December 6, 2017

It was a bombshell that rocked TAFE SA, one of the most revered institutions in the South Australian education sector.  Just recently, an audit report was released with findings that 16 TAFE SA courses were falling short of appropriate standards. In the aftermath, the head of TAFE SA has been sacked and hundreds of students are confused and concerned about their futures. There is now potential for those students to take legal action against TAFE SA.

TAFE SA - How will students be affected?

What happened?

The Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) is the body responsible for regulating Australia’s vocational education and training (VET) sector. Its main function is to ensure that training providers meet the appropriate nationally approved quality standards.

VET has increased in popularity over recent years, which has seen an increase in the number of VET providers (registered training organisations). This has meant that more than ever, the role of ASQA has been essential to ensure that standards are maintained and that students are getting what they pay for.

As the ASQA website points out, “the VET sector is crucial to the Australian economy; both for the development of the national workforce and as a major export industry.”

Part of ASQA’s role is to conduct random audits of the courses offered by VET providers.

In May 2017 it commenced an audit of TAFE SA, randomly selecting 16 courses in the areas of automotive, meat processing, commercial cookery, health, hairdressing, visual merchandising, building, plumbing and electro-technology.

According to TAFE SA statement, ASQA identified issues with all of the courses it audited in these areas. It recommended suspending ten of the courses from accepting new enrolments. It approved the qualifications offered by two other courses that were audited. The remaining four courses had been superseded since the audit had taken place.

TAFE SA made a statement saying that

TAFE SA can continue training students currently enrolled in affected qualifications. The proposed suspension applies to new enrolments only. ASQA’s decision does not impact on TAFE SA’s registration as a training organisation.

What now?

When the audit results were released, the South Australian Government acted quickly to remove the head of TAFE SA and to announce an independent review into the TAFE system in South Australia.

Although problems were identified in only a small number of courses, they were the only courses that were audited. This means that it is not known how many other courses may be falling short of approved quality standards. The problem may be widespread.

Students currently affected number around 800. But if more issues come to light, they could affect potentially thousands more.

TAFE SA has announced that it will contact all of the affected students and advise them of the remedial action that needs to be taken to ensure their qualifications will meet the national standards. TAFE SA has offered the additional remedial training free of charge to the affected students.

The issue, however, isn’t clear-cut.  The SA Branch of the Australian Education Union has observed that in the past 5 years the TAFE system has lost $100 million in funding and 700 staff. This has inevitably led to courses being changed to fit with budget constraints and perhaps this review shows how badly those cuts have affected the sector.

What if my course is affected?

While it’s appropriate that TAFE SA has offered the remedial training free of charge to affected students, this may not be enough. Many students depend upon completing courses within specific time periods. There may be various reasons for this, for example, financial constraints, work requirements or caring requirements.

If they can’t complete their qualifications within their timeframe, they may be subjected to significant hardship and/or financial loss through no fault of their own.

If you are a student who may experience such hardship, you may be able to take legal action against TAFE SA . This is because, as a bottom line, you will have paid for services that weren’t delivered as promised.

For example, potential action may be taken for:

  • Breach of contract.
  • Misleading and deceptive conduct.
  • Negligence
  • Loss of opportunity (for example, in securing new employment).
  • Loss of wage (if you lose your job or miss out on a pay rise due to not having the qualification you require).

There is also the potential for a class action if many students decide to take action.

Before considering legal action, however, an essential first step is to speak to a lawyer to find out more about your specific situation. Websters Lawyers has an outstanding team of lawyers who can help. Contact us for a free initial consultation. Because the sooner you act, often the better off you’ll be.