In 2017 Canberra-based academic Valerie Braithwaite was asked to review the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Act (the NVETR Act) of 2011. This act “underpins the operations of the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA).”
The report, submitted at the end of January 2018 has now been considered by the Commonwealth. It makes 23 recommendations. This article briefly summarises some of what the report found and recommended, and how the Government has responded.
What Braithwaite found
ASQA regulates over 4000 VET providers since it was set up in 2011. Given these numbers, the review was focused establishing whether the approach to regulation was “responsive, effective and efficient and furthered the quality of the VET sector.” The review process included meetings with key players in the sector, a public submissions process and visits to a number of RTOs. She found that:
“There were concerns about the compliance burden on RTOs, the inconsistency of audits and auditors, the difficulty in making sense of ASQA’s regulatory approach, and a disconnect from what RTOs considered important for regulation of the sector.”
Better access to more ‘real-time data’ and a greater focus on protecting students are also needed. She notes, though, that ASQA’s regulatory model is evolving and improving with the introduction of a “five-stage student-centred audit model.” She favours continuous improvement over mandating quality standards that all RTOs must achieve. Indeed, she also believes:
“ASQA [has an opportunity] to sophisticate its use of strengths-based regulation, in particular praise for RTOs that have done things well, while also improving the use of a more iterative and educational approach with those at risk, when it is within the capacity of the RTO to mitigate those risks.”
She also believes that the quality of teaching, teachers and professional development is important too. She points out that:
“Deepening VET professionalisation and the commitment of the teaching workforce to continuous improvement in the quality of teaching and learning are … imperative.”
Her seventh recommendation addresses this by suggesting “the legislative framework be revised to require an RTO to assess the quality of its teaching workforce and develop teacher quality improvement actions, which must be submitted to ASQA annually as a part of the Quality Indicator Annual Summary report.” In addition, recommendation eight proposes reviewing the TAE package “with the purpose of creating a career path for teaching excellence in vocational education and training.” Recommendation nine suggests creating the role of Master Assessor at the pinnacle of the VET teacher/trainer career path with mentoring and professional development responsibilities.
The Government’s response
The Government response was released in June 2018. It focused on the five themes of her recommendations: enhancing engagement between the regulator and sector, strengthening registration requirements of RTOs, teaching excellence, improving the collection and sharing of data and protecting and informing students. Braithwaite made 4, 4, 3, 4 and 8 recommendations against each of these themes respectively. Of these, the Government has supported a total of 9 of her recommendations, a further 11 ‘in principle’ and 3 have been ‘noted’. Of the three concerned with teaching excellence, two are supported in principle (Recommendations 7 and 8) while the proposal for a Master assessor (Recommendation 9) was noted.