October saw the release and tabling of ASQA’s 2017-2018 Annual Report.

What does it say about its regulatory work and performance over the last year?

It’s been a busy year!

ASQA’s Chief Commissioner Mark Paterson reported that the agency had received 5038 applications from existing and prospective training providers and completed around 98% of them. ASQA officers also completed 1478 audits. However, “In line with our maturing risk-based approach to regulation, 57.1 per cent of these audits were triggered by concerns about the risk associated with a provider” rather than through submission of an application.

Adverse regulatory decisions also “noticeably increased”, which he puts down to better targeting of what he suggests are “the small number of providers not delivering training and assessment to the high quality expected in Australia’s VET sector.” New providers applying to enter the market are also receiving a much higher level of scrutiny, he says. This resulted in just under a third (29%) of applications being rejected. ASQA also rejected around 5% of those providers who completed an application seeking renewal of their registration.

He also points out that:

“Under the student-centred audit approach [finally implemented in 2017 -18], providers that demonstrate a higher risk profile, a poor compliance history and/or poor student outcomes are [being] targeted through deeper-level audits.”

2018 to 2019 will see ASQA finalise its International Education Strategic Review and publish its findings by June 2019. The purpose of this Strategic Review is to “ensure the quality of services delivered by those providers remains at a high standard, ensure students are protected, and ensure that Australia’s reputation as a destination of choice for international students is enhanced.” The agency will also be fully implementing and embedding the stronger controls on domestic market entry that were introduced on 1 July 2018.

Looking at ASQA’s purposes and KPIs

ASQA has three key purposes.  These are to:

  1. Protect the quality and reputation of the VET sector
  2. Regulate the VET sector utilising a contemporary risk- and standards-based regulatory approach, and
  3. Facilitate access to accurate information about VET.

The three purposes give rise to 20 Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Of these 9 relate to purpose 1, 6 to purpose 2 and 5 to purpose 3. The Annual Report contains a fair bit of detail about each of the purposes and the KPIs, but here are a few highlights.

Last year’s annual report saw a quite significant increase in the proportion of providers with at least one non-compliance (around 56%) at the time the audit was finalised. ASQA attributes this to:

“changes in ASQA’s regulatory approach … which removed a non-mandatory rectification opportunity from the audit process; and partly a result of ASQA’s risk intelligence maturing and effectively identifying those providers that are fundamentally unable to meet the requirements of the Standards for RTOs.”

It also continues to find high levels of non-compliance with the standards relating to the core business of training and assessment. The particular non-compliance problem is Standard 1.8, which relates to the quality of assessment. Not that this is a new issue: it has been on ASQA’s radar for some time now. Those able to deliver the pivotal TAE Training Package are also an important part of this quality improvement process, and so:

“ASQA will have a continuing focus on the quality of trainers and assessors in the sector through the ongoing close scrutiny of applicants seeking to deliver TAE qualifications, as well as additional monitoring of providers approved to deliver these qualifications.”

A key part of this, though, is recognising the important role that ongoing professional development – in all its forms – plays in building a capable VET teaching and training workforce. Sara Caplan from PwC recently highlighted the importance of this through Clause 1.16 in ASQA’s standards at the recent World Congress in Melbourne. She also argued that meaningful skill development pathways and the use of informal learning were really important as part of this professional development mix because of the wide and evolving variety of job roles VET practitioners have. So, fixing the TAE Package and carefully regulating those who can offer its qualifications are really only part of the solution.