International education is big business for Australian universities, English language and VET providers.
ASQA’s latest strategic audit is concerned with protecting the quality of this market for the English language and VET providers it regulates.
What are the problems?
Australia’s reputation in on- and off-shore course provision in intensive English language (ELICOS) and VET courses to international students is high and well earned.
ASQA’s report also points out: “In general, overseas students rate the quality of the educational experience in Australia highly with high levels of student satisfaction expressed for VET and ELICOS courses.” ASQA regulates 685 providers registered to deliver courses to students studying in Australia on a student visa.
However, stakeholders and commentators report issues when students are not properly engaged and participating in their studies, or where there is collusive activity between students, providers and education agents who are more concerned with entering Australia for paid employment rather than study. Another is students working more hours than they are entitled to under their student visa conditions because of financial pressures.
One of the real issues, though, is the oversight of education agents, as the quality of the services they provide is dependent on good due diligence and monitoring by providers rather than regulatory oversight by Government.
Offshore delivery of VET courses to students in their home country is another significant issue as such programs usually involve a partnership with an institution in-country. Regulation is also challenging due to the “logistical arrangements necessary to support offshore site visits and the availability of reliable and timely data and information.”
A recent ‘editorial’ in the TDA’s weekly newsletter is worth a read too, as it talks about the ‘Ying’ and ‘Yang’ of international education.
What the review found
ASQA found that:
“providers delivering VET offshore are generally compliant, although there are distinct challenges in relation to meeting Australian industry specifications in training packages and maintaining effective oversight of third-party arrangements.”
They also found that ASQA-regulated providers that deliver ELICOS courses demonstrated higher levels of compliance. However, “some providers deliberately avoid compliance and adopt poor practices.”
There are a range of risk areas, including rapid growth in student numbers, students’ poor English language skills and unscrupulous agent performance. However, one significant area relates to requirements for attendance at classes, because when providers do not require that ASQA suggests that they can unfairly reduce their operating costs. It is also likely that these students will not receive the required training or be properly assessed to hold the required competencies. ASQA believes that:
“Mandatory student attendance in full-time classes offers the best protection for the quality of the training and assessment, and student experience and outcomes.”
So, for providers operating offshore they aim to ramp up scrutiny of those delivering assessment-only programs and 100 per cent online VET delivery.
One of the solutions ASQA proposes involves gathering and using better and more timely data. This also includes working with other agencies to get data more compatible to facilitate information sharing, shifting to ‘real-time collection’ of RTO activity data and requiring offshore students have a Unique Student Identifier – which is not required at present.
They propose a range of other actions and reforms, and the Executive Summary provides a great overview. However, what providers really need is good information about what is required, so one of ASQA’s proposed actions is to develop:
“information for VET and ELICOS providers delivering to overseas students, and providers delivering VET offshore, to support a positive approach to compliance by clearly explaining all the requirements specific to these delivery arrangements, and that the development of this material be prioritised on the basis of the risk factors identified in this review.”
They also propose that this information be “supplemented by a broader communications strategy aimed at students and education agents.”
Good information and effective communication are always good places to start.