Enrolment Processes at Technical and Further Education Institutes

Tabled: 11 September 2019

2 Efficiency of enrolment processes at TAFEs

TAFEs should have efficient processes that support prospective students to finalise their enrolment. These processes should be free of unnecessary steps, duplicative information collection, and manual processing where possible.

In this Part, we examine the efficiency of TAFEs' enrolment processes.

2.1 Conclusion

Melbourne Polytechnic, SuniTAFE and William Angliss rely on manual processes to enrol students, which are inefficient and costly. In some cases, these TAFEs require prospective students to visit campus on one or more occasions to finalise their enrolment, which can be inconvenient for students and burdensome for staff.

In contrast, Box Hill and Swinburne have an online enrolment process, while providing on-campus help to those who need it. This flexibility benefits both the TAFE and the prospective student, as the former can use its resources more efficiently, while the latter can enrol in a way that suits their personal needs.

The department's open-ended contractual requirements for considering a prospective student's literacy and numeracy skills further drives inefficiency in TAFEs' enrolment processes. Until the department clarifies when and how testing should occur, most TAFEs will continue using burdensome methods that do not consider an individual's educational background.

All TAFEs face similar challenges to integrate their information management systems and move more enrolment steps online. Rather than working in isolation to address the same issues, there could be significant sector‑wide efficiency gains if the department and TAFEs work together on system development.

2.2 TAFEs' information management systems

To efficiently capture information about prospective students and avoid unnecessary and burdensome actions, TAFEs' information management systems should integrate with their enrolment processes. Swinburne and Box Hill's enrolment process is entirely online, although prospective students applying for concession prices still need to verify their eligibility in person. The other three TAFEs instead rely on manual processes to collect information, which increases the risk of human error and inefficiencies. These TAFEs have introduced additional quality assurance processes to mitigate this risk.

Efficient online system integration

All TAFEs use a combination of third-party software programs to capture information about prospective students. TAFEs use a customer relationship management (CRM) system to communicate with individuals when they enquire about training, and a student management system (SMS) to collect and administer information about key enrolment steps. Some TAFEs also employ a separate finance system to process tuition fees. Most TAFEs use different versions of the same CRM and SMS products, which they configure differently.

Manual intervention increases the risk of human error as staff must physically transpose important enrolment‑related information from one medium to another. This double handling may lead to inaccurate or incomplete data entry, or misplaced documents.

At Swinburne, prospective students must register for an account prior to accessing the online applications portal. These accounts, like the portal itself, form part of Swinburne's SMS, which allows easy transfer of information from one repository to another. Swinburne's data integration mitigates the risk of human error, as it eliminates manual intervention.

In addition, Swinburne has embedded links to third-party programs, such as a literacy and numeracy assessment platform, into its online applications portal. The results of the literacy and numeracy test flow automatically into prospective students' accounts, further reducing the risk of error from manual data entry. Overall, Swinburne's data integration methods ensure staff can promptly access information, enabling them to effectively plan and timetable classes.

In March 2019, Box Hill began to implement a similar online system, where prospective students register an account prior to starting their application. As with Swinburne, this procedure has led to efficiencies. Box Hill is progressively phasing out its older process, which collects enrolment-related information using paper forms and takes an admissions officer up to 30 minutes to finalise a single application. Its new system uses minimal paper forms and needs less manual intervention. Currently, Box Hill accepts online applications for nearly 200 domestic courses.

'Remote' describes processes that prospective students can complete offsite using electronic documents, an online account, or email, and do not require visiting a TAFE's campus.

Prospective students at Box Hill and Swinburne have greater flexibility, as they can finalise their enrolment without making an in-person visit to campus. Box Hill, however, requires prospective students to have remote interactions with an admissions officer at two stages, which may lengthen the process. Both Box Hill and Swinburne still accept paper‑based applications and offer various support services to individuals who have difficulties self‑managing their enrolment. We outline Swinburne's support services in Figure 2A.

 

Figure 2A
Enrolling at Swinburne with optional assistance

In late 2016, Swinburne introduced a drop-in help centre—known as the 'enrolment hub'—for prospective students struggling to self-manage the admissions process. The enrolment hub operates full-time in the three weeks preceding the start of each semester and aims to resolve issues without onwards referral. Swinburne surveys visitors so it can track the reasons for their attendance, which helps staff to identify recurrent issues.

In addition, to help individuals manage the enrolment process remotely, Swinburne has a range of online guidance, including fact sheets and videos. Prospective students can also book a phone appointment with a course adviser, and chat online to an admissions officer.

Swinburne also encourages individuals to book one-on-one help sessions for more targeted, on-campus support.

Source: VAGO, based on Swinburne's documents.

Reliance on manual processes

Melbourne Polytechnic, SuniTAFE and William Angliss mostly use paper‑based and some electronic forms to capture critical enrolment-related information. In contrast with Swinburne and Box Hill, these electronic forms do not automatically feed into the TAFEs' information management systems. Admissions staff must manually copy the information into the relevant SMS field. This double handling often occurs after the individual has finalised their enrolment, which may delay TAFEs' access to consolidated data.

SuniTAFE and Melbourne Polytechnic use additional staff resources to manage the manual activity in their processes. SuniTAFE has previously hired a temporary admissions officer to scan enrolment-related documents for storage, while Melbourne Polytechnic contracts a third-party records management company for the same purpose. These resources put a financial burden on SuniTAFE and Melbourne Polytechnic, which may divert funds from other initiatives.

A document verification service is an online service that verifies an individual's identity.

Although Box Hill has enhanced its efficiency over the past four months, some elements of its new system still rely on manual processing. For example, unlike Swinburne, Box Hill has not embedded a link to a document verification service within its online application. Instead, it requires prospective students to upload a copy of their evidence of eligibility, which staff then independently check using the document verification service. Box Hill intends to embed a direct link as its new system matures.

Its current procedure, however, is less burdensome than that employed by Melbourne Polytechnic and William Angliss, which require individuals to physically attend campus so that staff can sight and retain evidence of their identifying documents.

Figure 2B shows whether the enrolment steps at each audited TAFE are automatically recorded in their information management systems.

Figure 2B
TAFE enrolment steps automatically recorded in their information management systems

Enrolment step

Box Hill

Melbourne Polytechnic

SuniTAFE

Swinburne

William Angliss

Processing the Skills First declaration form

Assessing and retaining evidence of eligibility

Processing the pre-training review questions

Processing the standard enrolment questions in the Victorian VET Student Statistical Collection Guidelines

Generating the Statement of Fees

Finalising enrolment into individual course units

(a)

Generating the training plan

n/a(b)

(c)

n/a(b)

Assessing and retaining evidence of concession

Note: This figure tests Box Hill's new enrolment process, including its online applications system. Box Hill's older process (which is being phased out) can be seen in Appendix C.
Note: '✔' indicates an enrolment step that is automatically recorded in the TAFE's information management systems. '✘' indicates an enrolment step involving manual processes.
(a) Melbourne Polytechnic advises that it plans to make this step electronic, but the expected timing is not yet confirmed.
(b) TAFE completes the training plan outside of the enrolment process.
(c) Melbourne Polytechnic advises that it will implement electronic training plans for all courses by December 2020.
Source: VAGO.

Checking manual processes

To mitigate the risk of human error, admissions officers at three audited TAFEs use hard-copy checklists to ensure that each prospective student's data is complete and accurate. Box Hill uses one audit checklist as part of its older process. Melbourne Polytechnic and SuniTAFE use two audit checklists, which staff utilise at different steps.

While it is positive that these TAFEs have implemented quality assurance processes to improve the integrity of their data, these checklists do not address the root cause of errors—manual processing.

2.3 Options for completing enrolment steps

TAFEs should offer prospective students the option to enrol online, in-person, or by a combination of these methods. By providing greater choice, TAFEs can limit their one-on-one interactions to individuals who specifically request them, which should improve efficiency through optimised resourcing.

Swinburne and Box Hill allow individuals to choose the enrolment method that suits their needs—online or in-person—while the other three audited TAFEs require individuals to complete some enrolment steps in person. Despite these differences, our survey results show that prospective students at each audited TAFE most commonly found their enrolment experience to be easy.

Prospective students' preferences

To use Centrelink Confirmation eServices, TAFEs need to apply for a contract with the Australian Department of Human Services. The system is free to use, but there are set-up and testing fees, as well as privacy considerations.

Only students who identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander are eligible for concession prices at all qualification levels. Concession ordinarily applies to students enrolled in courses at the Certificate IV level and below.

The highest proportion of survey respondents across all TAFEs used a mix of online and in-person processes. However, SuniTAFE had the smallest proportion of individuals who reported enrolling online. When given the choice, respondents from Box Hill, Swinburne, and William Angliss mostly preferred online enrolment, while respondents from Melbourne Polytechnic and SuniTAFE equally preferred online and in-person processes. These results emphasise the importance of options, as respondents did not show an overwhelming preference for either choice.

Enrolment options at each TAFE

As highlighted in Section 2.2, while Box Hill and Swinburne enable most of their prospective students to enrol entirely online, individuals applying for concession prices still need to verify their eligibility in person. To further reduce manual in‑person steps, Box Hill and Swinburne could use the Centrelink Confirmation eServices system, which would enable staff to verify an individual's concession card status remotely and instantaneously, saving valuable time and resources. None of the audited TAFEs use this service, but Box Hill plans to implement it.

Figure 2C summarises the enrolment processes that each TAFE allows prospective students to complete remotely—either online or over the phone.

 

 

Figure 2C
Enrolment steps that prospective students can complete remotely

Enrolment step

Box Hill

Melbourne Polytechnic

SuniTAFE

Swinburne

William Angliss

Submitting an enquiry

Completing the Skills First declaration form

Providing evidence of eligibility

Completing the pre-training review questions

Completing the literacy and numeracy assessment

Completing the standard enrolment questions in the Victorian VET Student Statistical Collection Guidelines

Receiving the Statement of Fees

Enrolling into course units

(a)

(b)

(c)

Paying fees

Endorsing the training plan

n/a(d)

(e)

n/a(d)

Providing evidence of concession

Note: This figure is based on Box Hill's new enrolment process, including its online applications system. Box Hill's older process (which it is phasing out) can be seen in Appendix C.
Note: '✔' indicates a step prospective students can complete remotely. '✘' indicates they cannot.
(a) Staff at Box Hill retroactively complete this step.
(b) Melbourne Polytechnic advises that remotely enrolling into units will be available for all courses, but the expected timing is yet to be confirmed.
(c) Individuals receive a hard-copy enrolment summary during an in-person appointment and then enrol into course units online during their appointment.
(d) TAFE completes the training plan outside of the enrolment process.
(e) Melbourne Polytechnic advises that it will implement electronic training plans for all courses by December 2020.
Source: VAGO.

In contrast to Swinburne and Box Hill, the other TAFEs require individuals to complete several key enrolment steps in person. For example, Melbourne Polytechnic requires prospective students to attend at least one on‑campus appointment. At this appointment, staff assess an individual's eligibility and suitability for training, then finalise their enrolment. SuniTAFE and William Angliss, in contrast, separate these activities into two discrete sessions.

While these appointments help TAFEs to effectively roster their staff, individuals must schedule visits within certain time frames. TAFEs also use third‑party booking applications to manage these appointments, which do not fully integrate with their CRM systems. The limited availability of appointments, coupled with the lack of alternate pathways, may disproportionately burden prospective students who have physical accessibility issues or other obligations, such as caring duties or employment commitments.

Melbourne Polytechnic and William Angliss rely on physically sighting an individual's proof of identity, which requires in‑person visits. In contrast, Box Hill, SuniTAFE, and Swinburne use online document verification services. While Melbourne Polytechnic and William Angliss have purchased licences to use a document verification service, they have not integrated it into their everyday processes. By using these systems, TAFEs could offer prospective students greater flexibility, while also saving time and resources.

This inefficiency may also stem from the department's unclear requirements and guidelines. While the department has advised TAFEs that the enrolment process can occur entirely online, the Guidelines about Determining Student Eligibility and Supporting Evidence state that 'eligibility assessment processes must involve informative discussions with applicants'. The department has advised us that these discussions could be in-person, online or by telephone.

Despite their reliance on in-person processes, Melbourne Polytechnic and William Angliss provide individuals with the ability to complete some tasks remotely. For example, Melbourne Polytechnic allows prospective students to pay fees online, and William Angliss allows prospective students to complete part of their pre‑training review at home.

It is important to note that some prospective students will benefit from physically attending campus and receiving one-on-one help. For example, William Angliss organises its pre-enrolment appointments by course type. This allows prospective students to attend a presentation and interview with two faculty members, which may provide them with more personal insight into the content and learning outcomes of their preferred course. The second visit at William Angliss, however, is purely administrative.

Prospective students' experience

While respondents to our survey most commonly reported that their overall experience was easy, there was considerable variability in the time and effort reported by individuals to finalise their enrolment. To accurately compare survey responses across the audited TAFEs, we use confidence intervals to estimate the range within which we can be confident the true value lies for all individuals who may have enquired or enrolled. At a 90 per cent confidence level:

  • 54 to 72 per cent of respondents at Swinburne did not make any in‑person visits
  • the highest proportion of respondents at Box Hill (61 to 69 per cent), Melbourne Polytechnic (68 to 76 per cent), and William Angliss (43 to 61 per cent) made between one or two visits (however, all Box Hill respondents experienced the TAFE's older process)
  • in-person visits at SuniTAFE varied, as respondents made between one or two (36 to 54 per cent) to three or more (23 to 41 per cent) in-person visits.

Our survey found that only a small proportion of individuals did not finalise their enrolment because the process was too difficult. At a 90 per cent confidence level, we estimate up to six per cent at Box Hill and Melbourne Polytechnic did so, and up to 10 per cent at SuniTAFE, Swinburne and William Angliss. We report the margin of error for each TAFE in Appendix D, which can be used to calculate the precise confidence interval for each TAFE.

2.4 Duplicative or unnecessary information collection

We found only minor instances of TAFEs collecting information that is duplicative or not required by the contract. For example:

  • SuniTAFE and William Angliss collect similar information across their application forms and pre-training reviews, such as personal details, education and employment history, and reason for study.
  • Melbourne Polytechnic collects an individual's Skills First declaration twice, using online and paper forms.
  • SuniTAFE requires individuals to provide a physical signature for the pre‑training review form, though this is not a contractual requirement.

Literacy and numeracy testing

According to the contract, TAFEs must conduct a pre-training review for each prospective student. This helps TAFEs determine whether an individual's chosen course aligns with their competencies and interests. As part of this requirement, TAFEs must 'consider' whether each prospective student has appropriate literacy and numeracy skills, to determine whether they need further support from teaching staff to participate in the course.

Completing this step can be time-consuming and onerous for both the TAFE and the prospective student.

Burdensome for the TAFE

The contract does not prescribe how TAFEs should evaluate a prospective student's literacy and numeracy skills. Likewise, the department's optional pre‑training review template for 2019 only briefly suggests that TAFEs consider testing results, secondary school results, course requirements or previous qualifications. It does not further explain how TAFEs might implement these methods, either solely or in combination.

In the absence of detailed requirements, all TAFEs use third-party assessment platforms to administer literacy and numeracy tests to prospective students. Staff then use the results of these tests—which often differ in length—to establish whether individuals are suitable for enrolment in their chosen course. As highlighted in Figure 2C, some TAFEs supervise their literacy and numeracy tests on campus. This approach is resource intensive for the TAFEs, as it requires both a computer lab and supervisor.

Box Hill, Melbourne Polytechnic, SuniTAFE and William Angliss require all prospective students—regardless of their educational backgrounds—to complete the literacy and numeracy test. Only Swinburne allows individuals who have successfully completed Year 12 English and Mathematics in the past seven years to bypass the assessment. This interpretation of the contract alleviates some of Swinburne's administrative burden, as there are fewer components for staff to assess in an individual's pre‑training review. The other four TAFEs advise that they are wary of implementing a similar approach, as they lack assurance that the department's external auditors will accept other forms of evidence, such as the Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) or the Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL).

Despite being aware of TAFEs' uncertainty, the department has not sufficiently clarified this part of the contract. For example, the department's internal documents state that they have received 'a number of enquiries about whether certain tests or processes are acceptable', and there 'may be a need to clarify further with auditors to ensure a shared understanding of the requirements'. While the department advises that its current stance promotes 'flexibility', four of the five TAFEs apply a narrow approach to literacy and numeracy testing in the absence of further information.

The ACSF is a tool that helps English language, literacy and numeracy practitioners to describe an individual's performance in the five core skills of learning, reading, writing, oral communication, and numeracy.

In contrast, the Australian Government's VET Student Loans scheme provides much clearer requirements regarding prospective students' literacy and numeracy skills. VET Student Loans Rules 2016 states that a provider may deem a student as academically suited to undertake a course if:

  • the provider obtains a copy of a senior secondary certificate of education for the student's completion of Year 12, or
  • the provider assesses the student as displaying competence at or above Exit Level 3 under the Australian Core Skills Framework (ACSF) for reading and numeracy—using an approved assessment tool—and the provider believes that the student displays that competence, or
  • the provider obtains a copy of a certificate awarded to the student for a qualification that is either at or comparable to Level 4 (Certificate IV) or above in the Australian Qualifications Framework.
Burdensome for the prospective student

The Australian Qualifications Framework is the national policy for regulated qualifications in Australian education and training.

For most individuals who have obtained other qualifications at the VET level or beyond, undertaking a formal test to prove their literacy and numeracy capabilities is likely unnecessary. This extends to people with VCE and VCAL qualifications, as the former's key outcome—an Australian Tertiary Admission Rank—is the primary criterion for entry into most undergraduate programs.

In addition, the blanket requirement for literacy and numeracy tests means that individuals with proven capabilities must spend additional time enrolling, sometimes up to an hour. Prospective students must also resit the test if they apply to different institutions or enrol in additional qualifications, as TAFEs do not share results. As shown in Figure 2C, SuniTAFE and William Angliss require prospective students to sit the test on campus, which may add to their burden.

2.5 Future plans

All audited TAFEs are working to improve their enrolment processes and develop more integrated information management systems that enable online enrolment:

  • Box Hill launched its new online applications system in March 2019 and aims to receive 90 per cent of its applications through this system by 2020.
  • Melbourne Polytechnic recently began a Student Experience Improvement Program, to move towards a more integrated online enrolment system.
  • SuniTAFE and William Angliss began separate projects in 2018 that focus on reforming the enquiry and application stages.
  • Swinburne is improving the readability of its pre-training review questions for prospective students. It is also developing an assessment matrix to help staff make more informed and consistent decisions on prospective students' suitability for government-subsidised training.

These initiatives should lead to efficiency gains and an improved enrolment experience. However, the sector could significantly improve its efficiency if TAFEs worked together, as they face similar challenges, and—in most cases—use similar underlying software. By sharing their knowledge and resources, TAFEs could collaborate on system development, without duplicating effort.

Potential shared solutions could include the development of:

  • a standardised enrolment system, where TAFEs retain full control over their end-to-end processes, but use consistent business rules and the same information management systems
  • a centralised enrolment system, where prospective students apply using a single portal. This would standardise the first part of the enrolment process by enabling prospective students to express interest at multiple TAFEs through a single application. The system could then direct prospective students to the relevant TAFE, ideally using a data-sharing mechanism that integrates with each TAFE's SMS.

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