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Stranded RTO Students under Stress

Students are stranded as the Registered Training Organisation (RTO) fail rate leaves us in a stressful limbo.

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.

Furthermore:

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.

Source: SMH

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.

Source: SMH

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”.

Source: SMH

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.


8 comments

  1. Keitha Granville

    the terribe results of privatisation. As soo as you put education at any level into a private company the bootom line for those companies will be PROFIT.
    They are not interested long term in whether people get results and then jobs.

    Shame on all levels of government making the system so skewed against anyone trying to get training and a job.

  2. Denis

    Privatization of government assets has been a total failure. I believe that governments have privatized for short term gains or as a form of corruption to benefits their financial supporters. The result of privatization has been the public get ripped off with much higher charges and far less quality of service, extremely poor service in many cases. Many people lose their jobs after public assets are sold to private enterprise who just want to maximize their profits.

    Government assets are actually owned by the people of Australia who have paid for them out of their taxes. They do not belong to any Government. How they can legally sell these assets is beyond me. Another form of corruption I suspect.

    I am 75 years old and when I left school at 15 you could enroll at TAFE for $5 a year and you could do any subjects you wanted for that cost for the year. TAFE colleges were well set up with excellent teachers and facilities and offered great courses that were valued in the workplace. Now it seems that governments of all persuasions have just about destroyed the TAFE system.

    It’s a fallacy that private enterprise is more efficient, cost effective and do a better job than Government enterprises. I have worked in both government and private companies and I have not seen any evidence that would support this lie.

  3. silkworm

    There has to be corruption involved. There is no other explanation when the results of privatization are seen to be a failure of the system and the various governments do nothing about it except to make excuses.

    IIRC, the privatization of the NSW TAFEs began under Barry O’Farrell.

    I noticed that at the last Federal election, on one occasion Bill Shorten put forward the policy of returning the TAFEs to public hands. Unfortunately he did not press it forcefully enough, and no journalist followed him up on that. Liberals corrupt, Labor weak.

  4. Sir ScotchMistery

    I never thought of that before Robyn.

    One correspondent here yesterday was whinging (my word), that I didn’t give the ALP enough credit for what they do/have done.

    One is forced to ask how many jobs have been outsourced to Manila and India. We are fast becoming a nation of Baristas (not so much barristers), and sports types (personal trainers) and the like. We are becoming a service economy, and in doing so, both parties have supported the needs of their major sponsors, to make that path easier. That is, big mining, big accounting et al.

    So for those in doubt, no Labor government has stood up and said “NO” to 457 visas, which allow outsourced jobs, sent to India, China and so on, to be completed in Australia, by temporary immigrants, most likely being paid wages that should reasonably go to Australians.

    Therein lies my major grief. Even though Birmingham and his chums are doing it now, Shorten’s mob made no effort during their time, to clamp down on this bullshit, including but not limited to organisations such as Fairfax and Newscorpse, both og whom now use sub-editors in Mumbai.

    Don’t believe me, look at the contextual errors in any of those rags.

  5. Maeve Carney

    I agree Silkworm, there must be corruption involved, you know that saying “follow the money” I wonder where the trail will lead. Sir ScotchMistery, my husband is losing his job because it is being outsourced to India. The really infuriating thing is that he and all the other people in his department who are also losing their jobs, know that the Indians cannot do the job, the Australians have been covering their asses and fixing their mistakes for many years now. But woe betide any Australian who complains about any non-Australian not doing the job properly, not following proper procedure, making monumental mistakes etc, even if they can prove it. The Australian will be deemed a racist and that tag carries dire consequences. But outsourcing to cheaper countries and getting rid of expensive (but skilled) Australian workers has become holy writ.

  6. Sir ScotchMistery

    Maeve I have a new strategy when I get a call from a call centre, anywhere but Australia.

    As soon as I hear the voice, I ask who they are calling from. Yesterday it was Citibank and I know I am behind in my payments by $18.

    So this WOG (worthy oriental gentleman) proceeds to ask me to prove who I am. I pointed out that since he is a wog, there is no point in me identifying myself because he may be part of the Microsoft scam.

    I asked for his name and address and what his mother called him since I was damn sure it wasn’t Steve, which is how he intro’ed himself.

    He couldn’t tell me, so I said “have someone from Australia call me from an identified number, and make a note on my call notes that I won’t answer unknown numbers any more, in case they are wogs calling to scam me”.

    Steve said he would. I live in hope.

  7. Robyn Dunphy

    Just an update. I still know no more than I knew a week ago. ACPET are holding information sessions for students, but at times that working people like me cannot attend. I have today followed up with a phone call and an email.

    We have been advised we are NOT to continue any practical placement hours at this time as there is no insurance coverage.

  8. Annie B

    I sympathise entirely Robyn … with your dilemma, and the chaos that has surrounded it from alleged ‘professional’ people without it being tutors / teachers fault. I know a little of this problem for you, from elsewhere. … A well written exposė.

    The awful truth about this situation is, that one cannot rely on what they are ‘told will be the case’ anymore. You were promised a good position after completing a 6 month course in your chosen endeavours, and it fell in a huge heap because of the ineptitude of the government. Federal and States shut down TAFE in many areas ( although that is not the only subject here ) leaving would-be students to scratch their heads, and wonder what they can do next to attain ( or finish ) a certificate in ( whatever ). … That was really vile, and began a few years back now. So – people signing up for RTO’s must now do so with heart in mouth – as nothing is assured – – not like it used to be. However, I am very pleased to learn you have a good job at the moment. … Much kudos to you for pursuing relentlessly, a good position.

    ………..

    Sir S.M. … Having registered both my phone numbers ( land line and mobile ) with the “Do Not Call” registrar, it seems to have had little effect – even though that ‘protection’ is conducted by the Australian government. Without any enmity toward Indian / Asian ‘sounding’ people, ( I genuinely like them – except when on the phone issuing threats ) … I have to admit I give them heaps, in a very short burst before hanging up. I do not swear at them ……… yet.

    I reported these calls, to Microsoft in Australia ( when the caller claimed they were part of that organisation ) and received a ‘ho-hum – yeah yeah yeah response’ from Microsoft …. with a few extra words ” they are not a part of our company ” … I had figured that out already, but felt I should dob in the callers anyway. …. I have not yet resorted to blowing a whistle down the phone, but am sorely tempted – as I get at least 10 of these fear-mongering calls a week. …. They have become similar to prank, hoax and stalking calls … and should somehow be stopped. …

    I doubt the current government has the wish or gumption to do anything about them.

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