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Education and Employment References Committee
Private vocational education and training providers

FURNELL, Ms Peta, Group Manager, Department of Education and Training

HEWLETT, Ms Susan, Acting Group Manager, Industry Skills and Policy Group, Department of Education and Training

WOODGATE, Mr Dean, Acting Branch Manager VET FEE-HELP, Department of Education and Training


ACTING CHAIR: Welcome. Information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you. We have received the department's submission. I now invite you to make a short opening statement, should you choose to. At the conclusion of those remarks, I will invite senators to put some questions to you.

Ms Furnell : Thank you very much for inviting us to make this statement. We would like to use the opportunity to address the issues that were raised frequently in the submissions and highlighted in the committee's second interim report. I would like to specifically advise the committee of progress the government has made through the VET FEE-HELP reforms since 1 April 2015, the day after the submissions closed for this inquiry.

First, I would like to talk about the steps the government is taking to stamp out inappropriate marketing practices. The government has already banned inducements used as an incentive to sign up for VET FEE-HELP loans and, from 1 April 2015, inducements to sign up for the loans—such as cash, meals, prizes, vouchers, iPads and laptops—were banned under the VET FEE-HELP guidelines. Further changes to the guidelines were made on 1 July 2015 to counter insistent marketing and recruitment practices. Providers and their agents, including marketing brokers and third parties, are not able to market payment for training via a VET FEE-HELP loan as 'free' or 'government funded' and they must make it clear to prospective students that VET FEE-HELP is a loan that is expected to be repaid. Also since 1 July, providers must have written agreements with their agents that specifying their agents' responsibilities, including the requirement to provide full, accurate and up-to-date information about VET FEE-HELP.

I would like to now address the second theme of insufficient information being provided to allow students to make a fully informed decision prior to signing up for a course. The Study Assist website was updated with new information about VET FEE-HELP on 12 March this year. There is now clear information for students about who they can talk to if they have any concerns, queries or complaints about their training provider or their student loans.

The request for a VET FEE-HELP loan form has been changed to make the expected debt loan amounts explicit and clear to prospective students. The form also now requires anyone under the age of 18 to have a parent or guardian sign the document requesting the loan. Proposed changes to legislation in the spring sittings will reinforce this as an eligibility requirement, ensuring that students under the age of 18 obtain parental or guardian consent if they wish to access VET FEE-HELP. From 1 January 2016, further changes will require providers to give students at least two business days after enrolment before accepting a request for a VET FEE-HELP loan form. This will ensure that students have had time to fully understand the details of their course enrolment and consider the fee-payment options available to them before signing up.

The government will introduce requirements to ban the practice of training providers levying the entire VET FEE-HELP course debt in one hit up-front, and the change introduces the requirement for tuition fees to be spread over four fee periods across the duration of a course, with a minimum of four census dates per course. This measure applies to tuition fees only and allows providers to continue to allocate units across the course flexibly, according to the individual needs of students, but ensures students will incur debt progressively through the course in line with the study undertaken.

From 1 January 2016, it is also proposed that students receive invoices from providers before each census date, ensuring they have all the information they need to make study and payment decisions. Providers must ensure there are no barriers to a student being able to withdraw from a VET unit on or before the census date for that unit, including no withdrawal fees. Under proposed legislative changes from January 2016, the government will make it easier for students to remove any VET FEE-HELP debt which is unfairly applied in breach of the new guidelines, with the minister able to remit the debt in this circumstance at the training provider's expense.

Finally, I would like to address the language and literacy barriers that lead to students signing up for courses without properly understanding the terms and conditions, and the inadequate screening processes for students which lead to them undertaking courses which are not appropriate for their language or literacy level. Again from 1 January 2016, providers will be required to publish an entry requirements procedure that sets out the requirements that a person must meet to be eligible to enrol in each VET course of study. Providers will be required to meet the capacity for each student to complete a training course before enrolment and before the offer of a VET FEE-HELP loan. For students undertaking higher level VET qualifications, it is expected that these minimum requirements will include completing year 12 or equivalent proof of competency and core skills—namely, language, literacy and numeracy—to a level appropriate for the course in which the student is seeking to enrol. A provider will need to assess individuals against these entry requirements and be able to prove to the Department of Education and Training and/or the national regulator, ASQA, that this assessment has taken place, improving screening requirements for students in these higher level VET courses.

In pulling together these changes, the department has consulted widely with stakeholders throughout Australia, including many who have made submissions to this inquiry, through face-to-face and online meetings and development of the reforms, which will strengthen the VET FEE-HELP system in future. We are very happy to answer further questions about reforms that have been undertaken or proposed. I also note that, since the submission was made, we have checked the submission for any additional data updates that may be useful for the committee. There are a couple of small ones that are available at this time, and I will pass those to the secretariat. Additional data and some of the breakdowns will not be available until later in the year, so we will see how we go with the timing of that.

ACTING CHAIR: Thank you very much for that statement. It has assisted the committee greatly.

Senator KIM CARR: Regarding these changes that the government has announced, as of today how many RTOs are listed on the government's website showing their course costs? This is on the My Skills website.

Ms Furnell : Sorry?

Senator KIM CARR: As of today, how many private RTOs list course costs on the My Skills website?

Ms Furnell : I do not have the information to hand, so I will have to check for you.

Senator KIM CARR: Okay. It was put to me that a standard search on the government's own My Skills website shows that no private providers have listed any course costs. Would that be right?

Ms Furnell : I think—and I would have to check with the people running the site—that provision is being made for that data to be provided. It may be quite a recent adjustment, I am not sure, that providers have updated that at this point. I can check for you.

Senator KIM CARR: According to the regulation, what is the requirement?

Ms Furnell : Under the RTOs' standards, I do not think—but I will confirm—that there is a requirement to publish. There is no requirement to publish on that site, and I will have to check on the requirements of publishing. There are standards around the marketing information and provision of information to students. I would have to check them to lay out the details. Certainly, in the update to the standards, they were increased.

Senator KIM CARR: Given what you have just said to me, why isn't there a requirement? Given that it said that the new regulations require transparency in course costs, why isn't that information on the My Skills website?

Ms Furnell : At this point, there has not been a requirement to do that. I have had discussions with providers about these issues, and one of the issues that have been raised with me is the complexity sometimes around the courses. In terms of the different units that make up a course, it can be hard to cost it exactly.

Senator KIM CARR: Yes, but does this not reflect a problem with the regulations if they are not even on the government website?

Ms Furnell : Sorry? I missed that question.

Senator KIM CARR: Doesn't it reflect a problem with the new regulations if you are not publishing the detail? You are saying to the RTOs, 'You are required to publish the detail,' presumably on individual sites. Is that the way the regulations work?

Ms Furnell : I will have to confirm that that is the way the regulations work.

Senator KIM CARR: That is my understanding of how they work. Now, why shouldn't the student be able to compare courses? Isn't that the point of the increased transparency—that students get information and make a comparison between RTOs operating in the same area? If so, where do they find that information?

Ms Furnell : That is something we are working towards. It is just not available at this stage.

Senator KIM CARR: Why hasn't it been done to this point?

Ms Furnell : The information for direct comparison has been difficult to draw together. It is something that is being worked on.

Senator RHIANNON: Is it too difficult because of a lack of resources or you have not been given a direction from the minister? What is it?

Senator KIM CARR: Surely you thought of that.

Ms Furnell : It has certainly been raised. It is actually a combination of a few things in terms of like-for-like comparisons. Often, the subsidy levels are very different. For example, depending on the state, the subsidy level per unit varies and it may be that different combinations of units go to make up a qualification; so getting like-for-like comparisons across everything is a rather large task, given the flexibility in the system. Also, there are a number of concessions for different levels of students. We have had discussions with the states around that but we have not reached agreement on that.

Senator KIM CARR: When can we anticipate a change in the regulations—or in practice, more importantly?

Ms Furnell : I would not care to speculate on that at this point.

Senator KIM CARR: Sorry, when do you think we could expect to see a change in practice?

Ms Furnell : A decision on a change would be a change in the standards, which would need to be agreed to by ministers and goes through the processes of consideration for any regulatory change, which usually includes cost-benefit analysis and so forth, so I cannot comment on when or how that decision might be made.

Senator KIM CARR: It does raise a pretty serious question, though, doesn't it, about the adequacy of the current arrangements?

Ms Furnell : The information has improved over time, and there has been a continual effort to improve that. The government is working to improve the information on that site and ensure that there is a comparison. Information for consumers is a priority. I just cannot give you the precise detail on when that might happen.

Senator KIM CARR: Why haven't the new regulations moved to the actual regulating of brokers and education agents?

Ms Furnell : You mean directly regulating brokers?

Senator KIM CARR: Yes, directly.

Ms Furnell : We were looking at the standards. Again, I would have to take the direct legal detail of that on notice. My understanding was that the act we are dealing was under the referral of powers for the registration of RTOs, and that did not go directly to the regulation of brokers.

Senator KIM CARR: So you are saying the Commonwealth does not have a head of power?

Ms Furnell : What I said is I would have to check the details of that.

Senator KIM CARR: What other explanation would there be?

ACTING CHAIR: The officer has said she will take that on notice, Senator Carr, so she will get back to you on that.

Senator KIM CARR: Was there a discussion within the department about regulating it?

Ms Furnell : When the issue of brokers came up we were in the midst of looking at revisions to the standards. I understand that we looked at various ways in which that would be done, and the adjustment to the standards was the way that was done. As I think was also said, there is interaction with consumer law that you referred to and discussed with—

Senator KIM CARR: Yes, I did that. There is a requirement in the Constitution for the Commonwealth to make laws for the benefit of students. It is explicit. Why isn't that a head of power?

Ms Furnell : I think it is payments for the benefit of students.

Senator KIM CARR: No, it is for the benefit of students.

Ms Furnell : I am not a constitutional lawyer, Senator. I do not wish to debate that particular point.

Senator KIM CARR: Can I ask you to take that on notice. Is there a head of power with the benefit of students provisions?

Ms Furnell : I can take on notice the point that you make.

Senator KIM CARR: How do you respond to the concerns that have been expressed by some RTOs that the regulatory regime is now too burdensome—for instance, the issue of the four census dates? How do you respond to that proposition?

Ms Furnell : Perhaps my colleague Ms Hewlett, who is closely connected to the VET FEE-HELP, might like to answer that.

Ms Hewlett : To start with, the VET FEE-HELP program is an opt-in program. Not all RTOs have access to VET FEE-HELP. With the AQF indicative time frames for undertaking a diploma and advanced diploma, we are looking at something between one and two years for a diploma and 1½ to two years for an advanced diploma. The four census dates are spread across the full qualification, not just over one year, which makes it fairly commensurate with a student undertaking a degree. On average, students who undertake a three-year bachelor program will go through six census dates. So a student undertaking an advanced diploma will go through four.

The intent of the measure is to ensure that students incur debt at the rate at which they study a particular qualification. So if you get through 25 per cent of a course then you would anticipate that you would owe 25 per of the full cost of the course.

Senator KIM CARR: So you are thinking it is a reasonable regulation. I am not arguing the toss about it. I just want to know what your response is to that matter. Was a regulatory impact statement prepared for the association with the changes to the VET FEE-HELP program?

Ms Hewlett : Yes, there was a short-form regulatory impact statement.

Senator KIM CARR: I am sure I can find it somewhere, but can you remind me?

Ms Hewlett : I think it might be on the OPBR, our website, but we can certainly take that on notice and send that through to you.

Senator KIM CARR: Thank you very much. ACPET has suggested that there should be further regulation, that there should be additional requirements to access funding, especially with regard to quality measures. What do you say to that proposition?

Ms Furnell : Is that with respect to development of FEE-HELP or more broadly?

Senator KIM CARR: No, with regard to funding, which in many cases is the only form of funding that some RTOs or some providers get. Do you think there is a case for qualified access to Commonwealth support based on quality assurance?

Ms Furnell : I am not sure. I am sorry, I am just not across the detail of that.

Senator KIM CARR: Could you take this on notice, please. Would you examine ACPET's submission and the evidence they provided to the committee today and provide this committee with your response to the propositions raised with regard to qualifications for access to Commonwealth funding. I include VET FEE-HELP measures as a funding measure.

There has been some discussion about outcome measurements such as progression of the labour market. It is not a matter that is confined just to the VET sector, of course. Is there any consideration being given to providing greater linkage with employment outcomes and funding under the VET programs?

Ms Furnell : With the outcomes of the programs, there has been quite a lot of debate about improving the links to labour market outcomes. I think it is also recognised that in some cases it may be several steps for some people. It may take a few steps. They might need a foundation skills and then another course and then work experience before they successfully make a transition from their current situation to the labour market. The states in their subsidy systems do look at priorities in the labour market and tailor perhaps the rate of subsidy or which courses are subsidised. I make that as a general statement, because they obviously design their systems.

Senator KIM CARR: Obviously it is difficult for you to speak for the state arrangements, but you do speak for Commonwealth arrangements, don't you?

Ms Furnell : Yes.

Senator KIM CARR: There is a whole range of Commonwealth payments, from whatever it is called these days—employer incentives—through to various other programs. Has any consideration been given to linking those payments to labour market outcomes for students?

Ms Furnell : I cannot speak about the employment payments. Within the Commonwealth programs some are more targeted than others. To actually make a direct link—it was raised in the Forrest report but I think the government is still giving consideration to that report, so I cannot really comment.

Senator KIM CARR: So it is before government?

CHAIR: The comment was actually the answer, Senator Carr.

Senator KIM CARR: I take it that the matter is before government.

CHAIR: The officer has given you her answer.

Senator KIM CARR: You have mentioned the Forrest report.

Ms Furnell : Yes. I mentioned that the Forest report raised it and consideration of that was—I am just trying to remember the process around that report. I cannot recall exact detail. It has been raised. I do not wish to comment on what may or may not be before government.

Senator KIM CARR: Can you take me through the process by which a provider is made eligible for VET-FEE HELP?

Mr Woodgate : In the current system, providers apply directly to the department. They are required to submit a number of materials to verify their application. The department then has 90 days to assess that application. If the application is incomplete at the time of submission the 90-day period does not tick over until everything is received by the department. Once the 90 days commences, the department assesses the application and can during that time request more information.

Senator KIM CARR: Can you give the committee a copy of the application form?

Mr Woodgate : We can certainly provide the processes for you, yes.

Senator KIM CARR: Is there an application form?

Mr Woodgate : I am not familiar with that form. I am not actually part of that application process team. But I can certainly take that on notice.

Senator KIM CARR: What are the criteria that you assess? You mentioned that there is an assessment process. What is it that you assess?

Mr Woodgate : The financial viability of the RTO—we are revising the process as we speak, and some of the new regulations which will come before parliament in the spring sittings will tighten those regulations. Certainly financial viability is one of the major ones we look at. We also look at previous trading history.

Senator KIM CARR: Is that it?

Mr Woodgate : They are the main—

Senator KIM CARR: Quality of teaching, facilities—do you look at those sorts of questions?

Mr Woodgate : There is not that in-depth, face-to-face on-site visit—

Senator KIM CARR: So you do not have an on-site visit?

Mr Woodgate : Not to my knowledge.

Senator KIM CARR: So how do you know you are being told the truth?

Ms Hewlett : The department relies on the RTO being registered with ASQA and having their qualifications accredited with ASQA. We would not normally go out and do an additional on-site visit; we would rely on that.

Senator KIM CARR: Tell me this: who assesses the qualifications of the teachers?

Ms Furnell : Is this the teachers at the RTOs?

Senator KIM CARR: Yes; I know it is an old-fashioned word. But who does it?

Ms Furnell : It is—again, I am just trying to remember the RTO standards in detail; I do not have them in front of me. Why don't I check on the standards for the quality of the courses, and also the registration of them? The standards were updated—I think that is the answer I am looking for. And there is a teaching assessment qualification—

Senator KIM CARR: Right, okay. You see, I am a bit anxious that no-one does.

Unidentified speaker: We do—we know.

Senator KIM CARR: No, sorry; not that no-one knows; that no-one assesses the qualifications.

ACTING CHAIR ( Senator McKenzie ): This is not Sale of the Century—hands off the buzzers, everybody! Senator Carr is asking questions of the witnesses in front of us.

Senator KIM CARR: My concern is that no-one in the Commonwealth checks the qualifications of the teachers, the trainers or the contractors, or whoever it is that is actually delivering the training. One of the issues that has been raised, particularly in Victoria, is the poor quality of the training that is being delivered by people who are not qualified. So my specific question to you is: who checks the qualifications of the teachers, or of those persons that are designated responsible for actually taking the classes and engaging with the students in the provision of training?

Ms Furnell : There are aspects of the RTO standards that cover this; I will need to just confirm the exact provisions.

Senator KIM CARR: Thank you. And when you have told me that, my next question will be: how adequate is the compliance with regard to that checking?

Ms Furnell : I think that question is one for ASQA. It is part of the ASQA standards.

Senator KIM CARR: I take it then, Mr Woodgate, that, when you are making an assessment—not you personally; but when the department makes an assessment of the eligibility for a provider to get access to what is a very lucrative program, the VET FEE-HELP program, you check with ASQA on those types of measures. Is that the case?

Mr Woodgate : We would make sure, as Ms Hewlett, said, that they were a full, bona fide RTO as listed with ASQA.

Senator KIM CARR: Okay. I would be interested to know what a full, bona fide RTO looks like, in the context of the experience that we have had, particularly given what has emerged in Victoria. We have now had substantial numbers of witnesses tell us that the problem is not confined to just one state.

Ms Hewlett : Senator, if I can add: part of the new policy proposal for these VET FEE-HELP reforms was an additional $18 million to establish a new compliance regime within the department. So we are now in a position to be able to undertake—there are a number of officers already within the department that are responsible for compliance, and that would include ensuring that the teachers of qualifications have their certificate IVs. But this additional funding will enable us to do that.

Senator KIM CARR: I appreciate that, Ms Hewlett, if that is the situation. But what do we say about what has gone on prior to this, in regard to the compliance arrangements for people getting access to very, very large sums of Commonwealth money?

ACTING CHAIR: Let us say, over the last few years.

Senator KIM CARR: I am not fussed as to how long you want to go back. This program has been in place for a number of years now; these problems, obviously, have developed over a number of years. I am interested to know: what do we say about the quality of training that has been provided up until this point? This is an area which the officers are telling me is only just now being introduced.

Ms Hewlett : I think, if you look—

Senator KIM CARR: You love coming to these committees, don't you!

Ms Hewlett : Reflecting, and actually looking at the submission that the department made to the committee—if you have a look at the students that undertake diplomas and advanced diplomas—and I am just flicking through to try and find the particular page—the employment outcomes for those students are very good, and a subset of those students would, obviously, have been supported through VET FEE-HELP. In terms of using employment outcomes as a proxy for quality of training, they are not a bad outcome.

Ms Furnell : I think the things we were both thinking of at the same time were that the indications around that are given by some of the information around employer satisfaction and student satisfaction which are available in our submission.

Senator KIM CARR: I have been watching education satisfaction surveys for 20-plus years. Given what we have discovered in Victoria, how much confidence can we have in these satisfaction surveys, these indicators of quality assessment, of success? We now have that direct experience in one jurisdiction, and I put it to you that that experience is not confined to one jurisdiction.

Ms Furnell : The levels of satisfaction are often relatively high. We are talking about some significant problems. I am not sure whether that is a minority or a relatively smaller issue compared to the total market.

Senator KIM CARR: You have seen the numbers in Victoria.

Ms Furnell : They are significant numbers in their own right. It is a bit hard to compare them with the proportions that are in these tables. That is what I was thinking at the time.

Senator KIM CARR: You heard what I read out in regard to aged care.

ACTING CHAIR: Thank you, Senator Carr. Senator Rhiannon.

Senator RHIANNON: I want to return to the issue that was just discussed about RTOs being allowed to come into VET FEE-HELP. You explained that they had to be ASQA accredited but you do not do site visits. Do they ring up? Do they come in and have an interview? You said there was no form and there were no site visits. I am just trying to understand how the process works. Do they ring up and talk to the relevant person?

Mr Woodgate : I actually did not say there was no form; I said I was not aware of the actual process and I said I would look in and get that form for you, if there was one—just to clarify that point.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. The question still is: how does the process work? Does somebody ring up and you talk to them over the phone and then the process proceeds from there? Do they come in for an interview?

Mr Woodgate : There is quite a lot of submitted material that they have to put into the department. That is assessed by officers, and queries go back and forth between the prospective applicant and the department on an ongoing basis throughout that application time.

Senator RHIANNON: So collecting material to make an assessment comes on top of the ASQA accreditation?

Mr Woodgate : Yes. That is right.

Senator RHIANNON: How easy is it for companies to sign up people to VET FEE-HELP debt over the phone? Is that happening?

Mr Woodgate : In order for a person to take up a VET FEE-HELP loan, they have to sign a Commonwealth assistance form. There needs to be a form completed by the student, so it cannot actually be done on the phone.

Senator RHIANNON: So you have not got any experience of this happening? You are saying it actually could not happen because they need to fill out the form. So that information that I have is wrong?

Mr Woodgate : The requirement that we have is that the students have actually filled out the form and given their tax file number and all the information on that form. The student fills out that form. That is the requirement.

Senator RHIANNON: Therefore it sounds like what has been put to me could happen—that a company is soliciting over the phone, the student downloads the form, they work it through with them and then they have got another student on the books. It sounds like it could happen.

Mr Woodgate : If a student fills out a form and agrees to take out a Commonwealth assisted loan—and that is an agreement therefore between that student and the Commonwealth—there is a loan in existence. Once the student goes past the census date, that loan becomes in effect.

Senator RHIANNON: Are you aware that this is happening, that companies are soliciting in this way?

Mr Woodgate : The government reforms that we have introduced, that the government has introduced, highlight the fact that there has been some rorting of the system, and Assistant Minister Birmingham has come out publicly on many occasions and stated that.

Senator RHIANNON: So would you see soliciting over the phone as rorting of the system, even if there is a student at the end of the line filling in a form? Is that an example of rorting the system?

Mr Woodgate : If you look at various laws around solicitation for over-the-phone marketing, there are various regulations around that outside the Commonwealth legislation. But, in the new measures coming forward, students need to have had a two-day cooling-off period from the time of the enrolment process before they take up or select VET FEE-HELP as an option to pay for their tuition.

Senator RHIANNON: So, if for no other reason, just a cooling-off period would—?

Mr Woodgate : That has been designed for that purpose, in consultation with the sector.

Senator RHIANNON: Going to some of the details of the new regime that you outlined, in terms of the parental approval, students having to be over 18. There are a whole number of new measures starting on 1 January. You set that out quite comprehensively. But this morning we heard from the Redfern Legal Centre about some really disturbing examples of where there has been some really heavy pressure put on people to sign agreements. I was just thinking, when you were outlining those measures, about cases where somebody who has some mental health problems is in their apartment in a public housing block and somebody knocks on the door and—and this is how it was put to us—the only way they thought they could get them out of their apartment was to sign a bit of paper that they were confronted with. How do these measures stop that sort of behaviour? Other examples were given about going to Centrelink and talking to people there. How does that stop these agents whose income relies on them being able to sign up a lot of people so they get their commission? How is it going to make a difference? How will it stop those examples?

Ms Hewlett : One of the new measures that is coming in as part of the reforms is around RTOs taking responsibility for screening applicants for their courses. They will need to make sure that anybody that signs up for a diploma or an advanced diploma under VET FEE-HELP has the required prerequisites—for example, we think probably a year 12 certificate, or equivalent proof of competency, will be required in the future for people to undertake these courses. The registered training organisation is the only body that can make that assessment of the student; not the broker.

Senator RHIANNON: How you have answered that is: you talked about screening of applicants. My question was: how do you stop those examples happening? It sounds like you cannot stop it happening. You say you will deal with it afterwards. That is what I have just taken from that answer.

Ms Furnell : It would be useful if we came back to the committee around these examples. I do not have a copy of the particular standard around marketing and assessing the needs of students. That is a general standard applying to RTOs. I would like to take some advice, because it is quite a broad application. The sorts of examples you have been citing are useful.

Senator RHIANNON: Also, when you talked about the new regime, I think you talked about when people want to withdraw. Could you just outline again what the current provisions are and how you are changing them. How are you a tightening them up?

Mr Woodgate : Currently, if a student wishes to withdraw from a course in which they have enrolled, they need to do so before the census date. The census date occurs 20 per cent into the duration of the course. If they withdraw before that time, there is no Commonwealth debt incurred. However, some providers do put in an administrative fee in addition to that process so that, if students do withdraw before the census date, they do not have any Commonwealth loan but they do have a fee from the provider. We have now changed that so that for anyone applying for VET FEE-HELP providers are not allowed to add a withdrawal fee.

Senator RHIANNON: Is that the only change? Are there three dates or is there only one 20 per cent of the way into the course?

Mr Woodgate : There is that 20 per cent tickover to get the loan, but we have instituted a number of periods where students are advised about their debt. On the new form it clearly outlines that this is a debt they have to repay. Within a minimum of 14 days they have to give an invoice outlining that this is a debt they must repay and what the costs are going to be. They have an opportunity to pull out before the census date. They have multiple opportunities.

ACTING CHAIR: To clarify, from 2012 we had a VET FEE-HELP system with little or no oversight of information given to students, which the current reforms are seeking to address.

Ms Furnell : I think it would be fair to say that since VET FEE-HELP was introduced—

ACTING CHAIR: When was that?

Mr Woodgate : The legislation was introduced in 2008; 2009 for the first students.

Ms Furnell : The changes now are significantly strengthening that regime.

ACTING CHAIR: Who was the minister in 2008?

Ms Hewlett : I think that might have been Minister Evans.

Ms Furnell : It may have been announced in 2008, but when it exactly was put in place—

ACTING CHAIR: Can you take that on notice please? Now in 2015 the current minister is putting in place to address some of the significant issues that have developed over time.

Ms Furnell : Yes.

Ms Hewlett : That is correct. When VET FEE-HELP was first introduced, it was to support pathways from vocational qualifications, or diplomas and advanced diplomas, into higher education. There had to be a process in place whereby students received credit for that in a higher-education qualification. I think in 2012 that particular requirement was abandoned and it was opened up to many more RTOs and also to state subsidised students as well.

ACTING CHAIR: Is there a difference around teacher assessment in RTOs, as opposed to public providers of vocational education?

Ms Furnell : I am not sure of the distinction you are making. Certainly, the new standards have additional requirements around qualifications for who can deliver the teaching and assessment. There was some strengthening in that—is that what you are referring to?

ACTING CHAIR: Is there any difference between private and public providers in that?

Ms Furnell : There is not a differentiation in the standards—they apply equally.

Senator O'NEILL: Has any VET provider had their approval withdrawn?

Ms Furnell : Their registration?

Senator O'NEILL: Sorry, their registration?

Ms Furnell : Yes. We can get the numbers from ASQA.

Senator KIM CARR: In regard to VET FEE-HELP? We have the numbers for the RTOs.


Ms Hewlett : There are a number of VET FEE-HELP providers that have had their registration revoked. All of them were self-initiated.

Senator O'NEILL: Do you know why?

Mr Woodgate : A number of those were in conjunction with the TAFE programs where they went from being an individual TAFE provider under our system and combined into a collective provider. So they asked for revocation of themselves individually as a provider.

Senator O'NEILL: So have you ever taken any away from any private RTO?

Ms Hewlett : A number of investigations have been undertaken into private RTOs. To date, I do not think that there has been one that we have actually revoked.

Mr Woodgate : There have been none that we have initiated that we have revoked.

Senator KIM CARR: Have there been any that have had their VET FEE-HELP accreditation withdrawn as a result of actions by the Commonwealth?

Ms Hewlett : No, I do not think that there—

Mr Woodgate : My understanding is that the answer is no.

ACTING CHAIR: This is the final question. Any other questions will be put on notice.

Senator O'NEILL: In relation to the process of the payments, we heard some evidence this morning that up to 10,000 people—I think that was the number that we heard from the Redfern Legal Centre—had been approached. Some people through that cohort have gone through a taxation process—or they have got their material and it prompted a response—and they have found out that they have this debt. They have been able to resolve that with the assistance of the legal centre, but that seems to be the tip of the iceberg of the many people out there who, for many years yet, might not know that they have a debt. How do you go about recovering moneys from those people? What is your interaction with the ATO or RTO in terms of recovering debts of that kind where people have not proceeded, where clearly they did not know what they were doing, they did not understand or they did not attend?

Ms Hewlett : Very briefly, there is a process in place. Initially, we would encourage the student to talk to the provider about revoking the debt, and we have many, many examples of where that has happened where a student has not ended up participating in a course and where the RTO voluntarily remits the debt.

Senator O'NEILL: What does that mean in terms of where the funding goes? Could you give me a detailed flow chart of how that works, who gets the money from where and the ATO's role in that?

Mr Woodgate : The process of revocation? Yes.

Ms Hewlett : Yes.

ACTING CHAIR: Thank you so much. That concludes today's proceedings. I thank all the witnesses who have given evidence to the committee today. Thanks to Hansard, broadcasting and the secretariat. I declare the committee adjourned.

Committee adjourned at 16:32