Proposed amendments to the legislation under which the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) operates includes measures for audit reports to be published, consistent with new ‘audit report rules’. This measure is designed to increase transparency and accountability. Whilst welcoming this as a matter of principle, ITECA retain concerns with respect to the potential release of commercially sensitive information.
Key Issues —
The Australian Parliament is currently considering the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Amendment Bill 2019 (Cth) that proposes a series of reforms to enhance the way ASQA regulates the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector. The reforms in the Bill enable the publication of audit reports, for registration audits and ongoing compliance audits; something of interest to members of the Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia (ITECA).
This measure to publicly release completed audit reports was a direct recommendation of the Braithwaite Review, published two years ago this month entitled All eyes on quality: Review of the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Act 2011. This is associated with the desire for ASQA to be more transparent and accountable in its decision-making on one hand, with the need to make the relative strengths of providers more transparent to the market on the other. It will also enable providers to publish information on where they have taken action in direct in relation to the audit. It has also been argued that this approach will allow providers to see where the regulator is drawing the line.
The Braithwaite Review recommendation was reinforced in the report entitled Strengthening Skills: Expert Review of Australia's Vocational Education and Training System compiled by the Hon. Steven Joyce which considered publication of audit reports essential to provide increased transparency and accountability, and to better inform providers about the standards and requirements of an ASQA audit process.
The concerns of ITECA’s members are shaping the advice that is being provided to the Australian Government, with a request for safeguards to ensure that commercially sensitive information held by an independent VET provider is not released.
ITECA’s member-driven advocacy has seen a call for ASQA to be bound by the framework that exists across the Australian Government to restrict the release of commercially sensitive information. By way of example, the Attorney General’s Department places restrictions on the release of commercially sensitive information that is information of a confidential nature that has commercial value that would be reduced if the information was disclosed. It is providers, not ASQA, who are in the best position to understand these values and ITECA will continue to prosecute this.
To protect the commercial interests of independent VET providers, ITECA is asking that the following definition be applied to restrict the release of commercially sensitive information by ASQA.
Definition of commercially sensitive information —
Any information which is not in the public domain or publicly available, and where disclosure may undermine the economic interest or competitive position of the owner of the information.
This definition should be applied when considering whether to release audit reports and, if information in those reports is established to be commercially sensitive, the information not be disclosed. Further, while all decisions of ASQA are reviewable at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT), a collaborative process to determine these issues will avoid such appeals, yet a review mechanism must still be available in the event that ASQA releases information that could be reasonably assessed as commercially sensitive.
The approach taken by ITECA is a great example of what a member-centric approach to member advocacy is about. Information was identified by members and the ITECA policy advocacy team worked with them to develop an appropriate policy response. A great opportunity to find out more about ITECA’s response to the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Amendment Bill 2019 (Cth) is at the 2020 Vocational Education and Training Business summit. For information on this event visit:
ITECA Event Information —
- 2020 ITECA Vocational Education & Training Business Summit
At this event you’ll get to hear from the architects of the reform program such as the Hon. Steve Irons MP, Assistant Minister for Vocational Education, Training and Apprenticeships and the Hon. Steve Joyce. Importantly, you’ll get to meet ITECA’s policy advocacy team and members serving on the ITECA Vocational Education and Training Reference Group who are shaping the policy debate.
Member Engagement —
ITECA’s ability to play a lead role in matters associated with this issue rests on the advice and guidance of individuals serving on the ITECA Vocational Education Reference Committee.
Further Information —
For more information on this issue please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 1300 421 017. Stay up to date via Twitter @ITECAust or via Facebook at www.facebook.com/ITECAust.
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