The scandal-plagued vocational education sector is set for a radical shake-up under a proposal from the federal government which could see a ban on brokers promoting courses to students, enforcing minimum student completion rates, and only funding courses that meet industry demand.
The discussion paper, released on Friday, comes after hundreds of millions of dollars have been wiped from the public purse through allegations of unscrupulous education providers selling courses to illiterate students and those with learning impairments. The sector is expected to spiral to $3 billion in public debt this
Fairfax Media has revealed that one Sydney college, Australian Institute of Professional Education, was paid up to $1 million per graduate last year. It allegedly recruited disadvantaged students in some of the country's poorest areas through the promise of free laptops. It received $111 million in Commonwealth funding and handed out just
Mr Ryan, the third minister to hold the vocational education portfolio in the past year, said the scandals were the very reason the sector needed to be re-
Last week, the AFP raided the offices of Australian Careers Network in Melbourne as part of a fraud investigation after 16,000 students were left in limbo and hundreds of jobs were lost at the $180 million company. In December, one of its colleges, Phoenix Institute, was charged in the Federal Court by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission with false, misleading and unconscionable conduct.
Under the discussion paper proposal, the government will also consider additional measures beyond tougher numeracy and literacy tests and and enforcing HSC or equivalent qualifications. It has also mooted setting a maximum fee for courses and legislating for a VET-FEE help ombudsman.
"It is reasonable to consider whether the Commonwealth should specify the maximum fees providers can charge for each VET FEE-HELP course or unit," the discussion paper states. This could include a restriction on the amount providers can charge for online only delivery, which has exploded over the past two years, and allowed the most remote and poor students to be recruited into courses.
Another option canvassed in the paper is to prohibit brokers under a new scheme. "This option may improve the integrity of the scheme, may help protect students and ensures student enrolments are the sole responsibility of providers," the paper states.
In what could create a huge administrative backlog, the government is also considering whether all existing providers should be required to reapply for VET FEE-HELP under the redesigned scheme.
The regulation-heavy discussion paper is at odds with the government's wider de-regulation agenda in the tertiary sector.
"Anyone that knows me knows that I'm not one that moves to regulation," said Mr Ryan. "But when you have a market with substantial public subsidy with substantial public funds it's about what the incentives are that you set up, via the regulations you have in place".
As well as ACN and AIPE, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is pursuing two other Sydney private colleges in the Federal Court for the return of more than $300 million in taxpayer funding.
The discussion paper will be open for public comment until June 30.
From The Canberra Times