Case study 1 - immediate suspension of approval under VET Student Loans
VET Student Loans has strengthened regulatory powers.
The VET Student Loans legislation has bolstered enforcement powers and oversight capabilities and has provided the department with expanded monitoring and regulatory powers. These new powers include a greater number of civil penalty provisions, and the ability to immediately suspend a provider's approval or freeze provider payments for potential non-compliance or poor performance.
The Secretary may suspend the approval of an approved course provider without giving the provider an intention notice under section 37 of the VET Student Loans Act 2016 (the Act). Immediate suspension occurs when the Secretary suspects on reasonable grounds that the provider is not complying with the Act, and the Secretary is satisfied that the circumstances require urgent action.
The department has used the new powers to immediately suspend provider approval for two VET Student Loans providers. In both circumstances the actions of the provider undermined the intention of the VET Student Loans program to offer greater protection to students. Both suspensions demonstrate how quickly the department can act to potentially disrupt non-compliant behaviour. A suspension can result in a decision by the secretary to revoke the approval of the provider.
All suspensions are published on the myskills.gov.au website and the list of VET Student Loans Approved Course Providers on the department's website is updated to reflect a provider's status where a suspension has been applied.
Case study 2 - self-report of VET FEE-HELP enrolment manipulation
A provider who self-reported a compliance issue involving a misguided employee who amended their census dates. As a serious breach of HESA and the VET Guidelines, it was open to the department to pursue a number of options including issuing infringement notices and commencing legal proceedings. In light of the voluntary self-reporting of the breach, the department reached a negotiated outcome with the provider to rectify the non-compliance and ensure that the students were not financially disadvantaged.
The provider agreed to cancel the VET FEE-HELP debt of the affected students and waive any upfront fees already paid by the students to ensure that the students could continue their chosen course of study. Under the negotiated outcome, the provider also wrote to the affected students to inform them that they had been incorrectly enrolled as VET FEE-HELP students due to the misconduct of an employee and the VET provider.
Providers who identify a potential VET Student Loans compliance breach are strongly encouraged to self-report the issue to: VETcompliance@employment.gov.au The department encourages voluntary compliance, and will consider the self-reporting of potential breaches in providers when determining compliance actions.
Case study 3 - provider revoked for non compliant enrolments
When investigations into VET FEE-HELP (VFH) and VET Student Loans (VSL) student enrolments uncovered evidence of a pattern of unscrupulous behaviour by a provider, the department revoked the provider's ability to offer VET loans.
Investigations found that the provider's agent marketed courses and enrolled students on the basis of false information and through the offering of inducements that were in breach of the VFH Guidelines. The provider also failed to take reasonable steps to ensure that its agents were providing accurate information to students and was consequently held responsible for these actions.
The department takes compliance relating to student enrolment seriously and has a dedicated compliance area, including a team of compliance officers, working closely with the Australian Skills Quality Authority, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and other stakeholders to deal with noncompliance with the VSL program and the VFH scheme. In addition to the impact on students, the provider's actions in this case also had an impact on Australia's reputation as a provider of high quality education.
Case study 4 – suspension of approval under VET FEE-HELP
In another example of a suspension of approval, the department suspended the approval of a VET FEE-HELP provider for poor performance following a site audit of the provider's operations.
The site audit involved an in-depth examination of the provider's books and records, and assessed the provider's compliance against a range of legislative and regulatory requirements. The findings of this audit directly informed the suspension of the provider for poor performance. Under the terms of the suspension, the provider was suspended from the VET FEE-HELP scheme and required to implement a plan to rectify the performance issues uncovered by the audit – with the suspension to remain in place until the Secretary was satisfied the provider had rectified the issues.
Case study 5 – infringement notices
When a provider accepted requests for Commonwealth assistance where a student was not entitled to that assistance (amounting to separate contraventions of clause 39DH of Schedule 1 to the HESA,) the department issued the VET FEE-HELP provider with 14 infringement notices.
The alleged failure to comply with the requirement was established through a provider audit by the department, where information was sought from the provider under the information request powers in Schedule 1 to the HESA. Review of this information established that a number of students under the age of 18 had been enrolled without obtaining the signature of a responsible parent or guardian, and a number of students had been enrolled without obtaining the students' signature before the relevant census date.
The provider paid $10,800 for each infringement notice, amounting to a total of $151,200. Payment of the infringement notices was not an admission of guilt or liability by the provider. These notices were issued by the department as an alternative to pursuing legal proceedings seeking a civil penalty order from a court. The maximum penalty that a court can award for a contravention is five times the amount payable for an infringement notice.
Case study 6 – tuition assurance
During one of the department's regular compliance reviews of all VET FEE-HELP providers' tuition assurance coverage, a provider was identified who had not renewed their tuition assurance coverage with their tuition assurance operator. The provider had also failed to contact the department regarding an alternative arrangement. The department revoked the provider's approval as a VET FEE-HELP provider due to lack of tuition assurance.
As discussed above, the Secretary may publish (or require a provider to release or publish) information on compliance actions that have been taken under the VET FEE-HELP and VET Student Loans Act 2016. The department publishes information on compliance actions to ensure that the interests of students are protected and all stakeholders in the VET sector are aware of the department's approach to compliance
Further information about the department's compliance work, including the VSL and VFH Compliance Strategy and the publication of finalised compliance actions.