Powers for new ASQA chief

Perhaps there is a Certificate Four in poisoned chalices

Uneasy (mixed metaphor alert) has sat the crown at the Australian Skills Quality Authority, what with managements’ struggling since the start to get the regulatory balance right.

Providers want an agency that is not intrusive and aggressive, governments one that oversights to ensure course quality – plus prevent crooks defrauding students and the taxpayer.

Balance in oversight is not easily accomplished. It took two-goes for the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency to start working in a way widely seen as protecting consumers and being fair in regulating providers.

So, perhaps it is inevitable that not all VET stakeholders and observers are happy with how the ASQA bill before parliament establishes agency oversight.

The legislation replaces the existing governance structure of a chief commissioner who is CEO, plus two other commissioners, with a single statutory officer.  There will also be a ten-member, part-time council to advise on ASQA’s functions.

This appears reasonable to private training lobby, Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia. Chief Executive Troy Williams says, ““for some time ITECA members have argued that ASQA’s governance arrangements created an environment in which the regulator was neither accountable to, nor fully engaged with, the vocational education and training sector.

“The legislative amendments presented to the parliament today starts the process of addressing these governance concerns.”

But observers of the last 20 training dynasties are not impressed, suggesting providers would have benefited from a TEQSA model – where commissioners have authority but delegate some, not all, to the CEO.

However Assistant Training Minister Steve Irons, told the Reps yesterday, the advisory council will, “not be a decision-making body but rather a valuable source of strategic advice, a vehicle for confidential information-sharing and a strong foundation for stakeholder confidence in the regulator.”

In contrast, the new ASQA training czar will make the decisions; “perform(ing) a role more consistent with that of the head of an agency, including leading ASQA’s long- and short-term strategy and making top-level managerial decisions that determine the organisation’s objectives, resources and policies. This will be supported by a revised organisational structure which will better allocate and clarify operational responsibilities and improve regulatory decision-making,” Mr Irons said yesterday.