TIM WEBSTER: Now, let me preface all of this by saying I think this is a good thing, I think it’s a very good thing. Tough new rules will be put in place to protect those undertaking vocational and educational training. Now, they’ll help stamp out this predatory behaviour that’s seen some providers exploiting vulnerable people, even to the extent of those with an intellectual disability - God, there’s some ordinary people in the world. So from today, Minister Luke Hartsuyker, who’s responsible for Vocational Education and Skills Training, says these providers will not be permitted to approach people directly and use their high pressure sales tactics to get people to sign up for this VET FEE-HELP Loan and I have the Minister on the line. G’day, thanks very much for joining us and happy New Year.
LUKE HARTSUYKER: Yeah good morning and happy New Year to you.
TIM WEBSTER: Now Minister, just explain to the listeners about the VET FEE-HELP Loan, what are they for a start?
LUKE HARTSUYKER: Well a VET FEE-HELP Loan is a loan that is offered to students to assist them with the costs of doing a diploma and other courses so that they can go on to further study and make themselves more job ready. Regrettably though, the system has been rorted by unscrupulous providers and Labor, when in government, failed to put in place the necessary safeguards to protect students and taxpayers and these changes are all about cleaning up Labor’s mess, providing greater protection to students and greater protection to taxpayers to ensure we have a VET system that’s sustainable into the future.
TIM WEBSTER: What sort of exploitive behaviour are we talking about here?
LUKE HARTSUYKER: Well unfortunately it’s a long list. I mean, we had the situation where these unscrupulous providers were telling students that these loans effectively, well the courses were effectively free or taxpayer funded when they were not, the student was landed with the debt. We had providers placing bogus job ads in the paper, getting people to respond and then the response was obviously then the offer of a training course to get a position. So there was an endless string of practices - signing up people with intellectual disabilities with no capability to complete a course, even going into nursing homes. The width and breadth of some of this behaviour is clearly stunning.
TIM WEBSTER: Really? To the point of taking advantage of people who are intellectually disabled, they actually do that?
LUKE HARTSUYKER: Absolutely and it’s - I think most Australians would find that disgusting. These changes aim to stamp that out. One of the things that I will be doing is working towards a new VET FEE-HELP system for 2017 and I will be doing further consultation on what the new VET FEE-HELP system for 2017 will look like over this coming year, but the aim is to have a system that assists students. The aim is to stamp out these predatory practices by unscrupulous providers and to provide a system that is sustainable.
TIM WEBSTER: Okay, what sort of money are we talking about here with these loans?
LUKE HARTSUYKER: Well there’s in the order of three billion dollars a year -
TIM WEBSTER: Whoa!
LUKE HARTSUYKER: - in loans going out. So it is a massive amount of money. Much of that on courses of dubious value. One of the things I will also be looking at in going forward is whether the particular courses that are being offered are appropriate to be funded by the taxpayer, so there will be a range of measures that will be taken into account when we implement the new system.
TIM WEBSTER: Okay, and I understand too that the debt will be cancelled if a provider has misled the student.
LUKE HARTSUYKER: That’s correct. One of the important measures that’s come in is that where a provider or their agent’s acted inappropriately by offering them some dodgy incentive or by making some false claims, the student can apply to have that debt reversed and the cost of that won’t be met by the tax payer, it’ll be met by the dodgy provider.
TIM WEBSTER: Yeah, look this is an important thing because if a young person doesn’t qualify to get to university or doesn’t want to go to TAFE and become a tradie, there’s a lot of these courses around. My own son did one, fortunately with a reputable joint, so - and you’re talking about, as you just said three billion dollars, this is a big industry. Massive.
LUKE HARTSUYKER: It’s a massive industry and, you know, I must reinforce to your listeners that so many of these courses are high quality, well delivered, resulting in benefits to students but unfortunately when there are taxpayer dollars involved regrettably the sharks and shonks get on the bandwagon to exploit it -
TIM WEBSTER: Sure.
LUKE HARTSUYKER: - in ways, which I think would disgust most Australians…
TIM WEBSTER: So best thing to do would be to get onto this website studyassist.gov.au yeah?
LUKE HARTSUYKER: Or the My Skills website. Have a look at the offerings that are available. The providers that are acting improperly are a small proportion of the very large pool of providers that offer high quality training, but it’s a matter of students ensuring that they think well about their study decision and well about where they want to go with their future career and look at the course that best suits them and certainly be wary of anyone who tries to ring up over the phone, or catch you out outside a Centrelink office, or wherever they might be lurking.
TIM WEBSTER: Yeah.
LUKE HARTSUYKER: Part of the change is aimed to eliminate cold canvassing through preventing them from offering VET FEE-HELP as an incentive, but where there are taxpayer dollars involved there could be a shonky provider still trying to rort the system.
TIM WEBSTER: Yeah can I ask you, do any of the reputable providers cold call?
LUKE HARTSUYKER: Look, the reputable providers have a range of techniques that they would use to enhance their businesses. There is some degree of cold calling by a range of providers -
TIM WEBSTER: Okay.
LUKE HARTSUYKER: - and cold calling of itself is not necessarily an improper thing -
TIM WEBSTER: No, no, no.
LUKE HARTSUYKER: - offering students what is something that’s not in their best interests that’s when the impropriety starts.
TIM WEBSTER: Yeah, okay. Alright, well it’s, well good on you for doing that. I mean, when I heard about how much money was involved and people actually ripping off those with an intellectual disability, I thought goodness me there’s some ordinary people in the world and Minister, sadly there are.
LUKE HARTSUYKER: Indeed, but certainly the government has acted and acted strongly to make the system stronger and more sustainable and we’re looking forward to an even better system from 2017 onwards.
TIM WEBSTER: Yeah good on you, thanks for joining us today. Good to talk to you, thank you. That’s the Minister Luke Hartsuyker and yeah I wasn’t aware of that. As I said, one of my boys did a very good course and has benefited from it greatly at one of the more reputable ones. So you know if they’re trying to ping you outside a Centrelink office or - and yeah cold calling. Look I’ve got to - you know a mate of mine’s son is involved in that and some of those are okay - but me, and it’s just me, maybe it’s you too, I really arc up when people start calling me at eight o’clock at night trying to sell me stuff, really I just hang up. If they call at a reasonable time you might give them some time, but I’m not a big fan of cold calling per se full stop but some of the reputable ones do do it. So if you’ve got concerns about all that - and this is the time of year if your young person didn’t make it to university or doesn’t want to go to university, doesn’t want to be a tradie, some of the courses these joints offer are good, but some of them are shonky. So studyassist.gov.au or My Skills, go there and all the information will be there. And they’re cracking down and cracking down and by the sound of that, pretty hard, and that’s a good thing not a bad thing.