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Reprieve for TAFE SA courses from national regulator

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UPDATED | The Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) today announced it would revoke its decision to suspend 10 TAFE SA courses that were previously deemed substandard.

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In a statement, the national regulator said TAFE SA had provided “sufficient evidence that it had rectified significant non-compliances” in relation to its delivery of vocational education and training.

ASQA found that some minor non-compliances remained and has issued a written direction calling on TAFE SA to rectify each non-compliance within 20 working days.

The review follows the State Government’s release of an independent quality review commissioned by the Weatherill Government following ASQA’s TAFE SA audit.

TAFE SA came under fire in September last year after ASQA issued a notice of intention to suspend 16 qualifications, including aged care, plumbing and hairdressing, for failing to meet required standards.

The number of substandard qualifications was later reduced to 10 after TAFE SA responded to the suspension, but failed to address all the of the non-compliances identified.

The findings prompted the resignations of TAFE SA’s CEO and chairperson.

ASQA’s review of TAFE SA’s reconsideration application, lodged last month, found the training provider had provided significant evidence that it had rectified non-compliances.

“During ASQA’s review of the reconsideration application, it was noted that TAFE SA had expended significant effort and resources to successfully achieve compliance with the requirements of the VET Quality Framework and had cooperated with the regulator throughout the process,” today’s statement from ASQA reads.

“ASQA also advised TAFE SA of its intention to undertake another compliance monitoring audit of its training and assessment during 2018.”

TAFE SA interim chief executive Alex Reid told reporters today there were approximately eight non-compliance issues across four qualifications that still needed to be resolved.

“There were a small number of non-technical compliances as ASQA have identified them,” Reid said.

“In the main it’s about documentation – they’re minor, a small number of them and we will rectify those within the 20 days ASQA has given us.

“It’s a particularly serious matter for an RTO (registered training organisation) to be out of step with its national regulator in the area of assessment and I’ve certainly spent the short time since early December working on exactly that.”

The State Government today released the independent review into TAFE SA, conducted by management firm Nous Group and commissioned by the previous Labor Government, just hours after ASQA published their update.

The Quality Review of TAFE SA report found TAFE SA’s approach to cost reduction was “narrow and short-sighted” and its board “lost sight of the importance of quality both as an end and as a means.”

“The (TAFE SA) Board’s single-minded focus on cost-cutting (and to a lesser extent, revenue generation) meant that quality issues were de-prioritised,” the report reads.

“Not only did this increase the risk of becoming non-compliant, it overlooked the need for TAFE SA to maintain a reputation for quality in order to compete effectively.

“On the question of governance, board membership was unbalanced, the wrong structures were in place to effectively monitor risk to regulate compliance and reputation, and performance metrics for executives were skewed.”

The report also found TAFE SA staff were inculcated into “a culture of fixed rules and entitlements” which the Nous Group argued diminished a sense of trust, responsibility and ability to “lead from below.”

The report included nine recommendations including the introduction of a new TAFE SA Board, efforts to ensure TAFE SA lecturers maintain industry currency and a realignment of resources to better reflect TAFE SA’s strategic and operational priorities.

Education minister John Gardner said the government would provide a full response to the recommendations “in due course”.

“We note that the report particularly identifies concerns in relation to strategy, governance, capability, culture, systems and resources, some of which contributed directly to last year’s scandal,” he said.

“Notably the Nous group makes the point that the starting point is to re-set strategy and governance.

“This is in line with the Government’s announced election commitments, in relation to which we have commenced implementation already.”

The Nous Group’s report will be made publicly available later today.

Yesterday the Federal Government awarded a contract to TAFE SA to train naval shipbuilding staff.

TAFE SA would be one of 10 training and educational organisations to partner with the new Naval Shipbuilding College, which will be headquartered in Adelaide.

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