The Federal Government commissioned a ‘rapid review’ of ASQA’s governance, culture and regulatory practices.
The review made 24 recommendations and “has provided the necessary evidence to inform improvements that enhance ASQA’s regulatory approach and continue to strengthen its capacity to engage with the VET sector.” All recommendations have been accepted.
Proposed changes to ASQA’s regulatory approach
The final report of this rapid review, conducted by mpconsulting (who are specialists in review, evaluation and regulation) was published in March 2020. Some stakeholders, for example the Independent Tertiary Education Council of Australia, suggested that “the report is a damning criticism of ASQA’s past performance”. However, they also acknowledged that the national regulator had made efforts to improve the its engagement with the sector and performance.
Moving the focus to self-assurance by providers
The review found that current arrangements are strongly focused on “inputs and compliance controls, rather than on self-assurance by providers that their governance and systems are working to provide quality training outcomes and promote excellence.”
One of the issues that providers have raised over many years is the extent to which the quality framework, which is used by ASQA, really gets at the ‘true essence’ of what IS ‘good quality’ in provider and delivery practices. Recommendation 1 calls for the development of a:
“shared understanding of what ‘quality’ and ‘outcomes’ look like, how these should be reflected in outcomes-focused standards and performance assessed by ASQA.”
Thus, the review suggests that ASQA’s approach needs to shift to one which promotes and facilitates the development of “a culture of effective self-assurance as an integral part of a provider’s routine operations.” ASQA’s role would therefore shift to focus more to “testing providers’ systems and processes for ensuring sustained compliance, continuous improvement and quality outcomes for students.”
This approach will be complimented by embedding a variable-touch approach to regulation, another thing that the good providers have sought as a reward for their efforts.
Developing better relationships and trust
The report points out that, currently, “there is a significant trust deficit between the regulator, peak bodies and some regulated entities.” This, they suggest, needs to be turned around by ASQA “strengthening its focus on engagement and education and working with the sector to co-design new regulatory tools.” So, providers need to play their part too by “proactively engaging with ASQA to understand ASQA’s expectations on an ongoing basis” and by working with ASQA to help address some of the significant systemic non-compliance issues that impact the sector more broadly.
Another issue is making ASQA’s audit reports “less dense” so that they “effectively describe the identified non-compliance in a meaningful way for providers.” The review proposes that regulatory decisions and advice need to be “communicated in a clear, consistent and timely manner.”
Skilling and training ASQA’s workforce
The report maintains that ASQA’s workforce needs to have “a consistent understanding of the context in which they are assessing performance and that they are effectively and continuously trained “in relation to assessment methodology, interpretation of the standards, the regulatory framework and the regulated sector.” This will require strengthened induction and ongoing training as well as ASQA developing strong internal quality assurance processes, with “regular opportunities for moderation and internal review.” Three recommendations focus on ASQA workforce issues.
And finally, taking a look at governance
All of this will require changes to ASQA’s structures, management and governance so that they align with ASQA’s renewed focus and support change management. Two recommendations focus on governance, including one that calls for the establishment of an Advisory Council “to improve access to high-level ongoing expert advice including in relation to ASQA’s strategic objectives and approach to regulation.”