VET Training The Hon. T.A. FRANKS ( 14:47 :38 ): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before addressing the questions to the Minister for Employment, Higher Education and Skills on the topic of VET private provider brokers offering schools project funding.
The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: It has been brought to my attention that an email offering schools funding for VET enrolments has recently been sent to South Australian state schools from at least one private provider, who is a broker, offering $500 funding inducements direct to the school for each enrolment of a student at the school they can procure in a VET course offered by that broker. The email I have viewed is addressed to careers advisers or headmasters and is titled 'Funds for school projects'. It goes on to state that this Adelaide-based company is:
…offering schools an opportunity to earn a $500 credit towards a school project for every student who suc cessfully enrols in one of our N ationally recognised diploma courses in 2015.
The email goes on to outline the options for VET FEE-HELP and the range of courses that are available and states:
Many courses include an electronic study tool ( a laptop ) as a study incentive once the student has successfully completed a portion of the course.
It further states that:
There is no limit to the number of students you may enrol , t herefore, we would pay your school a $5, 000 grant should you successfully enrol 10 students provided they pass the census date and are still active and engaged in their learning.
It then invites the school to contact them to find out more about this 'fundraising opportunity'. My questions are:
1.Is the minister aware that South Australian schools are receiving these letters with this type of inducement?
2.Could the minister indicate whether she has had communication with the Minister for Education and Child Development on this issue?
3.Could the minister further advise whether public schools are being advised to respond to such correspondence received from private providers, and if so, how?
The Hon. G.E. GAGO (Minister for Employment, Higher Education and Skills, Minister for Science and Information Economy, Minister for the Status of Women, Minister for Business Services and Consumers) ( 14:49 :44 ): I thank the honourable member for her most important question. This has been an issue that we have seen recently receiving some attention in the media around Australia. I note that it was also an issue for the chief executive of ASQA who visited recently as well, which I will refer to in just a minute. We have seen federal shadow ministers who have undertaken to jointly write to the Auditor-General seeking an urgent audit of the use of the VET FEE-HELP system. We saw that late last year. That request was as a result of media reporting of inappropriate practices. We need to say this. Presently it is only identified as a very, very small number, a minority, of training providers that are encouraging students to enrol in high-debt, poor quality courses that might be completely unsuitable to their needs and using all sorts of offers to try to lure the students into those particular courses.
The commonwealth inquiry into the operation, regulation and funding of private vocational education and training (VET) providers has included VET FEE-HELP in those particular terms of reference, and a submission to the inquiry by the Grattan Institute contains an estimate of VET FEE?HELP debt not expected to be paid or calculated as bad debt. So, they propose to contain the cost of help, including reducing the income threshold at which the help debt must be repaid as one of the controlling costs.
The South Australian government, along with other jurisdictions, has entered into an agreement, the National Partnership Agreement on Skills Reform, with the commonwealth, which reports expanding ICLs to improve accessibility to higher level VET qualifications and, under that agreement, state governments are required to contribute to the shared risk associated with that.
I also met with Mr Chris Robinson, the chief executive of ASQA, and it was interesting because they have been looking at this space very closely as well and monitoring complaints. It was interesting because I requested from him what sort of complaints he may have heard from South Australia, and he indicated very few. He did not say none but he said very few indeed, and he actually stated that that was because here in South Australia we have much higher quality control measures put in place around our training providers, so the bar is lifted a bit higher in this state than in other jurisdictions, which tends to cull out those that are less reputable and more inclined to want to try to rort the system.
If the honourable member has any specific details that she would like me to follow up, I am more than happy to do that. As I said, it is unfortunate that this is occurring. It is unfortunate that with any system there is always those few who seek to rort the system and can find a way through. We obviously seek to stop those activities and tighten up provisions for students.
The Hon. T.A. FRANKS ( 14:54 :30 ): Supplementary. Has this government sanctioned the ability for state schools to take funding inducements for their students to enrol in these courses, or has it issued advice for schools not to take up this unethical practice?
The Hon. G.E. GAGO (Minister for Employment, Higher Education and Skills, Minister for Science and Information Economy, Minister for the Status of Women, Minister for Business Services and Consumers) ( 14:54 :45 ): I'm not aware of any activity in that space. It's not an issue that schools have raised with me and sought advice from me. Whether they've been engaging with the agency and there's activity at that level, I don't know, but it has certainly not been drawn to my attention in that way. I'm happy to take that part of the question on notice and bring back a response.