GORGI COCHLAN: So how would you like to pay out more than the cost of a university degree for a diploma that might not be worth the paper it’s printed on?

WALEED ALY: Which of these three training courses is real? A: a 21-day Diploma of Hypnotherapy for Pregnancy and Childbirth, costing $9,225; B: an 18-month part-time Diploma of Transpersonal Coaching — whatever that is — costing $9,615; or C: a one-year part-time Diploma of Hair and Beauty Salon Management costing $27,880? The answer is D: all of the above. These are just some of the courses on offer at the 5,000-odd private registered training organisations — or RTOs — in Australia.

[Interview — Pat Forward, Australian Education Union]

PAT FORWARD: It is completely ridiculous for students to be charged $27,000 or $30,000 for a diploma which can be delivered over a matter of weeks.

WALEED ALY: In some cases these courses are costing four times as much as the equivalent courses at TAFE.

[Graphic shown: Diploma of Business cost comparison: TAFE NSW $2,510; private college $11,496]

WALEED ALY: A few even cost more than a uni degree. And if you were thinking that paying almost $30,000 to manage a hair salon — and not actually cut hair — was ridiculous, well, so do hair salon managers.

[Interview — Tanner Hastie, Manager, Shibui Melbourne]

TANNER HASTIE: I don’t think they’re even necessary courses, I think that they’re a bit of a rip off and I don’t know if you can get much out of it in the end. You have the basic knowledge behind you but you don’t have the experience, and that’s what’s needed in this service industry.

WALEED ALY: Last year 180,000 students borrowed $1.6 billion from the Government’s student loan scheme to pay for private college courses, including vibrational healing and life coaching. While not all RTOs are offering questionable courses, the industry has recently been investigated for questionable practices, including offering free laptops or iPads to lure people into costly courses.

[Interview — Pat Forward, Australian Education Union]

PAT FORWARD: You’ve got young people with a debt that’s going to take them many, many years to pay off, for qualifications which may be worthless.

GORGI COCHLAN: Senator Simon Birmingham is the Assistant Minister for Education and Training. Simon, with around 5,000 of these operators around the country, what’s the Government doing to make sure that the courses that they’re offering are any good?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well look, I’ve been really concerned that the many who are doing a great job, providing quality training, are getting a bad name from some who are out there offering so called free courses that actually have student loans attached to them. We’re taking a number of reforms to make sure we ban offering inducements or incentives to sign people up, to get rid of the miraculously short course and ensure there have to be multiple units of study to actually ensure we are getting quality training for everybody who is engaged in vocational education and training around Australia.

STEVE PRICE: It’s taken time though, Senator, to get on top of this. I mean we’ve got outfits that are charging four times what a normal TAFE course is charging. That’s taxpayers’ money. It’s an appalling waste of millions of dollars. Surely you could have moved a bit quicker.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Look it does really concern me that the previous government opened this scheme up in 2012 with inadequate regulation in place and what I have been pretty clear about is that if these measures are still inadequate in clamping down on bad activity in the sector, then those rogue providers can expect to see more reforms and more action from the government to make sure we stamp out bad practice.

WALEED ALY: So you mention legislation you have introduced and some of the measures make perfect sense, the idea of banning inducements like the free iPads or making sure that students are actually up to the educational task that they’d be taking on, but what I [don’t] really see here is anything that assesses the quality of the course, whether the course itself is any good and worthy of government money.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: First and foremost we want to make sure that students who are signing
up for training expect one thing only and that is quality training, not a free iPad or a free give away. Secondly, making sure there are multiple units of study attached to some of these diploma courses, there’s a real quality aspect…

WALEED ALY: [interrupts] What if there are multiple crappy units? I mean is anybody at any stage, is there a bureaucrat somewhere who is assessing this and going “this is a decent course, this is the kind of thing we should fund”, or are we just kind of letting the market rip here?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: $68 million extra to the Australian Skills Quality Authority, the national
regulator, is all about taking a deeper look at what is being taught, how it’s being taught and making sure that we are getting quality outcomes for the students going through those courses.

GORGI COCHLAN: Senator, we look forward to possibly more regulation in this industry. We appreciate you speaking to us tonight. 

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: A pleasure guys, any time.