ASQA when considering an application (e.g. an application to renew registration) from a provider.