Representing quality private education
providers in Australia

VET in the election spotlight

Monday, March 21 2016

There must be a federal election looming.  Two weeks ago Minister Birmingham was talking about future funding for the higher education sector in Australia in light of the Senate’s refusal to support the Government’s higher education reforms.

With the budget position in no great shape it’s not surprising that the prospect of increased student fees has been the subject of some media commentary.

The universities want greater certainty about the future funding which is understandable. ACPET of course, simply wants a non-discriminatory higher education funding regime that doesn’t financially penalise students because they choose to study with a non-university provider. 

Last week VET was in the spotlight (although it’s hardly ever out of the spotlight) with the federal Labor Opposition committing to a national review of the VET sector if elected to government. In announcing the review, the Opposition gave considerable emphasis on the need to weed out dodgy providers and, of course, ensure the central role of TAFE.

ACPET supports a detailed examination of the vocational education and training sector that looks at the real issues around funding and governance that are impacting the training provided to students and industry and the ability of the sector to contribute to Australia’s economic growth. 
We have a complex mix of state and federal government responsibility for the sector that needs to be sorted out, along with government funding that is in decline. 

The need for a major overhaul of government funding has been confirmed by Peter Noonan in the Mitchell Institute report, VET funding in Australia: Background, trends and future options, that was also released last week.

This report highlights that an independent review of VET funding has not been conducted since 1991. Its little wonder the funding system is archaic and inadequate.

In his report Peter Noonan confirms the deterioration in government funding for VET. More importantly, he highlights the consequences of diminishing opportunities for school leavers wishing to undertake training and for workforce retraining and upskilling. That’s what should be driving any review of the sector.

A review is simply not justified on the basis of quality concerns (that largely arises from a poorly designed and implemented VET FEE-HELP program that accounted for about 6% of total VET enrolments in 2014) or the need to protect TAFE.

We have a world class training system that is the envy of many other countries. The independent, objective NCVER surveys of students and employers continue to show they are very satisfied with the quality of training. Student satisfaction levels are consistently above 80% and have been so for many years.

The latest NCVER data shows that 1.36 million students were enrolled in government-funded VET in the first nine months of 2015.  This training was delivered by 1,889 providers across the country.  

What we need is a VET system that supports these great providers, public and private, to do an even better job and train more of our school leavers and those seeking to retrain or update their skills.

By the way, 63.6% of this training was delivered by TAFE so it’s not clear why TAFE needs protecting. Some of the calls to protect TAFE don’t seem to demonstrate much faith in the public providers. The future of the VET sector should not include propping up TAFE or any group of providers.

But the task of sorting out the federal/state responsibilities and funding for the sector is vital to the future of VET and whatever the outcome of the upcoming election this needs to be priority. The first step, as Peter Noonan puts it, is to “develop a forward looking view about the nature of the VET system required by Australia in the 21st century as a highly innovative and adaptive economy and society”.  Hard not to agree.

Rod Camm


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