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Wednesday, 2 December 2015
Page: 9569

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training) (09:59): I will directly answer your question, Senator Carr, and then I want to touch on some of the preceding remarks. You will not find a sunset clause in the amendments. The government has made a public commitment and a commitment in the chamber that it is our intention to revamp the scheme next year. I imagine that providers of all shapes and sizes would expect to be holding the government to account in that regard to make sure that new arrangements are put in place, otherwise the 2015 cap will carry forward indefinitely. That is not something that the providers, the states or others would want to have. In some ways I think a sunset clause would be counterproductive. By having a sunset clause for that one provision we would, in a sense, remove the gun to the head that would make us get on with making sure that, overall, the scheme is rewritten and new arrangements are put in place. So I would caution the Senate against the concept of a sunset clause there and I urge the Senate to join, no doubt with others, in holding the government to account to make sure that a new scheme that rewrites all of these rules in a much more effective manner is operational from 2017.

Senator Carr, I want to pick up on your comments about completion rates and whether or not there is effective regulation of teaching practices, completion rates and other factors. I acknowledge that you have acknowledged the extra resources that have been provided to both ASQA and the Department of Education and Training to enhance audit activity and compliance. I also draw the Senate's attention to some of the provisions that would, potentially, lead to the pausing of payments for poor performance to providers. These are quite broad provisions and they touch on some of these significant quality issues. I draw the Senate's attention to amendment (5), which inserts item 7A. In particular, I draw attention to the proposed changes to subclause 26(1)(b) of schedule 1A of the act:

(i) the approaches used to recruit or enrol students …

(ii) the veracity of enrolments …

(iii) the level of teaching resources, or the quality of those resources, for any of those courses—

which I think is a particularly important component for consideration, in relation to how some of the online enrolments may occur—

(iv) the level of engagement in any of those courses of students who receive VET FEE-HELP assistance—

again, a very important provision that means swift action could be undertaken were enrolments to be proceeding but students not turning up or participating, in any way, in those courses—

(v) the completion rates for any of those courses …

The government does have profound concerns about some providers and the very poor completion rates that are in place. We equally have concerns about the level of engagement in a number of courses and we have spent much time talking about recruitment and enrolment practices of providers during this year. We want to make sure that the provisions are there that enable us to take swift action in response to those concerns. In terms of the power of the different amendments we are proposing, this one is most notable. Providers should expect that the government would be looking to use these provisions, if they are passed, in a relatively swift time line, and if you are out there with poor levels of engagement of students in your courses or poor completion rates it is highly probable that we are looking at you.