Question: 2,500 TAFE students at risk over accreditation issues


Mr GARDNER (Morialta) (14:59): My question is to the Minister for Higher Education and Skills. Have all the 2,500 TAFE students undertaking courses at risk of losing accreditation been contacted, as the minister undertook to ensure would happen last sitting week?

The Hon. S.E. CLOSE (Port Adelaide—Minister for Education and Child Development, Minister for Higher Education and Skills) (14:59): TAFE have advised me that on the day of our discussion in the last sitting week they were informing all students associated with the qualifications mentioned that there was this report and that they would keep them up to date and also where they could come to obtain more support and advice.

Subsequently, TAFE has been undertaking a very serious process of assessing its response to ASQA, which will occur next week—it's due next week—and, as part of that, determining whether all the students who were initially caught in saying they were part of those qualifications were in fact likely to have an impact. That work is reaching its finalisation during this week and the subset of students who were initially contacted will be determined that are potentially affected still.

The reason for the distinction in the first instance is that, rather than the entire qualification coming under question, it is a question of the units of competency within them. Therefore someone involved in the qualification but not in that individual unit of competency, although they would have received the original email, will be able to be reassured that that doesn't apply to them. The students captured are from 25 March to October who were enrolled in those individual units of competency. I expect later this week to be able to be much clearer about the numbers involved and also the consequences for those students.

Mr GARDNER (Morialta) (15:01): The minister in her response indicated that there were some students who have been contacted because they are enrolled in the course and some who will get further contact because their units of competence are particularly being called into question. Can the minister advise the house how many students were contacted? Was it the 2,500 as originally suggested? How many students fall into the second category who have severe issues over their competence units?

The Hon. S.E. CLOSE (Port Adelaide—Minister for Education and Child Development, Minister for Higher Education and Skills) (15:02): I don't necessarily accept the severe issues because that is still being worked through. It's important that we provide information that is accurate, but the first number of students who were contacted was a larger number of students—

Mr Knoll interjecting:

The SPEAKER: The member for Schubert has been offered no provocation. The minister is only providing the house with information and yet he interjects. He is called to order.

The Hon. S.E. CLOSE: The initial contact was a larger number of students, in the order of 2,500, or possibly even more, in order to make sure that all were captured. They of course will be informed if they are not involved. I didn't complete that sentence entirely, but the ones who are subject potentially to some remedial action will also be informed. As I said, I expect to have clarity on those numbers and also what the consequences are likely to be later this week.

Mr GARDNER (Morialta) (15:03): Supplementary: I believe the minister in her first answer said that they were informed on the day that she informed the parliament. Can the minister advise the house by what mechanism these students were informed?

The Hon. S.E. CLOSE (Port Adelaide—Minister for Education and Child Development, Minister for Higher Education and Skills) (15:03): I am advised that TAFE sent an email out.

Mr GARDNER (Morialta) (15:03): My question is to the Minister for Higher Education and Skills. Can the minister update the house on the work of the task force she announced last sitting week, and which she briefly referred to earlier, which was going to do two things: to help TAFE fix their accreditation issues and to report weekly to the minister? Has it undertaken those two tasks?

The Hon. S.E. CLOSE (Port Adelaide—Minister for Education and Child Development, Minister for Higher Education and Skills) (15:03): Indeed, the task force was immediately established in the week that we were discussing this in parliament. The chief executive of TAFE is on the task force. One of the board members who has experience interstate with training provision and also the chief executive of the Department of State Development, although he has delegated it to the person who is appropriate within his department working on skills policy, have formed that task force and have appointed an independent organisation to assist them.

When I spoke two or three weeks ago, the intention was that they would appoint someone externally, and the organisation they have appointed is Quorum, which is an organisation that is led by people who have extensive experience not only in the quality of training provision but also in the auditing thereof. They have appointed them not only to do the task I mentioned on the Thursday of our last sitting week, which is to investigate the internal mechanisms TAFE used to ensure that they are keeping their standards at the level required, but also to oversee the work being done in the response by the task force to ASQA towards the end of October.

That organisation is now working hard. In terms of meetings, I understand that they have had four meetings. I have had two face-to-face meetings and also two written briefings provided to me in the time since we last met.

Mr GARDNER (Morialta) (15:05): My question is to the Minister for Higher Education and Skills. Is the minister now able to confirm whether the TAFE CEO and senior executives will or will not be receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in bonuses in the most recent financial year?

The Hon. S.E. CLOSE (Port Adelaide—Minister for Education and Child Development, Minister for Higher Education and Skills) (15:05): As I have said repeatedly, this is a corporatised organisation and this is a matter that is the decision of the board. I have had a conversation—several conversations, in fact—with the chair of the board on this very subject. He is very clear that the decision that he and the board will make will take notice of what has occurred. The report that has been received from ASQA is critical of TAFE, and that will be considered by the board; so, too, will the response and the way in which ASQA responds to TAFE's report later in October.

Mr GARDNER (Morialta) (15:06): Supplementary: can the minister advise the house what KPIs the board is using to determine whether these bonuses are going to be paid and, in particular, whether quality and accreditation form any part of the decision-making as to whether these bonuses of hundreds of thousands of dollars will be received?

The Hon. S.E. CLOSE (Port Adelaide—Minister for Education and Child Development, Minister for Higher Education and Skills) (15:06): It ought to be clear for the record that that is cumulatively, not individually, hundreds of thousands of dollars. Yes, I can get the KPIs, if they are available, the KPIs from the board on the consideration. But absolutely it is clear to me from the discussion that I have had with the board chair that the quality of the offering from TAFE is part of the consideration of whether or not the employees are due to receive their bonuses.

Mr GARDNER (Morialta) (15:08): I have a supplementary question for the Minister for Higher Education and Skills. Given the minister said in her previous answer that she had had several conversations with the chair of the TAFE board and potentially others, why hasn't the minister told the TAFE board chair that she will direct him not to provide these bonuses?

The Hon. S.E. CLOSE (Port Adelaide—Minister for Education and Child Development, Minister for Higher Education and Skills) (15:09): First of all, I have confidence in the chair of the TAFE board to undertake the appropriate action and, secondly, the process is not yet completed that would warrant such a final decision.

Mr GARDNER (Morialta) (15:09): My question is to the Minister for Higher Education and Skills. Has the government sought or received any advice as to whether TAFE or the government is liable to damages or compensation as a result of the loss of accreditation of courses? This could of course include the aircraft maintenance courses.

The Hon. S.E. CLOSE (Port Adelaide—Minister for Education and Child Development, Minister for Higher Education and Skills) (15:09): While we do not discuss legal advice sought or obtained, I am able to say that the approach that TAFE has taken and will take is that of being a model litigant, should there be a situation where that is required. I believe at present, as up to date as my information is, there has been no such move amongst the students who were undertaking the course that CASA, alongside TAFE, has temporarily suspended. It is far too early to determine whether that might be an outcome of the current audit process, but TAFE has assured me that it will operate as a model litigant in the event that the matters do turn to a legal situation.