Students are being trafficked for sex: Claire Field argues regulators can do more to help stop it


closer reviews of accounts would create an opportunity to closely question providers charging very low fees

Last week Nine Media exposed the role some independent providers are playing in facilitating sex trafficking – charging low student fees and turning a blind eye to student non-attendance. Sadly these are issues the sector has been dealing with for years. Home Affairs needs to do more, but so too do the sector’s regulators.

It was good to subsequently see ASQA and TEQSA issue “sector alerts” reminding providers of their responsibilities. It would be even better to be reassured that their regulatory approaches are identifying these providers before they damage too many lives.

TEQSA keeps close scrutiny on providers’ financials, while it is my understanding that ASQA no longer routinely reviews financial documentation at re-registration. Given the financial stress many international providers experienced during COVID, it would seem timely to undertake a closer review of their financial position, plus a one-off check of their audited accounts and enrolled student numbers in PRISMS would give a crude estimate of their actual fees, and provide an opportunity to closely question providers charging very low fees.

Both regulators recently issued their annual reports. With most independent international students enrolled in VET, I will focus on ASQA’s report. In 2021-22 they processed:

* 282 new provider registrations

* 488 renewals of registration, and

* 6 574 change to scope applications.

The agency separately reported:

* 356 performance assessments

* 100 review monitoring activities, and

* 113 evidence review activities.

ASQA defines a performance assessment as “the systematic and documented process used to assess a provider’s on-going compliance with the Standards for Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) 2015 and the National Code of Practice for Providers of Education and Training to Overseas Student 2018.”

While most change to scope applications are risk assessed as not needing a performance assessment, there is a gap between the 770 new registrations and provider re-registrations processed and the 356 performance assessments (audits) undertaken.

During the year ASQA found non-compliances in 244 cases but then took comparatively few regulatory actions against RTOs:

* 10 sanctions to cancel registration in full

* seven sanctions to suspend a provider’s registration

* three in part scope suspensions

* seven conditions

* one civil penalty, and

* 84 directions issued.

ASQA issues written directions to providers when they find a non-compliance which does not pose a significant regulatory risk. That appears to leave just 28 serious regulatory responses to RTOs in a year when ASQA found non-compliances in 244 RTOs, and an unknown number of other providers were working to undermine the visa system and facilitate women being brought to Australia as slaves.

Claire Field is an adviser to the tertiary education sector