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Economics Legislation Committee
17/10/2012
Estimates
INNOVATION, INDUSTRY, SCIENCE, RESEARCH AND TERTIARY EDUCATION PORTFOLIO
Australian Skills Quality Authority

Australian Skills Quality Authority

[18:51]

CHAIR: Welcome.

Senator RHIANNON: Mr Robinson, I understand that earlier the minister mentioned that ASQA has put two private providers on notice to lose registration. Could you run us through the process of how this came about? To start with: what was the benchmark; were warnings issued?

Mr Robinson : I can. In fact, we have done many more than two providers—

Senator RHIANNON: How many?

Mr Robinson : since we have been in operation. We have rejected the renewal of registration applications of 34 providers since we commenced on 1 July last year and we have cancelled or suspended the registration of another 35. We have taken action to either suspend or cancel registration or refuse registration for 69 providers.

Senator RHIANNON: So the difference between cancelling when their registration is current and the 34 is, when they come up for renewal, you will knock them out at that point.

Mr Robinson : They come up for renewal and they apply for reregistration—they have to do that every five years. These providers that are coming up for renewal have been registered previously by a state or territory regulator and then we assess the risk. We look at the factors and see if there are complaints, so it is a process which looks at their audit history, available information, that has been handed to us from previous regulators and our risk assessments and then we decide whether or not to do a fuller audit of that provider. In the cases where there is serious noncompliance with the required standards, we take action to, as I say, and not renew or cancel their registration.

Senator RHIANNON: So for those who were cancelled, what triggered them coming under your consideration? Is it a complaint from the public? Are you being proactive and looking at them when they are still registered?

Mr Robinson : Yes. We get complaints from people about registered training providers. That will trigger us to assess the risk and look at whether we need to do an audit to address the issues that have been raised. From time to time, providers come under our notice when they are not coming up for registration renewal and we can take action at any time during the cycle to look at their situation.

Senator RHIANNON: How does it come to your notice—complaints from the public; other ways?

Mr Robinson : We do an analysis of them We might look at their audit history and see that there is a poor audit history there.

Senator RHIANNON: How often do the audits happen?

Mr Robinson : They can happen at any stage. In our first year of operation we earmarked for audit 1,300 providers of the 2,600 that we regulated for most of the year—so, about half. That was quite a wide set of action in our first year to get to that many, but we are looking at providers that we have concerns about—there might have been complaints raised—or there are some issues that we just want to follow up with them.

Senator RHIANNON: Do you work with them to resolve the problems or is your job just to judge what they are doing?

Mr Robinson : There is a process where, if it is a re-registration application and they have an audit—not everyone necessarily has an audit for re-registration but most do—if we find noncompliances that report is given to them and they have a period of time, usually around a month, to address the noncompliances and then we consider their rectification evidence. Then, in the more serious cases, we take action to refuse their application.

Senator RHIANNON: With the audits, is it random which providers you determine that you will audit? How is that decision made?

Mr Robinson : No, we look at the history of that provider, whether there have been issues in the past, and we assess their risk. So we earmark certain providers for audit. When we do a new application, like an initial registration of a new registered training organisation, we do an audit of every application. There is a follow-up audit 12 months later for those as well. In the case of existing organisations, it is based on an assessment of their risk.

Senator RHIANNON: Is the audit a desk audit or are you out in the field looking at these programs?

Mr Robinson : Most of our audits involve field inspections. All of the new ones do and most of the re-registration ones do. Monitoring audits generally all do. Occasionally, we assess information without doing site inspections but that is the exception rather than the rule.

Senator RHIANNON: Are they spot visits or does the company know you are coming?

Mr Robinson : We can do unannounced audits and we do if we have reason to. A good example of that is where we have had reason to believe that there are violations of the education visas and people are not attending when they are required to be, so we do unannounced audits to check the student numbers against those that have been reported.

Senator CAMERON: Commissioner, you would be aware that the Liberal and National Party governments in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria are engaged in an orgy of economic vandalism against the TAFE systems. How will you ensure that these hundreds of millions of dollars of cuts in the TAFE system do not lead to poor quality outcomes for people engaged in TAFE courses?

Mr Robinson : Obviously, some of those cuts are of concern to us in terms of the potential for them to impact on the quality of provision. The standards against which we regulate the sector, both public and private, relate to the quality of training and the assessment processes to essentially follow what is specified in the training packages for different areas of industry. There are different things specified in different training packages. We are most concerned to see that training organisations are applying those requirements properly, and that is what we audit against. We are concerned and we are keeping a close eye on the effect on quality of those decisions that have been taken. It is too early to see that having an impact yet but I expect it will have an impact.

Senator CAMERON: We had Dr Carol Nicoll from TEQSA here in the previous session. She indicated that she has written to universities which are linked to the TAFE system to find if there are any issues arising from these cuts for the quality of TAFE education in the university sector. Have you done a similar thing for the TAFE system or are you planning to do a similar thing?

Mr Robinson : I have written to the head of the department in Victoria about the Victorian issues and expressing our concern that it may well affect the quality of the provision in that state. I have received a fairly general response from that person about the matters, but I made it clear that it is an area of concern to us that we are going to keep under notice.

Senator CAMERON: But can you write directly to each TAFE institution; is that part of your remit?

Mr Robinson : We can provide directions or write to any registered training provider whom we regulate. So in Victoria's case we regulate a little over half of all the providers. As the minister explained before, Victoria did not refer all its powers here to the Commonwealth, to ASQA, so in referring jurisdictions we regulate the institutions that have overseas students or that operate across state borders. But that means all the TAFEs in Victoria come under our jurisdiction.

Senator CAMERON: Wouldn't it be the right thing to do to do the same as Dr Nicoll did and write to the individual TAFE systems, as she has done with the individual universities? If you are only getting a standard response from the department, surely you should go straight to where the action is?

Mr Robinson : In our case, I do not think it is about writing to them as such; it is about scrutinising the quality of what they are offering and ensuring they are meeting the required standards that our act makes provision for. We certainly have got public providers in those states under notice in terms of our concern that that may well lead to impacts that do reduce quality. So they need to be meeting the standards to continue being registered.

Senator CAMERON: Could you provide a copy of the correspondence you have sent to the Victorian TAFE system? I am not sure what the department is there.

Mr Robinson : I can.

Senator CAMERON: Are you going to do the same thing for Queensland and New South Wales where there are significant cuts taking place?

Mr Robinson : We will be taking up some contact with those departments as well. We have not yet done that. They are more recent. But we are certainly both aware and concerned about the potential that this may have on the quality of the offering.

Senator CAMERON: What is your estimate of the quality issues that may suffer as a result of such huge cuts?

Mr Robinson : I do not have an estimate. I think it is hard to answer that question; it is early days. In our first 14 months of operation we found that about five per cent of providers led us to have concerns, including the ones I was mentioning before to Senator Rhiannon, that we have taken action on to refuse or cancel the registration.

Senator NASH: Thank you, Chair. I think you would realise that I am pretty reasonable. I just want to point out for the record I now have 2½ minutes of the 15 minutes. Given that the chair said 'a third, a third, a third' which is still not fair, it would have been five minutes. It should have been 7½ minutes.

CHAIR: (Indistinct)

Senator NASH: To be fair, I would expect, Chair, that you would have stuck to the agreement that was arranged.

CHAIR: Senator Nash, you missed saying one thing. Senator Rhiannon did not start talking until two minutes to seven. She had five minutes and Senator Cameron had five minutes.

Senator Nash: Two minutes to seven; that is ridiculous.

CHAIR: Sorry, seven minutes to seven. Senator Cameron had five minutes. You will get five minutes.

Senator NASH: That is fine, Chair. I will place my questions on notice. I cannot possibly, in one minute and a half, ask the questions I was going to ask.

CHAIR: I just said that you can have five minutes. You do not want the five minutes?

Senator NASH: No, thank you, Chair.

Proceedings suspended from 19:03 to 20:04