Students are stranded as the Registered Training Organisation (RTO) fail rate leaves us in a stressful limbo.
@TAFEeducation check your facts. Rudd-Gillard Govt delivered you both VET FEE-HELP market (which I've axed) & NPA requiring contestability.
— Simon Birmingham (@Birmo) March 5, 2017
Add Australian Careers Institute to the list, otherwise known as Sage Institute (of Fitness, Childcare, Massage and Aged Care, among others). I am (or is that technically “was”) a student of Sage Institute of Fitness.
As a student I am not about to enter the political blame game of which party did what, when or why. Mr Birmingham, right now the buck stops with you because you are in charge. Australia cannot leave students high and dry.
In correspondence received today, students are advised the following (emphasis added):
Students may still be liable to pay for the portion of the course that has been delivered. The Administrators will be in contact with those effected in separate correspondence.
We will endeavour to provide Statements of Attainment and Certificates during the administration period so long as resources are available.
The following holds out some hope.
The Group is a member of ACPET’s Tuition Assurance scheme. This is a scheme that provides support to students of closed colleges as per government guidelines. ACPET will shortly (in the next 3 to 4 business days) be contacting all affected students to outline their options moving forward. This includes:
Placing them with another training provider of the student’s choice;
Arranging re-credits of VET FEE HELP loans; and / or
Coordinating refunds of amounts paid to the Group.
I have spoken to ACPET, as have other students equally concerned about their future. At this stage ACPET are unable to provide specific advice. I have also contacted my local MP.
Many of us are almost complete. We have finished all class contact hours and are finalising our last assignment, an assessment done as part of the required 120 hours of practical placement. From the above correspondence we really do not know what will happen to us. In my case, I only need that last assignment marked and half of another I had at home for reference when Sage went into Administration. Other students are in similar positions, while yet others have scrambled to complete over the last few weeks. Students not so far advanced in their courses may (or may not) be in better positions to transfer to other providers.
I have received no communication from Sage. The first communication to all students received from the Administrator was, in my case, addressed to “Dear Stephen”. A follow-up letter to all students was addressed to “Dear Student”. As an IT professional, I can guess the most probable cause, however it did add insult to injury.
A new career was a choice I made when I was made redundant in 2015. Rheumatoid Arthritis means sitting at a desk all day is not the best approach to pain management. Exercise is. By changing careers I could not only help others in a similar physical/health situation, but also help myself. It made sense. Also, unemployment and I do not make good bedfellows.
When we were enrolled, we were told we would be able to work after six months of the course. This was great news to many students and we took this as a major benefit of doing the course. However, when we tried to work, we found this was not true.
I wrote a letter to Sage, the opening paragraph is below.
When I enrolled in this course I was very clearly told I would be able to work after six months, providing I had passed the requisite units to that point of the course. I now discover this is not correct. Fitness Australia will not register students part-way through this course, even if we have exceeded the requirements of Certificate IV. Unfortunately, I only discovered this after I had paid for the requisite insurance and registered a business name. There are tax implications as well, as without declarable revenue, expenses are not claimable.
Some twenty other students co-signed my letter and a meeting was held. Sadly, there was little resolution to be had. The situation was blamed on a miscommunication by the Sales Department. Poor consolation for those students who had budgeted on being able to earn money. Not foreseeing the current state of affairs, I went ahead and registered my trademark at not inconsiderable cost.
Another student is in his mid-forties and needs to work – he has two school age children. Another is turning fifty later this year and while he has other revenue streams, he also needs to work. We ALL need to work. We had university students in our class who need to work to fund their university education. We had other students who, like me, have health and/or medical reasons for doing the course. The common thread is we all are now stressed and in limbo.
We all made sacrifices to study for the year: our families made sacrifices to help us. Children missed Saturdays with their Dads, spouses missed their partners, household budgets were adjusted. It is not just the students who are affected. Some of us travelled considerable distances to attend school. At one point I was living in Craigieburn, working in Geelong and studying in the Melbourne CBD. All the travelling meant I could not realistically do practical placement hours at the same time. Another student had a senior managerial job and simply could not fit in practical placement hours and work and study – but that was OK at the time as we had twelve months after the completion of class contact hours to finish our practical placement hours. Now it appears that provision has been swept away.
Another complication that affected different students to varying degrees was Sage offered no assistance to organise the 120 hours of practical placement or the five individual people needed for the final assignment. Due to my age, specific area of interest and some physical limitations I found arranging practical placement difficult, let alone finding five athletes (the athlete requirement was later modified). When I did finally find a gym and a mentor and subjects, I was part-way through when the gym changed hands. The new operators are very kindly allowing me to continue, however now I don’t know if my work will be counted. To start again from scratch at my age would be a very difficult situation. Other mature age students face the same difficult choice.
Have we just wasted a year? Are we going to be left with an $18,500 VET-FEE debt (or payments to date lost) and no qualification? We do not know. This is extremely stressful. Of course, the number one instruction from my medical specialist is “keep stress out of your life”.
We, the students, had no part to play in reducing the TAFE system or in the growth of RTOs. Whether it was Labor, Liberal, Greens or One Nation is irrelevant to us. We, the students deserve better, more timely communication clearly addressing our concerns and offering us viable solutions. It is my understanding other students of other failed RTOs are in exactly the same situation as Sage students. The article below cites $32 million over two years for Sage alone – what is the total for all failed RTOs?
The college earned more than $32 million over two years through the now-scrapped VET FEE-HELP loan scheme, while graduating 45 per cent of students.
A hearing in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal in October heard the college had spent $6 million marketing Commando Steve’s unique “cutting edge” Diploma of Fitness Coaching Course in one year.
I feel for the staff, who have been made redundant. I know what that feels like. The teachers were wonderful and are as much victims of this disaster as the students are. They have done their best to try and finalise as many of us as possible, but in some cases it just isn’t possible.
The disabled have also been impacted (emphasis added).
Up to 3000 disabled students are at risk of having funding cut to their vocational education courses after the NSW government suspended 17 providers for failing to meet minimum standards under the Smart and Skilled program.
While there has been some criticism of Sage in the press in the past and I have criticised Sage in this article, it is my experience Sage were trying to do the right thing. There was investment in new equipment and additional practical class areas. Appropriate flooring was installed. When students complained about the selling technique described above, management did engage with us. The teachers they employed were caring, knowledgeable and dedicated. I had to adjust my expectations of the academic standards required: I have a university degree and the standards set for vocational training are quite different, understandably. I was, as a student, quite critical of some of the course and assessment material yet I needed to be mindful I was not at a tertiary institution.
So many RTOs “going under” all at once may not be entirely their fault. The VET-FEE scheme has been terminated. It seems as part of the change-over to a replacement scheme, RTOs were not paid.
The college, which has campuses in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, had received no federal government money since late 2016, after the axing of the scandal-ridden VET FEE-HELP scheme caused cash to “dry up”.
No business can survive if the cash-flow suddenly disappears. Rent still has to be paid, teachers still have to be paid. Would Sage (and other RTOs) have survived if the matter had been handled better by the government department responsible? It seems to me this question is not being investigated sufficiently. Personally, I would prefer to see the TAFE system adequately funded: however I don’t like to see blame apportioned where it may not belong.
What would students find an acceptable resolution? I would be happy to have my VET-FEE debt adjusted to the level for Cert IV and receive a Cert IV qualification. Other students I have spoken to agree this would be an acceptable resolution for those of us who have completed the class contact hours and passed all the assessments related thereto. I stress this may not be acceptable to all by any means, but could be an option acceptable to some. Most of us have far exceeded the practical placement hours required for a Cert IV and although the course structure was different, surely the content in its entirety is comparable? We enrolled in the twelve month diploma because of the broader coverage, however we can all undertake continued professional development. Cert IV would enable us to be registered as professionals with Fitness Australia. We could then either launch our own businesses or seek employment. For many of us, studying for another twelve months is really not an option, no matter how dedicated we may be.
On behalf of my fellow students I ask the government to not enter into a blame game but to concentrate on the welfare of the students so unfairly and unexpectedly impacted by the current situation.
If you are an RTO student impacted by the current turn of events, please share your situation in the comments below, anonymously if you prefer. We need to remind the powers that be there are PEOPLE involved here, not just organisations who may or may not have tried to do the right thing. That is not our decision to make.
Footnote: For those who previously asked for an unemployment status update (refer article linked to above), yes, I am currently working in a role I love with great people in a great organisation. In a contract role: it will come to an end. I still need (and want) my fitness qualifications.