Enrolment Processes at Technical and Further Education Institutes

Tabled: 11 September 2019

Audit overview

The vocational education and training (VET) sector helps individuals develop skills and knowledge across a broad range of industries. These skills prepare graduates for employment or further education.

Victorians may study VET through technical and further education (TAFE) institutes and universities, or through other government and non-government providers, such as secondary schools, community organisations and industry skills centres. There are 12 publicly owned TAFEs across Victoria, and four dual‑sector universities that deliver VET.

The Education and Training Reform Act 2006 states that TAFEs must provide efficient and effective training programs that meet the needs of their local communities. Dual‑sector universities have a similar mandate and deliver significant amounts of both VET and higher education. In contrast, TAFEs deliver mostly VET. For this audit, 'TAFE' refers to both standalone TAFEs and dual‑sector universities.

Following years of significant policy and regulatory change, the Victorian Government has prioritised the development of a strong and stable VET sector that protects students' rights and interests. It aims to achieve this through Skills First, a government-subsidised training program that targets industry needs while maximising students' employment prospects.

The Department of Education and Training (the department) engages providers, such as TAFEs, to deliver the Skills First program using the VET funding contract (the contract). Due to past occurrences of corrupt conduct, the contract has strengthened requirements regarding the enrolment process. These requirements aim to prevent fraud by determining how TAFEs assess prospective students' eligibility and suitability for government‑subsidised training.

In this audit, we examined the efficiency of enrolment processes for Skills First training at five institutions:

  • Box Hill Institute (Box Hill)
  • Melbourne Polytechnic
  • Sunraysia Institute of TAFE (SuniTAFE)
  • Swinburne University of Technology (Swinburne)
  • William Angliss Institute of TAFE (William Angliss).

We also assessed whether the department helps TAFEs comply with the contract.

Conclusion

In Victoria, prospective TAFE students do not consistently experience an efficient enrolment process for government-subsidised training.

Depending on the institution they seek to enrol with, some will engage with an online enrolment process with the flexibility and support needed to complete key steps based on individual needs. More commonly, individuals will experience a rigid enrolment process that relies on manual processing and in‑person visits. Manual processing is inefficient for TAFEs and increases their costs. It also hinders their ability to track people through the enrolment process and use that information to improve their efficiency and effectiveness. And while in-person visits may benefit some prospective students, they inconvenience others.

The open-ended requirements in the department's contract with TAFEs for considering a prospective student's literacy and numeracy skills add to inconsistency and inefficiency in TAFEs' enrolment practices. By prioritising compliance in this area, most TAFEs impose onerous testing requirements that disregard an individual's educational background. If the department clarifies when and how testing should occur, TAFEs could implement more streamlined methods that maintain compliance.

Despite these inefficiencies, a significant proportion of prospective students find it easy to enrol at the five audited TAFEs. These TAFEs are working to improve their enrolment systems and move more processes online, but this work is uncoordinated. Greater sector-wide efficiency can be gained if the department leads and works with TAFEs to develop a shared solution, rather than TAFEs duplicating effort using their own limited resources.

Findings

Efficiency of enrolment processes at TAFEs

We focused on how TAFEs support prospective students through the key phases of enquiry, and applying, assessing, and finalising their enrolment. We also considered whether TAFEs collect information or perform processes that are unnecessary or duplicative.

TAFEs' information management systems

Most TAFEs use different versions of the same third-party software programs to capture information about prospective students during the enrolment process. However, they have configured these information management systems to their own preferences.

Two TAFEs—Swinburne and Box Hill—have integrated their information management systems with their enrolment processes. This allows prospective students to mostly enrol online and enables staff to access high-quality enrolment data promptly. Three TAFEs—Melbourne Polytechnic, SuniTAFE, and William Angliss—have not done so. Consequently, they rely on manual processes to enrol prospective students. This results in double-handling of information, which affects the quality of enrolment data.

Minimising manual enrolment processes will help TAFEs reduce their administrative burden and improve the quality and accessibility of their enrolment data.

Options for completing enrolment steps

We surveyed prospective students at the five audited TAFEs about their experiences with TAFEs' enrolment processes. We further detail our survey methodology in Appendix D.

TAFEs should minimise burdensome enrolment processes for prospective students. Our online survey results show that prospective students at each TAFE most commonly found their enrolment experience to be easy. However, a smaller proportion of respondents found it difficult. Prospective students reported that they prefer to enrol in ways that suit their personal circumstances.

Swinburne and Box Hill allow prospective students to complete the enrolment process either online or in person. This enables these TAFEs to better meet an individual's needs and save time and resources. The remaining three TAFEs require individuals to complete key enrolment steps in person. This leads to significant variability in the time and effort it takes prospective students to finalise their enrolment. Despite these limited options, only a small proportion of individuals reported not finalising their enrolment because the process was too difficult.

All TAFEs are improving their enrolment processes and information management systems to enable efficient online integration. For example, William Angliss and SuniTAFE have recently improved their enquiry management systems. Melbourne Polytechnic has begun to move towards an online enrolment system, while Box Hill and Swinburne are further streamlining their existing online systems.

Literacy and numeracy testing

The department's contract requires TAFEs to consider whether a prospective student has the appropriate literacy and numeracy skills to enrol in a course. The department has not clearly explained how TAFEs can use senior secondary education certificates or post‑school qualifications to consider this. Consequently, four audited TAFEs—Box Hill, Melbourne Polytechnic, SuniTAFE, and William Angliss—require prospective students to complete a formal literacy and numeracy test, regardless of their educational backgrounds.

Conducting literacy and numeracy tests is resource intensive for TAFEs and can be an unnecessary use of prospective students' time, especially those with previously demonstrated capabilities. The tests can take individuals up to an hour to complete, and TAFEs that supervise it on campus must supply computers and supervisors.

Aside from literacy and numeracy testing, we found only minor instances of TAFEs collecting unnecessary or duplicative information.

Monitoring enrolments at TAFEs

TAFEs should routinely monitor the efficiency and effectiveness of their enrolment processes to understand their strengths and weaknesses and improve the experience for prospective students. This includes assessing:

  • conversion rates—the proportion of prospective students who progress between key points in the enrolment process
  • customer service levels—the extent to which prospective students receive timely and efficient support from TAFEs
  • prospective students' feedback—the systematic collection and analysis of individuals' experiences and observations.
Monitoring conversion rates

End-to-end conversion rates measure the proportion of individuals who express interest in studying who later finalise their enrolment.

Not all prospective students will finalise their enrolment—some will withdraw their interest, while others will not receive an offer. This reduction in a TAFE's pool of prospective students is known as attrition.

All audited TAFEs measure their end-to-end conversion rates, from initial interest to finalised enrolment. This provides TAFEs with valuable insight into their operational effectiveness. Three TAFEs—Box Hill, William Angliss, and Swinburne—also measure conversion rates between key touchpoints in their enrolment processes. Melbourne Polytechnic and SuniTAFE do not perform this analysis, which affects their ability to identify attrition points.

Swinburne analyses its conversion rates during peak enrolment periods to monitor improvement initiatives, highlighting its commitment to continuous improvement. The other four TAFEs do not strategically assess conversion rates.

Monitoring customer service

Box Hill, Swinburne, and William Angliss assess key aspects of service delivery, such as wait times for prospective students, from a customer service perspective. This analysis helps these TAFEs to understand whether any downward trends in their conversion rates are due to internal or external factors, which should enable them to target their improvement initiatives. Melbourne Polytechnic and SuniTAFE do not perform this type of assessment.

Collecting prospective students' feedback

Four of the five audited TAFEs collect feedback from prospective students on the enrolment experience. They do this using methods such as survey tools and focus groups. SuniTAFE does not collect this information, meaning it lacks critical information about the barriers to enrolment, which may hinder its ability to identify inefficiencies and undertake corrective action.

The department's minimum service standards for Free TAFE

In 2018, the Victorian Government committed $172 million over four years to the Free TAFE for Priority Courses initiative. Through this initiative, the government fully covers the tuition fees for 50 courses to reduce students' financial burden.

In late 2018, the department developed minimum service standards in consultation with TAFEs to encourage consistency in how staff manage prospective students enrolling in a Free TAFE qualification. To date, TAFEs have not embedded these standards into their performance monitoring frameworks for Free TAFE courses. Some TAFEs may need support from the department to develop their capability to report against these standards. The department is also yet to apply system-wide monitoring requirements using these standards.

Limitations of TAFEs' enrolment data

As Melbourne Polytechnic, SuniTAFE, and William Angliss use manual processes to collect critical enrolment‑related information, they do not capture real‑time data that corresponds to their key touchpoints. This limitation hinders their ability to systematically assess key aspects of performance, such as timeliness. TAFEs that lack real‑time information have limited oversight of each prospective student's journey through the enrolment pipeline, which may also affect the department's ability to monitor sector‑wide trends using the minimum service standards for Free TAFE.

Time taken to process enrolments

Despite these issues, we were able to compare the time taken to enrol at three of the five TAFEs—Swinburne, Melbourne Polytechnic, and William Angliss—using process mining software. As SuniTAFE had data quality issues and Box Hill has recently adopted a new information management system, we were unable to extract enrolment data for time periods comparable to the other TAFEs.

The 50th percentile is the value below which 50 per cent of observations may be found.

Our results show—at the 50th percentile—that it took Swinburne the least time to process an individual's enrolment (six days), followed by Melbourne Polytechnic (10 days), then William Angliss (61 days). Swinburne enables prospective students to complete the enrolment process online, while Melbourne Polytechnic requires one in-person visit, and William Angliss requires two in-person visits.

TAFEs' compliance with the VET funding contract

Documenting TAFEs' enrolment processes

TAFEs must comply with contract requirements to be eligible for government funding. Under the contract, TAFEs must have a clear and documented business process for:

  • assessing a prospective student's eligibility for enrolment in a subsidised course or qualification under Skills First
  • conducting a pre-training review to determine the most suitable and appropriate training for the prospective student.

All five TAFEs have documented business processes for these two aspects. However, they often lack necessary detail and up‑to‑date content to ensure that staff enrol prospective students in a consistent and compliant manner.

Departmental monitoring and support

To help TAFEs comply with the contract, the department needs to make it as easy to understand as possible. It should also have oversight mechanisms to drive TAFEs' compliance.

The department provides wide-ranging support and monitoring that helps clarify TAFEs' enrolment obligations. This includes delivering workshops, publishing guidance, responding to TAFEs' enquiries, and commissioning audits of compliance with the contract. The department has also made a range of recent contract improvements that either clarify requirements or make compliance less burdensome, based on TAFEs' feedback.

However, the department's compliance monitoring of TAFEs is sometimes inconsistent with the contract's enrolment‑related clauses. This included two instances where department‑commissioned audits identified pre‑training reviews as non‑compliant based on criteria that are not explicit in the contract.

TAFEs' internal auditing of compliance

Under the contract, TAFEs must annually conduct an internal audit of their compliance with enrolment requirements. They must notify the department of any non-compliance and develop a rectification plan within a reasonable time. The department also provides TAFEs with an optional internal audit checklist to help them assess their contractual compliance.

All five audited TAFEs conducted their own internal compliance audits during 2018 and developed rectification plans to address identified issues. All TAFEs except SuniTAFE also assessed their compliance separately during 2018 using the department's checklist.

However, comparisons between TAFEs' internal compliance audits and their completed checklists show inconsistent results. The checklist's focus on eliciting detail about TAFEs' enrolment processes—rather than checking whether their completed enrolments comply with the contract—is driving this inconsistency.

Recommendations

We recommend that the Department of Education and Training:

1. clarifies compliance requirements for considering an individual's literacy and numeracy skills as part of the pre-training review, so that all TAFEs apply consistent requirements (see Section 2.4)

2. applies the Free TAFE Student Experience Key Minimum Service Standards to all Skills First enrolments at TAFEs and requires all TAFEs to consistently measure and report performance against these standards (see Section 3.2)

3. reviews and updates internal and external audit checklists and prescribed audit questions so that criteria and enrolment requirements are consistent and reflect the vocational education and training funding contract (see Sections 4.3 and 4.4).

We recommend that the Department of Education and Training, in conjunction with TAFEs:

4. investigates options to develop standardised TAFE online enrolment systems or a centralised online enrolment system that integrates with each TAFE's own student management system, and enables consistent:

  • enrolment application processes for all students
  • real-time recording of standard enrolment steps
  • tracking and reporting against the Free TAFE Student Experience Key Minimum Service Standards (see Section 2.5).

We recommend that TAFEs:

5. review and update their documented business processes for assessing student eligibility and conducting pre-training reviews so that they:

  • provide sufficient detail about how to conduct assessments
  • are consistent with the current vocational education and training funding contract (see Section 4.2)

6. promptly report all non-compliances with the vocational education and training funding contract identified in internal audits to the Department of Education and Training (see Section 4.4).

Responses to recommendations

We have consulted with the department, Box Hill, Melbourne Polytechnic, SuniTAFE, Swinburne and William Angliss, and we considered their views when reaching our audit conclusions. As required by the Audit Act 1994, we gave a draft copy of this report to those agencies and asked for their submissions or comments. We also provided a copy of the report to the Department of Premier and Cabinet.

The following is a summary of those responses. The full responses are included in Appendix A:

  • The department accepts all recommendations and notes that it is already working to respond to opportunities for improvement identified in the report. It also states that it is committed to improving the efficiency of TAFE enrolment processes.
  • Box Hill supports all six recommendations and accepts the three recommendations aimed at TAFEs.
  • Melbourne Polytechnic accepts the three TAFE recommendations and notes its desire to provide a streamlined enrolment process that meets the department's contractual requirements.
  • SuniTAFE supports the report's conclusions and notes its ongoing efforts to improve enrolment systems and achieve contractual compliance.
  • Swinburne accepts recommendations 5 and 6 and notes recommendation 4, advising that it has a well-developed enrolment platform.
  • William Angliss did not comment on the draft report.

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