A SWEEPING audit of private training colleges has resulted in one provider losing its licence and a further eight, including the troubled Evocca College, slapped with strict conditions.
The industry regulator, the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA), has released the findings of its audit of 21 registered training organisations (RTOs), started in April this year amid widespread complaints of inappropriate marketing practices, poor standards and rorting of the lucrative VET-FEE HELP loans scheme.
Seven RTOs have been cleared, eight have had licence conditions imposed, one has had its registration cancelled and six are subject to ongoing investigations.
ASQA has also been working with the competition watchdog to investigate “serious breaches of Australian Consumer Law” by a range of providers and brokers.
“Much of the work being undertaken by the ACCC [Australian Competition and Consumer Commission] remains confidential at the time of this statement,” the report said.
“ASQA continues to receive complaints in relation to RTOs that are approved for VET FEE-HELP. The most common causes for concern in these complaints continue to be marketing and information provided to students and potential students, as well as enrolment in appropriate courses.”
As part of its investigation, ASQA interviewed 417 students identified as “at-risk”, including those of lower socio-economic status, who spoke English as a second language, who were on a humanitarian visa, and who have a disability.
Unique International College was found to be noncompliant and has had its registration cancelled.
It comes a week after Melbourne-based Phoenix Institute was told its registration would be cancelled, following complaints from students and reports in Fairfax Media of inappropriate conduct.
Evocca College, which came under fire earlier this year after the ABC reported that barely one in 1000 students made it through to graduation, was found to be noncompliant in its “assessment system, the accuracy of its marketing, and its complaint and appeals policies and procedures”, the report found.
Under the licence conditions, most of the RTOs will be required to retain enrolment and assessment records for 12 months, and to report data back to ASQA on a regular basis.
ASQA chief commissioner Chris Robinson said the number of complaints received by ASQA pointed to a potential systemic issue. “There has been a range of allegations of unethical and inappropriate action taken by training providers in relation to the VET FEE-HELP loan scheme,” he said in a statement.
“While ASQA does not manage or administer this scheme, it is concerned with any risks which have the potential to negatively impact on the delivery of high quality training and assessment in Australian’s vocational education and training (VET) sector.”
It comes a week after a Senate inquiry recommended a “blitz” on private colleges, citing “rampant abuse, accelerating costs and doubling of bad debt”, as it emerged that the value of the HECS-style loan scheme had blown out to $1.76 billion in 2014.
An estimated 40 per cent of all VET-FEE HELP loans will never be repaid as the recipients will never earn over the repayment threshold of $53,000, meaning the money goes directly into the pockets of for-profit colleges while taxpayers wear that cost.
A crackdown initiated earlier this year by then Assistant Education Minister Simon Birmingham focused on banning unscrupulous marketing practices, including offering inducements such as free iPads or laptops.
Following the release of the Senate report, federal Vocational Education Minister Luke Hartsuyker introduced legislation to fine colleges up to $54,000 for each breach of training regulations from next year.
Some of the examples cited in the Senate report include a woman in her 70s who was having lunch with her bible group at the Bankstown Central shopping centre who was approached by a young man asking them if they would like a “free” laptop and a “free” diploma in community services.
“He assured them that though they had to sign up for a government loan they would never have [to] repay it as they would need to [earn] over $50,000 (and this was a group of pensioners) and they agreed they would never be earning that much,” the report said. “The whole group signed up and got their laptops.”
The Senate report also recommended the creation of an ombudsman to resolve student complaints and a cap on commissions at 16 per cent. Consumer Action Law Centre senior policy officer Katherine Temple said a cap wasn’t good enough.
“Commissions are the main reason why Australian students are being signed up to inappropriate and expensive courses by dodgy providers,” she told news.com.au. “These companies are driven by profit, not education.”
Ms Temple argued there needed to be an outright ban on commissions. “Commissions aren’t delivering good outcomes,” she said.
“This has gotten to a point where it could be described as a scandal. In our case work we have seen vulnerable Australians targeted by dodgy brokers time and again.”
• Access Group Training
• Australian College of Training and Employment, EVOCCA College, Nuvocca, EMPACER
• Careers Australia Education Institute, ACAE Aust College of Applied Education
• Royal Gurkhas Institute of Technology Australia, Gurkhas Institute of Hospitality & Management
• International Skills Institute
• Australasian College Broadway
• Smart City Vocational College
• The Health Arts College
• Unique International College