QTAC’s war against rationality

There’s an organisation known as the Queensland Tertiary Admissions Centre (QTAC) whose job, it seems, is to verify the credentials of applicants for any tertiary course in Queensland. I say ‘it seems’ because the organisation is quite shadowy. It makes no information available on its processes, performance, or accountabilities. There are no methods for appealing its decisions, or even seeking an explanation of apparently quite arbitrary outcomes. But if you’re lucky, like me, gratuitous advice about your own shortcomings may be offered.

Look up this organisation online and you might find the PR blurb that some of Queensland’s universities joined forces to create this organisation as a standalone company at arm’s length, but there appear to be no board reports, or even published lists of board members. A very exclusive little club, that one.

In fact, the only interesting information you might find is mention that QTAC’s CEO between 2002 and 2010, an Elizabeth Louise Jones, was accused of being an unconscionable workplace bully by her staff, and tried, unsuccessfully, to avoid being investigated or censured by seeking an interlocutory injunction alleging that action against her had been motivated by her rôle in an enterprise bargaining process (see Jeffrey Phillips SC, Bully Behind You, and MinterEllison).

One wonders whatever happened to Ms Jones. In any case, this information might actually be quite enlightening about QTAC’s culture to this day.

On 9 May I turned up at QTAC’s plush Park Road, Milton office suite to lodge an application and supporting paperwork for my re-entry into the academy.

The young lady at the counter was most helpful, and not at all perturbed that some of my pieces of paper were older than she. Altogether, it was a pleasant experience, with no hint of what was to follow.

In fact, it was the entirely unexpected nature of the the ensuing assault on all rationality, common sense, good faith, and human decency by QTAC that suggested the name of this section of my blog to me: bellum fatuis, or the war against stupidity.

Letter to the CEO

The events that precipitated my extremely unfavourable perception of QTAC are probably best explained in the edited wording of my first letter to the QTAC CEO, Dr John Griffiths, sent by email and post on 15 May 2013.

I seek your urgent assistance in a matter threatening to exclude me from a second semester offer round as a result of a systemic failure at QTAC, and a wilful obstructionism by QTAC staff … which concerns verification of my … BA English credential …

An automated letter under your signature … dated 13 May 2013, stated that verification of my credential had been blocked … because of ‘outstanding fees payable to your institution, overdue library books or similar circumstances.’ The letter instructed me to rectify this situation, and I duly contacted Curtin University, where I spoke to … the Graduations Office, … confirmed for me that no fees were outstanding, my records were not blocked, and any error might relate to my record pre-dating 1992, which sometimes requires a separate process of retrieval and verification. [A member of the University staff] asked to me to convey to QTAC his eager willingness to assist with any inquiry if they would contact him.

On 14 May I conveyed this information to a QTAC staff member whose name may have been Amanda, who discussed the situation with an assessor and then told me that QTAC would not contact [the member of staff] and I needed to impose on him to fax an academic record and confirmation of my credential being awarded. I complied with that request.

On 15 May I checked back to see what progress had been made with my application. The answer was none! It took ten minutes to confirm that no fax had been received, and another ten to confirm that QTAC staff would not contact [the] University of their own volition, would not release a contact email for use by [the University], insisted that [University] staff should know QTAC processes, and that it was my responsibility to compel [the University] to comply with QTAC guidelines.

I then asked to speak to you directly, but was put through to a supervisor identified to me only as Louise, who rejected my plea that QTAC contact Curtin University directly as ‘against procedure’, dismissed my explanation that the flag in ARTS might have been due to my records predating 1992 with the comment ‘we have been doing this for 30 years’, and instructed me to again contact Curtin University to compel someone there to contact QTAC, admitting that the flag in ARTS was their error, and confirming my credentials.

A phone call to [Curtin staff] confirmed that some … records predating 1992 were not able to be verified by the ARTS system, that this was known to tertiary admissions centres all over the country, that requests for an alternative verification of qualifications came to Curtin University all the time, and that [the Curtin staff member] would contact Louise directly.

Half an hour later [the Curtin staff member] rang me back … to tell me that Louise had disputed the veracity of his explanation too, that she told him she had worked at QTAC for ten years and never heard of this shortcoming in the ARTS system, and that while Curtin was welcome to send the verification details by fax, Louise was doubtful that such verification would be acceptable. [The Curtin staff member] was frank with me that he was surprised and taken aback by the intransigence he encountered.

It appears that I have no clear avenue for appealing Louise’s indifference to my circumstances, or the apparent inability to deal with an anomaly in a system over which I can exercise no control at all, hence my correspondence with you directly.

I submit to you, Dr Griffiths, that this matter is clearly one of a long-term failing in the ARTS system to recognise reasons for unavailability of records, but, more alarmingly, of a wilful obstructionism in elevating process above the actual outcomes and purpose of QTAC in the first place, which is surely about enrolling students rather than insisting on broken or deficient processes.

I am at a loss as to how to address this problem any further without your intervention. How can anyone be expected to comply with a procedure that asks for a process which CANNOT be followed?
With time running out to process my application to meet semester 2 offer round deadlines, I request your urgent intervention to resolve this matter.


Note:
the editing in the wording above seeks to preserve the anonymity of staff at my alma mater.

The very next day, it transpired, my application was duly verified, rubber stamped, and successfully dispatched to my preferred institution.

Unbeknownst to me, however, on that day a most disturbing letter of reply had been drafted. What follows is a copy of that letter, received by me on 20 May.

Varnham-letter-001

Varnham-letter-002

The hostility, contempt, self-righteousness, and plain misleading dishonesty of this letter left me quite stunned.

I resolved that I would not reply in the heat of indignation, nor until QTAC could no longer represent to me any threat at all in relation to my enrollment. However, it is inevitable that I must respond eventually just to put the record straight.

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