Community Colleges Australia (CCA) Conference

Speech
  • Minister for Vocational Education and Skills

Thank you David for your introduction.
(David Martin – Chair – Community Colleges Australia)

It is a pleasure to be here today at your conference.

Let me say at the outset – whilst I have only been the Minister for Vocational Education and Skills for a few short weeks – I have long had an interest in vocational education and training.

The VET sector is a vitally important part of our community and our economy.

It helps people to build the skills – and the confidence – to move from school into work – or unemployment into work – and to progress in their careers.

This is good for individuals, business and our broader economy.

In my own electorate of Cowper on the New South Wales mid-north coast – I have seen first-hand the value of VET in the community.

I have seen how VET can open doors for people – particularly disengaged youth – and help them to find their place in the world.

I look forward to getting to know more of you – and to visit your organisations around the country – in the year ahead.

Government’s vision for VET

Ladies and gentlemen, at your conference last year, my colleague and then Minister, Ian Macfarlane, spoke to you about the Government’s vision for the future.

The Government’s vision is to have a VET sector that is strong, agile and responsive to the needs of industry and students.

We need a VET sector that helps train people for the jobs of today and positions them to adapt to the work of the future.

We need to ensure that the VET sector is anticipating and responding to future challenges, including our ageing population, rapid advances in technology, and the reality of strong global competition.

The Government’s reform agenda for VET is closely linked to our goals of boosting industry, innovation and competitiveness.

We already have a strong VET system – and one that is increasingly admired overseas for its quality.

We want this to continue and grow – and we want more people here at home and abroad – to realise the benefits that come from getting a vocational education.

We are focused on increasing the quality of training and raising the status of VET with both prospective students and their families, and with business and industry.

Recent reforms

This morning I would like to give you an update on the Government’s reforms to help build a strong VET sector and to share with you my early thinking on the challenges and opportunities in VET.

Before I start though, I would like to acknowledge Ian Macfarlane and Minister Simon Birmingham for the work they have done to date.

Their reforms are moving the sector onto a stronger footing and will better protect students – and taxpayer funds – into the future.

They have laid a very solid groundwork for me to work from.

Training packages

One of the first things Minister Birmingham did was introduce a new approach to developing training packages.

As you know, training packages are at the heart of our training system.

The new approach builds on the strengths of the existing system – but will be more responsive to changing industry needs.

From 1 January next year, the Australian Industry and Skills Committee will oversee the new training package development model.

We are reviewing the structure of training packages and accredited courses so they continue to meet industry needs.

These reforms will ensure that more students receive training that is valued by industry and helps them into real jobs.

This is what VET is all about.

Quality standards

Ladies and gentlemen, it is a great disappointment to me – as I imagine it is to you as well – that a handful of dodgy providers have caused so much damage to the VET industry in recent years.

The Government has taken strong action to weed out these providers to protect our students, including the young and the vulnerable.

We have strengthened the regulatory framework so as to protect the overall reputation of the sector.

The Government has provided $68 million to the Australian Skills Quality Authority – ASQA – to implement a more modern, responsive regulatory approach that focuses on high risk providers.

Reforms have already been implemented to lift the red tape burden on highly compliant providers, allowing ASQA to focus on poor performers.

This approach rewards high performing training providers through providing more autonomy and less regulatory oversight.

For example, ASQA can delegate regulatory responsibility to highly compliant RTOs to manage their own scope of registration.

I am pleased to say that I know the Coffs Coast Community College in my electorate of Cowper, a member of CCA, has been approved by ASQA as a delegate.

This means it can vary its scope of registration without an application to ASQA or the payment of a fee — a genuine recognition of the good work the college does.

We have also revised and strengthened national regulation through new Standards for Regulators and new Standards for Registered Training Organisations.

These tough new training provider quality standards require training providers and their brokers to make it clear to all students what they are signing up for — including if they are signing up for any VET FEE-HELP loans, government funded subsidy or other financial support.

We have also made amendments to the National Vocational and Education Training Regulator (NVETR) Act 2011 so that ASQA can move quickly to address quality issues as they arise.

And a National Training Complaints Hotline was established in January this year so people with a complaint or query about the training sector have just one number to call.

VET FEE-HELP Reforms

Ladies and gentleman, another important area of reform has been to the VET FEE-HELP loan scheme.

In March this year, Minister Birmingham announced a series of eight reforms to strengthen the administration of the scheme to better protect students, the taxpayer and the broader reputation of the VET sector.

These reforms spanned areas such as inducements, marketing, consumer information, debt processes and standards.

The Government has acted to swiftly implement these reforms.

From 1 April 2015 inducements such as free laptops were banned.

From 1 July 2015 the VET Guidelines were changed with immediate effect to include:

• Banning withdrawal fees - or any other barriers to stop a student withdrawing from training.

• Requiring providers to have a written agreement with their agents and requiring agents to disclose who they represent and that they receive a commission for enrolments.

• Banning providers and their agents from engaging in misleading marketing such as claiming that VET FEE-HELP courses are “free” or “government-funded”

The next phase of VET FEE-HELP reforms will take effect on 1 January next year.

Following these changes VET providers:

• Will not be allowed to charge a student the total course tuition fees in one up-front hit.

• Will have to issue a student with a VET FEE-HELP Invoice Notice at least 14 days prior to each census date for the VET unit of study.

• Won’t be able to accept a VET FEE-HELP loan request from a student until a two-day gap or ‘cooling off’ period has elapsed after enrolment.

And tomorrow, I will introduce legislation into the Parliament that will:

• Protect students under the age of 18 by requiring a parent or guardian’s signature before being eligible to apply for VET FEE-HELP assistance.

• Introduce an infringement notice scheme attached to civil penalties for breaches of certain VET Guidelines, with an improved partnership with ASQA.

• Introduce minimum trading history requirements for new applicant RTOs seeking VET FEE-HELP approval.

• Make it easier for students to have debts that have been unfairly applied — due to breaches of the Act or Guidelines — cancelled, with the cost to be recouped from the relevant provider.

• Require providers to ensure students have the necessary pre-requisites to complete a diploma or advanced diploma qualification if they wish to access VET FEE-HELP.

So as you can see – the Government has worked to address the shortcomings in the VET FEE-HELP system that we inherited from the previous Government.

I would like to acknowledge the strong support from those genuine and committed providers in the VET industry for these reforms.

And before I move on - I would like to acknowledge the contribution of Ms Kate Davidson, your former CEO, to the VET FEE-HELP Reform Working Group.

It has been a significant body of work and her assistance has been appreciated.

Industry Skills Fund

The Government is also taking action to support businesses to get the workforces they need to grow.

Our Industry Skills Fund provides funding for training support, as well as free, independent skills advice, to help business and workers to take advantage of growth opportunities.

Businesses of any size are eligible to apply for the fund, which is particularly targeted at micro, small and medium businesses.

The Industry Skills Fund also includes more than $40 million under the Youth Stream, to help businesses offer job specific training for new, young employees, as well as supporting community service organisations to help young people return to school, start vocational training or move into work.

There are two pilot programmes under the Youth Stream – Youth Employment Pathways; and Training for Employment Scholarships.

Both pilot programmes were recently expanded nationally, with applications open to 30 June 2016.

Unique Student Identifier

We are also focused on improving completion rates – especially for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, because we know that education and training can open so many doors for a positive future.

One initiative that can assist highly mobile students is the introduction of the Unique Student Identifier – USI.

Having a USI gives students online access to consolidated records of their training over their life including with different providers in different states.

Access to training information will be valuable in assembling evidence for job applications and further training.

It helps training providers to work with clients to complete credit transfers, complete prerequisites and apply for Recognition of Prior Learning.

This is good news for both students and for businesses, as people will be more agile and able to take their skills where they are needed most.

Consumer information – My Skills website and VET FEE-HELP information

Another extremely important initiative is to improve consumer information.

We want to make it easier for people to choose the training that is right for them so they can complete their training and move into rewarding careers.

Valuable data and information to help people make these decisions is available on the My Skills website.

The information on My Skills offers is clearly useful, with visitor numbers now over one million per year.

This is triple the number of visits last year.

My Skills also identifies RTOs with current adverse findings from ASQA, so prospective students can make fully informed decisions.

My Skills also now includes information on career and further training opportunities that flow from their current course of study.

There is also additional information about VET FEE-HELP, including a calculator to help students understand the obligations and risks involved when committing to their training investment.

Over time, improved information about total VET activity, student satisfaction and employment outcomes, including employer feedback, will give users even more information about RTO performance.

Looking to the future

As we look to the future, there are more conversations to be had, including how the review of the Federation might further strengthen the delivery of a range of services including VET.

As you may know, the Reform of Federation White Paper is considering the roles and responsibilities between different levels of government.

In relation to VET, what we know is that each state and territory’s approach is different.

The system is complex and it is difficult to navigate for employers and training organisations that operate across state borders.

There is huge potential for us to make significant structural changes to how the VET system operates, to make it even stronger and more responsive to the needs of the millions of people who use it.

This was amongst the issues discussed at the Leaders Retreat in July.

First Ministers from each state and territory, and the President of the Australian Local Government Association, all agreed to consider a shift in responsibility for VET to the Commonwealth — and that states and territories could elect to remain TAFE providers within a national system.

A national approach would ensure the VET system is flexible and responsive enough to meet local and cross-border requirements that help people get the job they want, where they want it, and where it’s needed.

A national system would lead to better accountability and increase efficiency and choice.

It would also reduce duplication of programmes run by the Commonwealth and the states.

We could also make better links between the VET system and higher education, welfare services, and employment.

These issues are up for discussion in the Federation Reform White Paper process.

This covers the whole spectrum of services — from education, to health, to housing, and everything in between.

We will continue to discuss ways we can improve VET through possible federation reform and we value the perspective of organisations like CCA.

Conclusion

Australia needs a strong and flexible vocational education and training system to help secure our economic future.

We are improving our VET system to give students recognised qualifications that lead to real jobs and allow them to move across industries and across borders, both in Australia and overseas.

Community colleges offer valuable opportunities to people in our community and I thank everyone here for their commitment to high quality training that sets people up for a strong future.

I know you will use today’s conference to look at the future of training and to share your ideas and expertise on what works.

I wish you all the best for your conference and look forward to continuing to work with CCA.

Thank you.

ENDS

 

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