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For an update on the most pressing issues affecting the education sector, hear from Partner Alison Baker and Special Counsel Julian Hammond. They discuss how education providers are recovering from the pandemic, the return of international students to Australia (a $ 9 billion industry pre-COVID), increased regulation from ASQA, the expected extension of site-blocking of cheating websites, and much more.
Alison Baker and Julian Hammond
I think the key issue in the education sector is recovering from the pandemic. Face-to-face learning all went to distance learning, and with our borders closing it meant for the higher education institutions they had a significant reduction in demand with all of the international students not being able to come over and study here.
International students are returning to Australia and that should hopefully see that $ 9 billion impact, positive impact to the Australian economy. As a consequence of that, what we’re seeing is probably some increased regulation in that space from the ASQA regulator. We’re probably going to see a reversion to the trend that we saw prior to COVID, which was an increase in spot audits and also an increase in cancellations of RTO registration. A further trend we’re seeing in the education space is the impact of the recent TEQSA decision by the Federal Court regarding site blocking of cheating sites. And I think that there is an expectation and an understanding that will actually extend over to ASQA-regulated entities over the course of the year. So the impact of that has been that a number of sites that were promoting cheating by tertiary education institutions have been blocked in Australia for the first time ever.
We often advise clients in this industry around making sure they understand what industrial instruments apply and making sure they are complying with them. Underpayments is a particular focus of the Fair Work Ombudsman and there have already been a number of underpayment cases in the education industry.
In relation to the work that we’re doing for education clients in the RTO space we are generally seeing clients come in with an emphasis on compliance and policies and procedures. This is a reflection of the fact that people are getting back outside after COVID and probably looking around and realizing that the policies and procedures they’ve had in place for the last two years need to be refined to ensure that they are compliant going forward given the likely emphasis on enforcement in this space.
Many organizations have people who are quite reluctant to come back into the office, they feel like they’ve been able to do their work from home. Employers want their staff back, there’s value in having staff back and it’s assisting employers navigate through that, how they deal with reluctant staff and what their rights and obligations are around that.