High quality teaching and learning is the essential ingredient for a high performing, successful national training system.
A high quality training system – what the Commonwealth is seeking
- Independent external validation of training provider assessments, developed and trialled with industry sectors that have concerns about the quality of training, for full implementation from 2014.
- Agreed state and territory strategies to develop and retain a highly skilled VET workforce and ensure a strong, competitive public training provider network, both of which will underpin a high quality training system.
- A fully operational national regulatory regime with active support for the Australian Skills Quality Authority and its new regulatory arrangements by all states and territories.
- The publication of measures of training provider quality and performance on the new My Skills website.
- Extra contractual obligations for training providers offering the National Training Entitlement and income-contingent loans to their students to ensure students receive good value for their investment.
Quality assurance and standards
Employers and students need complete confidence that the national training system is providing them with high quality training delivery, assessments and qualifications.
- Employers need to know that when they hire someone with a qualification, the qualification itself is a guarantee they will have a certain minimum level of relevant skills able to be applied in the workplace.
- Students need to know that their training will provide the learning outcomes, skills and experience that will prepare them for employment or career advancement, and that their qualification will be valued by employers across Australia.
Surveys show that, overall, employers and students are satisfied with the quality of vocational training in Australia. However, employers have consistently communicated concerns to government about some elements of the system, particularly the quality and consistency of assessment of student learning outcomes.
Ensuring Quality in Vocational Education and Training
Quality assurance framework
The Australian VET system has a rigorous quality assurance framework with three elements:
1. National standards for:
- the registration and operation of training providers, including training and assessment standards;
- the development and endorsement of National Training Packages;
- the accreditation of courses that are not covered in national Training Packages; and
- data provision.
Standards are set and reviewed by the National Skills Standards Council. Training packages are developed by Industry Skills Councils, ensuring their fitness for purpose.
2. A national standards framework for qualifications – the Australian Qualifications Framework – linking school, VET and higher education.
- These standards are set and reviewed by the Australian Qualifications Framework Council.
3. A national VET regulator – the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA)
- ASQA is responsible for registration and monitoring registered training organisations against the standards.
- All training providers must be registered to offer nationally recognised qualifications.
- To be registered and remain registered, all training providers must meet the national standards.
Provider standards were strengthened in July 2010, including: initial registration, fit and proper person requirements, ongoing financial viability, enhanced staff development and training requirements and fee-protection requirements for students.
The skills reforms to be negotiated at COAG will strengthen VET quality through:
- External validation of training provider assessments
- Improved quality of teaching
- Additional state quality checks for access to public subsidies
- Expansion of extra Commonwealth checks for access to income-contingent loans
- Publication of quality and performance measures on the My Skills website
- Support for a strong public provider network able to operate effectively through the implementation of the reforms, to underpin a high quality VET system
The expansion of privately funded registered training organisations has created more choices for employers and students, but sometimes providers have not always offered the quality of training that is needed.
The Review of the Education Services for Overseas Students (ESOS) Act 2000 undertaken by Mr Bruce Baird in 2010 found that the increase in privately-funded registered training organisations had caused concerns that some were operating with ‘their eye on the money and not education’ and that compliance activities found evidence that a number of ‘high-risk providers are poorly managed’. This has the potential to undermine public confidence in qualifications and providers.
For example, in the past some training providers have been eager to take advantage of overseas student perceptions that VET study could increase the chances of gaining permanent residency in Australia. The number of overseas students undertaking food preparation courses peaked in 1009 with over 22,000 enrolments. This figure sharply declined by 78 per cent to around 4,800 in 2011, after initiatives to better control this behaviour by providers and more stringent student visa integrity measures were in place.
The Australian Skills Quality Authority, established in 2011, will ensure higher standards and greater consistency in the regulation of all providers. Ongoing cooperation of states and territories is required to embed this reform and ensure it delivers the higher quality all governments are seeking.
VET teacher quality
It is estimated there are more than 220,000 trainers and assessors, other professionals and general staff in the VET workforce across Australia. VET teachers and assessors are required to have both current industry knowledge and educational capabilities.
Each state and territory will implement strategies to improve the quality of VET teaching. Specific measures will be determined by each state in accordance with their particular needs and priorities. This could include increasing the proportion of vocational education teachers with higher level skills in training and those with higher level assessment capabilities, measures to retain high performing VET teachers, and measures to attract new teachers to the workforce.
Maintaining high quality public provision in a more contestable environment for public funds
For many decades, public providers such as TAFEs have been the primary centre of excellence in capital-intensive technical training, providing invaluable trades training which is accessed by nearly two thirds of employers who have apprentices or trainees, with strong rates of satisfaction. TAFE also offers support services to disadvantaged students, including libraries, IT access and individual support, which helps them successfully participate in training – particularly in non-metropolitan areas where these services may otherwise be unavailable.
Governments need to ensure that TAFEs are able to operate effectively in an environment where some states and territories choose to move to a more contestable training market. It is in the public and taxpayer interest to ensure that the long term investment of public funds in a strong TAFE sector continues to be productive and contributes further to the skilling task facing the nation. Building a skilled economy and society must rest on a bedrock of public institutions committed to the long term advancement and capacity of citizens.
The states and territories will be asked to agree on strategies with the Commonwealth Government to continue to support and strengthen their public providers of vocational education and training over the next five years. These could include recognition of the additional costs that public providers incur as the key provider of capital intensive training and the support services required for disadvantaged students and for students in regional Australia.
In some states and territories this may require reform of TAFE governance arrangements. In others it may require public providers taking more flexible approaches to course design and delivery and entering into more customised training delivery arrangements with local employers.
The Commonwealth Government will require states and territories to increase quality throughout the VET sector. This will be built on an increased commitment to support the Australian Skills Quality Authority and its new regulatory arrangements.
Assuring students and employers that investing in training is worthwhile
As a result of these reforms:
- The 1.8 million students enrolled in the publicly funded VET system and thousands of Australian businesses who have a stake in the quality of Australia’s vocational education system will have greater assurance that high quality training is being provided.
- Employers and training organisations can be confident that quality standards will be consistently applied across the country.
- Information on the performance of training organisations will be publicly available to help students and employers choose a training provider that best suits their needs.
- International and domestic students and their families can have confidence that registered training organisations are legitimate and offer genuine, high quality learning opportunities. Taxpayers will be confident that government subsidies are supporting high quality training outcomes and that substandard operators are weeded out of the industry.
A key reform will be the publication of comparable information on the quality of registered training organisations, through the new My Skills website. This will allow employers and students to compare the quality and performance of training providers in their area and make informed choices about the provider that best meets their needs. Information on quality might include the proportion of graduates in employment or in full-time study following completion of training, the number of assessments of existing skills undertaken and feedback from learners on the level of support, convenience of delivery and assessment and relevance of skills achieved.
The Commonwealth Government will apply a strengthened quality regime for providers seeking to offer income-contingent loans. Only providers offering high quality vocational education services will be eligible. The quality regime will include developing independant, external validation of qualification assessments undertaken by providers, in parallel with the extension of the loan program. As more states accept the Commonwealth’s offer to provide access to student loans for high level VET study, these additional checks will apply to more training providers.
Pilots will initially be rolled out in the qualifications identified by industry as being of most concern. Subject to the pilots being successful, a national approach to external validation will be implemented from 2014–15 onwards. It is anticipated that external validation will involve independent industry experts auditing a training provider’s assessment process and, in some cases, validating the competency assessments that have been made for individual students.
To support the introduction of a National Training Entitlement and expansion of income-contingent loans, states and territories will ensure only high quality training providers are approved to deliver the National Training Entitlement. States will be required to ensure only high quality training providers are able to access public subsidies through the application of stringent quality checks. For example, these additional requirements could include more regular reporting on performance by registered training organisations, subsidy funding provided on completion of training delivery, ongoing compliance checks and a focus on assessing past delivery quality and performance before registered training organisations can access public funds.
Together, these additional quality measures will help that students and industry can have added confidence in the providers delivering government subsidised training or student loans.