National audit gives failing grade to Education bureaucrats

The Australian National Audit Office has given the Education Department a failing grade on its administration of the rorted vet fee-help scheme.

Belated action by the government has resulted in punishment of thousands of students through the cancellation of loan support for hundreds of training courses – none of which had anything to do with the criminal conduct that stole billions of dollars from the federal treasury:
While colleges and courses that did the right thing have been punished – many have gone out of business – the government officials and bureaucrats who let the criminal behaviour flourish on their watch have received only a slap on the wrist.
At least the ANAO review draws attention to the failings of those responsible for the mess:

Audit office reports charts litany of failures in VET FEE-HELP scheme

By John Ross (The Australian, 20 December 2016)

Training loans have been likened to pink batts and rental subsidy rorts, in a damning assessment of a program estimated to have cost the federal government at least $2.2 billion in bad loans.

A report from the National Audit Office outlines a litany of failures in the design, implementation and administration of the VET FEE-HELP scheme. The report, released today, steers most of the blame to the federal Education Department for pursuing a growth at all costs strategy and turning a blind eye to mounting evidence of rorts and excesses.

It says the department’s focus on increasing participation “overrode” all other key considerations — including integrity, quality, value and sustainability — with colleges largely left to their own devices, even after price gouging and rorts had been exposed in the media.

The scheme’s 2012 redesign overlooked not only training budget blowouts in other jurisdictions — notably Victoria — but also risks identified in its own regulation impact statement. This included an ignored recommendation to stage the scheme’s expansion over three years.

The department’s oversight of colleges was “very limited”, with payments reliant on “self-reporting” by the providers. There was no concerted effort to deal with emerging problems until after last year, when allocations under the scheme reached $2.9bn.

The department also allowed students to be led up the garden path, providing scant information about how the program worked and largely overlooking students’ complaints before the middle of last year. It “encouraged students to contact other agencies without outlining the types of complaints these agencies were able to investigate”, the report says.

“The VFH experience again underlines how critical sound program design and implementation practices are to achieving policy outcomes,” the report adds, citing previous audits of the NRAS and the Home Insulation Program.

The report offers no recommendations, as VFH has now been scrapped. But “learnings” from the debacle must be incorporated in next year’s introduction of the replacement VET Student Loans program, it says.

In a response included in the report, the Education Department said it had “acted to address and strengthen a number of administrative processes and practices” and would “continue to do so through the new VET Student Loans program”.

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