Ms PENNICUIK (Southern Metropolitan) — My question is for the Minister for Training and Skills. Minister, last week I asked you some questions about the Sage Institute. Yesterday there were some developments reported in the Age, such that the institute has announced it will cease to trade in Sydney and Brisbane and suspend its classes in Melbourne for a week. Students in Melbourne were called to an emergency meeting at the Collins Street headquarters, where they were told that their classes would be cancelled for seven days. It was also reported that students with incomplete qualifications were told that they could obtain certifications which they could take elsewhere, subject to the finalisation of outstanding fees. There are some other concerns as well. I wonder if you could update the house or clarify that situation, Minister.
Ms TIERNEY (Minister for Training and Skills) — I thank Ms Pennicuik for her question and for the opportunity to update the house on what has been occurring in terms of Sage. It definitely has been a fluid situation for some time.
Ms Pennicuik is quite correct. On the evening of 7 March the institute announced that it was suspending its training in Victoria for a week, and it has ceased trading in New South Wales and Queensland. This Victorian suspension is to allow the administrators to examine opportunities to support students to continue training in Victoria. It is expected that a decision will be made in the next week. As I understand it, there are commercial-in-confidence discussions occurring, but we will know within a week exactly where we sit.
The department has assured me that, in order to minimise the disruption and make sure all students are looked after, they are continuing to work with the administrator to safeguard students' interests, including in relation to tuition fees. I am awaiting advice on how many Victorian government-funded students, if any, might owe historical tuition fees. However, the department will work with the administrator to minimise that impact.
I am also advised that the majority of students in Victoria are undertaking training under the commonwealth government's VET FEE-HELP loans program. In the event of a Victorian closure, these students would therefore be assisted via the tuition assistance scheme administered by the Australian Council for Private Education and Training.
This is another example of the impact of the federal government's VET FEE-HELP debacle on Victoria's training and TAFE system. I will continue to advocate for Victorian students to ensure that the new VET student loans scheme does not affect their continuing training or job outcomes.
The department continues to work off information that suggests that there are approximately 600 Victorian government-funded students impacted by the current suspension of classes.
It will be made clear to all Victorian government-funded students that their eligibility, as I stated in the previous parliamentary sitting week, for government-subsidised places is not going to be impacted by any planned closures of the registered training organisation. Should these students seek to continue their training at TAFE arrangements will be put in place. As I said on a previous occasion, all students, whether they are government funded or not, have got access to the TAFE and training line, and I encourage them to ring this line during business hours — it is 13 18 21 — for support.
Ms PENNICUIK (Southern Metropolitan) — Thank you for your answer, Minister. Sorry, I just wanted to follow up on your mention of outstanding fees. I would be concerned if students, even if they had outstanding fees or fees that are current, were prevented from continuing or finishing or completing their studies because they had not paid those fees. Many students complete their courses and then pay the fees later. But also one of the issues I raised last week was that some of the students' work may not have been marked, and the article also mentioned the effect on the staff of course — a lot of staff have been put off and have lost their jobs, and some of those are the compliance staff that make sure that students have completed their requirements, so that has not been done. If you could update me on what the department is doing with regard to that.
Ms TIERNEY (Minister for Training and Skills) — Again I thank the member for her question. This is a question that the department is pursuing with most rigour with the administrator. This information is absolutely necessary for the wellbeing of students and their ability to plan in terms of what happens to them in their future. Their record statements and the marking is of particular concern. We are having difficulties getting the information that we require, but we will persist no matter what.