The Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) is the national regulator for Australia’s vocational education and training (VET) sector. ASQA regulates courses and training providers to ensure nationally approved quality standards are met.
Two recent national reviews have focussed on the VET sector, including the role of ASQA - the 2019 Expert Review of Australia’s VET System (the Joyce Review), and the 2018 review of the National VET Regulator Act 2011 (the Braithwaite Review). Both reviews identified the need for ASQA to reform elements of its regulatory approach, in particular its engagement with the sector and its educative approach.
While in recent years ASQA has focused much of its regulatory effort on the poorest performing providers, and removing them from the market, there is now an opportunity to strengthen ASQA’s focus on building capability and fostering excellence across the VET sector.
On 30 October 2019 the Australian Government announced $18.1 million towards regulatory reform to support the fair, transparent and effective regulation of the VET sector. The reform is intended to:
- position ASQA as an effective modern regulator and to deliver on future reform directions agreed through the COAG reform roadmap
- improve and expand ASQA’s engagement with the VET sector and educative role to ensure training providers are aware of, and supported to understand, expectations and requirements
- ensure regulatory decisions are transparent, regulatory processes are effective, and that training providers have access to information and support to deliver good practice training and assessment
- improve ASQA’s collection and use of data to assist with identifying poor quality training providers, and
- better enable training providers to give feedback on ASQA (including directly to the department).
In April 2020 the Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business, Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash, released the final report of the rapid review of ASQA’s regulatory practices, governance and culture. A copy of the final report is available, along with the Minister’s media release. Minster Cash has given her support to the implementation of all 24 recommendations.
The intent of the rapid review was to:
- evaluate the effectiveness of ASQA’s internal regulatory practices and processes
- recommend adjustments to ASQA’s processes to support consistent, risk-based and contemporary regulatory decision-making and education
- recommend a revised governance model for ASQA to clarify roles and responsibilities and improve accountability, efficiency of resources, and focus on strategic direction and performance, and
- identify areas in which changes could be made to the VET Quality Framework to drive improvements across the sectors.
Feedback provided to the Joyce and the Braithwaite Reviews was closely considered by the regulatory expert who undertook the review. Stakeholders were also able to provide confidential feedback on key elements of ASQA’s performance to the regulatory expert.
The review concluded that while ASQA’s overarching vision and purpose remain appropriate, some adjustments to its practices are needed to improve its engagement and communication with the sector, and ensure its regulatory approach is guided by regulatory necessity, risk and proportionality.
The review’s recommendations aim to shift, over time, ASQA’s regulatory approach from prescriptive and process-based compliance to a broader focus on self-assurance by training providers and excellence in training outcomes. This will support providers to identify and rectify issues without undue regulatory intervention, and to build their capacity for continuous improvement.
Implementation of the reforms will occur through a staged approach. Immediate reform actions include changes to ASQA’s governance model and audit practice. These have already commenced, with legislative amendments introduced to Parliament on 13 February 2020 through the National VET Regulator Amendment (Governance and Other Matters) Bill 2020. The Bill sets out a revised governance structure for ASQA that replaces the commissioners with a chief executive officer, supported by enhanced internal senior executive capacity. It also introduces an advisory council comprising experts from areas including regulatory practice, sector and business engagement, and education and training.
Over the course of 2020, ASQA will be:
- working with stakeholders to identify a new approach to audit reports, declarations of compliance, and remediation following compliance activities
- adjusting some audit practices including, in certain circumstances, to request information in advance of the audit, and
- commencing a comprehensive education program to ensure training providers are aware of, and supported to understand, regulatory expectations and requirements.
Longer-term reform activities will include changes to the VET Quality Framework, including the Standards for Registered Training Organisations 2015, and building the sector’s capacity for self-assurance. Scoping work with respect to the broader reform agenda and the review of the VET Quality Framework will commence shortly.