The Role of ASQA in the Australian Vocational Education and Training Sector

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The Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) is the Australia wide regulator for the vocational education and training sector. ASQA is all about quality, as it oversees training providers and courses to ensure the high standards required are met.

Australia’s VET sector

Vocational education and training (VET) offers students the opportunity to gain qualifications for many different kinds of employment, and certain skills which may help them work successfully in their workplace.VET providers include further and technical education (TAFE), community and adult education providers as well as agricultural colleges. This includes private providers, industry skill centres, community organisations, and enterprise and commercial training providers.

Also, a few schools and universities provide VET. VET is provided via a network of 8 territory and state governments and the Australian Federal Government. Industry also provides VET, as do public and private training providers. All these different organisations work collaboratively in an effort to provide consistent training opportunities throughout the country.

Understanding the VET sector in Australia

ASQA has resources available that may offer some help to both new and current providers so that they can gain a better understanding of the key organisations that oversee the VET sector.

How ASQA regulates

As the VET sector’s national regulator, ASQA seeks to make sure that the quality of the VET sector is kept up to scratch by regulating training providers and all accredited courses. The regulator looks at providers from a risk-based perspective as determined by the Australian Government Guide to Regulation. Using the risk-based approach ensures that ASQA assesses obvious risk factors and makes sure that the reputation and quality of the VET sector isn’t undermined so it puts in place a series of regulations that are proportionate to the extent of the identified risks.

The Risk Based Approach

ASQA realises it can’t monitor all the risks but focuses on the more important ones. It doesn’t just work alone but coordinates with other funding, regulatory and policy bodies so that risks that it doesn’t normally monitor are brought to light and are dealt with, so the sector doesn’t fall into disrepute.

The management of risk in the VET sector

The main risk for ASQA to manage is when a registered training organisation certifies that a person has competencies that don’t appear to reflect his/her skills, attitudes and knowledge. When this takes place it could be damaging to all concerned. The VET sector is very important and there are many stakeholders the sector depends on. ASQA does its best to keep the confidence of the sector’s stakeholders high through its regulatory mechanism.

Training should meet Australian industry needs

ASQA’s regulatory approach aims to attain a balance between Australian industry’s wider interests and Australian employers as well as considering the VET sector. Businesses depend on skilled workers and they define the skills they need. Skills Service Organisations develop training packages, and ASQA ensures that any registered training organisation is meeting the requirements of the training packages and that VET graduates complete the training with the required skill level.

ASQA works with the higher education sector too

The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) is responsible for regulating the quality of the higher education sector in Australia. It works with ASQA under a Memorandum of Understanding, which indicates how the two regulators streamline the regulatory approach they have for ‘multi-sector providers,’ which offer, VET higher education as well.

There are state regulators in WA and Victoria so ASQA communicates with these respective states on issues when regulatory consistency is required.

Enforcement

ASQA expects registered training organisations (RTOs) and course owners to bear the responsibility for the quality of their services and qualifications. Most organisations do recognise that regulation is important and they wish to comply. An RTO may be penalised if it has been found not to comply. If the breach is serious ASQA has the power to seek from the Australian Federal Court a civil penalty or through the Federal Magistrate’s court.

ASQA also has some control over the providers which come under the Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students (CRICOS). They are required to comply with rules that come under the Education Services for Overseas Students Act 2000 (ESOS). If there are any breaches ASQA can file action for certain offences through the Federal Court of Australia.

Reporting and Accountability

ASQA, as a statutory agency, meets accountability requirements as set by the government. As it comes under the portfolio titled Education and Training it provides a performance report bi yearly to the Industry and Skills Council Advisory Committee. Each year through its annual report it reports to the Australian Parliament but its performance is assessed three times a year by the senate estimates committee.

Offenses and penalties determined by the Education Services for Overseas Students Act 2000

ASQA has the following powers:

  • It can amend or shorten accreditation and registration.
  • It can impose certain conditions on an accreditation or registration.
  • It can issue specific directions under the legislation for any organisation to take steps or stopping doing particular things.
  • It can cancel or suspend accreditation or registration.
  • It can issue an infringement notice instead of going through with a prosecution.
  • It can prosecute any organisation which breaches the legislation.
  • RTOs and owners of courses may ask an ASQA decision to be reviewed.

ASQA has similar enforcement powers for any breaches of the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Act 2011. The Act offers a number of sanctions based on increasing severity which in the worst case could lead to a cancelling or suspending of an RTO registration. Because it’s an ESOS agency, ASQA has similar powers of enforcement under the 2000 Act, titled ‘Education Services for Overseas Students.’

Decisions of ASQA under the 2011 Act National Vocational Education and Training Regulator

Any administrative sanction decision is a reviewable under Section 199 if the sanction is:

  • a registration cancellation;
  • a suspension or partial suspension of registration;
  • a registration period being shortened;
  • a scope of registration amendment.

Since the beginning of July 2016, decisions ASQA made for a provider as an ESOS agency may be reviewable under the 2000 Education Services for Overseas Students Act, section 169.

Decisions that could face an internal review are:

  • the refusal to register a provider on CRICOS;
  • registering a provider for a limited period;
  • not renewing the registration of a provider;
  • renewing a provider’s registration just for a limited period;
  • refusing to allow a provider to add a course(s) or location(s) for registration and remove or vary a condition which is stated under Section 10B;
  • when enforcement action in relation to the registration of a provider.

RTOs might be able, in certain circumstances, to apply for a review at the administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT), an ASQA decision. The AAT offers an independent review of many different administrative decisions that have been made by a number of Australian government agencies.

Summary

ASQA uses a risk-based approach to regulate the VET sector by both identifying and targeting the greatest potential risks in relation to the RTO and applies a proportionate response to issues that are of concern. ASQA’s role is to promote a high quality VET system in order that all those involved including industry students and employers benefit.

It has confidence in the VET sector in Australia and strives to achieve this confidence through collaborative methods that recognise shared responsibility of VET stakeholders, which includes RTOs and anyone who is responsible for the provision of VET, industry groups, employers, students and any consumer protection agency.