VET and Systems Thinking
Regulators like systems approach
Standards as a response to contemporary crises
Persistent thread of management systems
The preference for a systems approach to operations has been a light but constant presence in VET regulatory documents for the past twenty years, even though each iteration has reflected the political and regulatory imperatives of the time. This is a quick trip backwards for those who like to ponder on such matters.
The Australian Recognition Framework (ARF), published by ANTA, was the first comprehensive approach to national recognition of vocational education and training. The preface stated that ‘it is based on a quality assured approach to the registration of training organisations’ and RTOs must have ‘a quality management system in place applicable to the education and training environment’. The emphasis was on mutual recognition across State borders because it was a mind-boggling concept that someone who achieved a Certificate lll in something from an RTO in one State could use it to get a job in another State.
The first Australian Quality Standards Framework (AQTF) was published in 2001 to operationalise the ARF and served as an auditing mechanism. It continued the philosophical link to a systems approach. Standard 1 stated ‘The RTO has systems in place to plan for and provide quality training and assessment across all of its operations.’
AQTF 2007 Essential Standards for Registration was an aspirational document that used the language of systems thinking. The introduction stated ‘AQTF 2007 places the focus of quality assurance squarely on training and assessment, client services and management systems.’ Two core concepts of systems thinking were also explicitly added as requirements. An RTO was expected to implement management systems and be able to provide evidence of continually improving operations.
The ‘AQTF 2010 Essential Standards for Continuing Registration’ included Conditions for Registration that took up four pages, while the actual Standards fitted into two pages. This reflected the regulator’s concern of the day that there needed to be more rigor in an RTO’s governance and marketing arrangements.
There was little difference between the substance of these standards and their predecessor, although these were made legally enforceable under a sub-section of the NVETR Act 2011.
These Standards were used as a lever to slow the runaway train of third-party involvement in RTO operations. Consequently ‘third-party’ is mentioned over twenty times, sometimes in a slightly hysterical tone. Widely accepted definitions of terms such as validity and validation were mangled. Standard 2 required that ‘the operations of the RTO be quality assured,’ but this was articulated as stay compliant and make sure training and assessment strategies are accurate. The term assessment system was defined in the glossary. Apparently, it was the only management system that mattered by 2015.