Authorities examine private VET providers

Following a 23 per cent increase in complaints about vocational education and training (VET) providers’ marketing of VET FEE-HELP courses nationwide, NSW Fair Trading is leading a national project investigating several groups.

Fair Trading Minister Matthew Mason-Cox said nearly 600 consumers had called the department in the last financial year to report they had been tricked into taking out expensive student loans or had experienced problems over refunds, cancellations and cooling-off periods.

“Consumers who signed up said they were not always aware they were signing up for a Commonwealth Government VET FEE-HELP loan in their name or they were told they wouldn’t need to repay the loan,” Mr Mason-Cox said.

NSW Fair Trading recently launched a campaign to educate consumers, including a fact sheet about what prospective students need to know before signing up for a course, brochures in community languages and a poster.

“This campaign reminds consumers of what they should look out for when signing up to training courses and how to ensure they are studying with a quality training provider,” he said.

Federation’s Assistant General Secretary (Post School Education) Maxine Sharkey said: “While the Fair Trading minister professes a desire to assist students, such a kit would not be necessary had his government not created a training ‘market’ in the first place.

“The introduction of the Smart and Skilled funding model has opened up a new honeypot of money for private for-profit training organisations, a honeypot to which the profit seekers are swarming,” she said.

“The money spent on producing brochures and posters alerting students to the dangers of the market could have been better spent on funding TAFE to continue to provide the quality training students are looking for.”

The AEU NSW launch of the University of Sydney Workplace Research Centre’s “The Capture of Public Wealth by the For-Profit VET Sector” research will be held later this month. The report finds: “The behaviour of for-profit providers has served to undermine confidence in vocational qualifications and taken advantage of students unable to make informed decisions.” It recommends that there should be a cap on funding to private registered training organisations and better regulation of their recruiting practices and business models.

Legal crackdown

A bill designed to protect VET students was introduced into Federal Parliament on February 25. Education and Training Assistant Minister Senator Simon Birmingham said the bill would enable the Government to create quality standards in order to quickly address problems with VET providers or courses; and require anyone marketing a VET course to clearly identify which registered training organisation is providing the
qualification.