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9.8.3 Steps for approving tertiary education

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Last amended 
29 May 2017

Rehabilitation Coordinators must follow the steps outlined below to ensure that tertiary education is an appropriate option for a client, and that they are likely to successfully complete their course and obtain sustainable employment after achieving their qualifications. 

Step 1 – Vocational needs assessment 

The client must have a vocational needs assessment conducted by a suitably qualified rehabilitation provider before a request for assistance with tertiary studies can be considered. The vocational assessment report must address:

  • the client’s return to work rehabilitation goals and labour market research for the client’s location;
  • the transferrable skills the client already has that will assist them to secure employment in the civilian employment market;
  • the client’s education history and qualifications, (including training programs and qualifications undertaken within the ADF) and how these may assist them to secure employment in the civilian employment market (see section 9.8.2 of this library for more information);
  • specific and justifiable reasons why the client requires tertiary education to assist them to meet their return to work goals;
  • the type of course and the university that is most appropriate for the client;
  • the client's aptitude for, and ability to commit to, the proposed course of study (it may be useful to gain evidence from relevant assessments such as aptitude tests, job demands assessments, functional capacity or other similar assessments);
  • the client’s capacity to manage both the contact and expected non-contact hours required to successfully complete units;
  • the client's capacity to manage any required training or placements related to the proposed course in light of their other life commitments;
  • medical evidence of the client's capacity to undertake study at the level they are requesting (ie. full time or part time);
  • any discrepancies in medical evidence about the person's capacity for work and for study;
  • whether the client has undergone a previous relevant assessment which may include a vocational assessment, aptitude testing or psychometric testing;
  • medical evidence or a functional capacity evaluation of the client’s capacity to undertake employment in their chosen field following completion of the course;
  • evidence that there are no other barriers to the client being able to undertake employment in their chosen field (such as barriers to the person passing a working with vulnerable people check if they are undertaking child care, disability support or nursing studies);
  • the mode of study that is most appropriate for the client (i.e. face-to-face, or distance education delivered on-line);
  • the overall cost of the course and the costs of any alternative options; and
  • the duration of the course.

For cases which commenced after 29 May 2017, the vocational rehabilitation assessment should be uploaded as an attachment to the client's R&C ISH case. For cases that commenced prior to this date, the vocational rehabilitation assessment should be saved to the client's TRIM folder.

Capacity for work and study

In most cases, particularly where a client has ongoing impairments, medical evidence will be required to inform decisions about whether study is an appropriate option at a particular point in time. This is particularly relevant where the client has ongoing physical or mental health conditions which impact on their ability to manage the physical demands of attending university, and/or stress, and/or the time pressures of meeting course requirements. In most cases, the evidence may be sourced from the client's treating health practitioner or specialist. However, in some cases, particularly where there is contradictory evidence, the advice of an Occupational Physician may be helpful.

The following information is recommended to guide decision making:

  • medical evidence of the client's capacity to undertake work;
  • the level or number of hours of work that the client has the capacity to undertake (eg. full time, part time, or a specified number of hours per week);
  • medical evidence of the person's capacity to undertake study at a tertiary level;
  • the level or number of hours of study that is recommended due to the client's health conditions;
  • if there is a discrepancy between capacity for work and capacity for study, a detailed explanation and justification of this discrepancy is required; and
  • any suggestions that the practitioner believes may assist the client in being successful in undertaking study.

For cases which commenced after 29 May 2017, this evidence should be uploaded as an attachment to the client's R&C ISH case. For cases that commenced prior to this date, this evidence should be saved to the client's TRIM folder.

If the client's treating health practitioner has provided medical evidence that the client does not have a current capacity to return to work, then this creates challenges for the Rehabilitation Coordinator to approve tertiary study as a rehabilitation activity. In this case, it is suggested that further information be sought from the health practitioner about whether the client is likely to have any capacity to return to work in the future, and what treatment and/or rehabilitation supports may facilitate this. In this scenario, it would be appropriate to consider approving participation in a tertiary education preparation or bridging course to test the client's ability to build their capacity for work through studying. It is important to note that the client will only be able to transition to a vocational rehabilitation plan, which includes tertiary study as an approved rehabilitation activity, if there is medical evidence that this is an appropriate option for them at that specific time.

Clients will be expected to fully participate in a rehabilitation program that is appropriate to their individual circumstances. This is particularly relevant where, for example, there is medical evidence that the client has the capacity to undertake full time work, or full time study, but they choose to study part time. In this case, the client would be expected to seek part time employment, as well as meeting the demands of their study load. It is expected that a flexible approach may be required for the first few weeks of the study period, to enable the client to adjust to studying.

If, after discussion and negotation, the client is unwilling to cooperate with the rehabilitation process and seek part time employment, then a number of options can be considered. These may include deeming with an ability to earn. However, deeming a person must be based on actual/realistic employment capacity for that person. There must be a clearly identifiable job or type of work which the person is capable of performing on a part-time basis having regard to their skills and medical limitations. Rehabilitation Coordinators are encouraged to contact rehabilitation@dva.gov.au for advice in these cases and any policy advice received must be uploaded as an attachment to the client's R&C ISH case.

A client's health status and medical restrictions are not the only issues that should be considered when deciding whether tertiary education is an appropriate option for a person. Where the client has competing demands on their time such as regular medical appointments, or child care commitments, they will need to explain how they plan to balance these demands while meeting the requirements of the course. Rehabilitation providers are expected to assist clients to investigate alternative options including, for example, on-campus child care, which may make it easier for clients to juggle their life commitments.

Preparation for study or employment in a chosen field

At times, there may be questions about a client's capacity and capability for tertiary study. In these situations, a bridging or tertiary preparation course may be a suitable and reasonable first step, to assess the client's capacity to successfully undertake study at a tertiary level, and to help determine if a chosen field of study is a suitable option. This will be particularly important for courses for which an acquired knowledge or skill base is assumed. For example, pre-requisite courses in mathematics may need to be completed before a client can enrol in an engineering or accounting course.

Depending on the kind of employment the client is seeking to undertake following their study, it may be appropriate for the client to first commit to undertaking work experience in their chosen field. This will enable the client to “test the waters” and make a judgement about whether this type of employment meets their expectations and is a realistic and suitable choice for them. It is expected that the rehabilitation provider will discuss work experience options with the client, include this activity on the rehabilitation plan if appropriate and assist the client to make contact with relevant employers and secure work experience placements.

Step 2: Statement from client

The second step in the approval process is for the client to provide a written statement outlining their reasons for requesting assistance with tertiary education.  This can be prepared in consultation with the rehabilitation provider. 

Clients are expected to understand the requirements of their chosen course (including the number of contact hours, additional study hours to complete course requirements, work placements etc) and outline how they plan to meet those requirements. The client should demonstrate that they have researched the course and have realistic expectations of their ability to meet the course requirements.

Tertiary education approval checklist

As part of the approval process, the Rehabilitation Coordinator must complete the D9304 Tertiary Education Approval Checklist Form which can be found on the DVA forms portal. For cases that commenced after 29 May 2017, the checklist must be uploaded as an attachment to the client's R&C ISH case. For existing cases, the checklist must be saved to the client's TRIM folder.

This checklist is provided so Rehabilitation Coordinators can ensure all the assessment requirements above have been considered. It is also recommended that rehabilitation providers utilise this checklist as a tool to ensure that all relevant information has been forwarded to the Rehabilitation Coordinator to inform their decision making.

Step 3 – Tertiary Education Assistance Agreement

Once the Rehabilitation Coordinator is satisfied that all of the evidence to support tertiary education as an appropriate rehabilitation option has been gathered, the next step in the process is for the Rehabilitation Coordinator to determine whether to approve the study. If tertiary study is approved the Coordinator must issue a determination letter to the client. It is mandatory that R&C ISH standard letters are used when communicating with clients about the approval of their rehabilitation plan. Letters generated from R&C ISH will automatically attach to the client's UIN folder in TRIM.

The D9303 Tertiary Education Assistance Agreement Form, which can be found on the DVA forms portal, must then be signed by all parties. It is important that the form is not provided to the client before the determination to approve study has been made.

The client, the rehabilitation provider and the Rehabilitation Coordinator are all required to sign this agreement. It sets out the specifics of the course the client will be undertaking and explains each person’s role and what is expected of them to ensure the client successfully completes their studies. For new cases, once the agreement is signed, the agreement must be uploaded as an attachment to the client's R&C ISH case. For existing cases, the agreement must be saved to the client's TRIM folder.

Step 4 - Management of a client undertaking tertiary study

It is a mandatory requirement that all clients undertaking a tertiary (bachelor level) course have an open rehabilitation plan which identifies a clear return to work goal. The plan must be managed by an approved rehabilitation provider, with the skills and experience to provide support and assist the client in a proactive way. The rehabilitation plan will remain open for the duration of the course, and for any additional period required for job seeking at the conclusion of the plan. This is because the plan provides the administrative mechanism for the tertiary education fees to be paid.

The level of involvement of the rehabilitation provider should be discussed and agreed with the client's DVA Rehabilitation Coordinator. This will be determined by the client's individual needs and circumstances. However, it is expected that at least in the beginning stages of the course the rehabilitation provider will maintain very regular contact with the client while they adjust to the demands of studying and meeting their course requirements. It is also expected that the provider will be available to offer support whenever the client requires it. 

DVA’s expectations of the rehabilitation provider are specified in the D9303 Tertiary Education Assistance Agreement Form.

DVA expects that clients will utilise the support services offered by their chosen university to assist them to successfully achieve their study goals and this expectation is noted in the Tertiary Education Assistance Agreement. University support services may include, but are not limited to:

  • Academic support;
  • Administrative and Enrolment support;
  • Child care; and
  • Disability support.

Further information about these services can be found in section 9.8.4 of this chapter.

Clients who commenced tertiary studies prior to the introduction of the Tertiary Education Assistance Agreement do not need to complete and sign it in order for DVA to continue to support their studies. However, it is expected that wherever possible, clients will utilise support services offered by their chosen university, particularly if they are having difficulties in meeting the academic demands of their course. This is because these services are specifically designed to provide support to students.