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Monday, September 5 2016

Last week saw the launch the ubiquitous Committee of Economic Development of Australia’s (CEDA) latest research report VET: securing skills for growth.

CEDA does an excellent job at getting their messages out.

I was pleased to be involved in the industry events in both Melbourne and Sydney where the report was released and discussed. Also on the panel were the Hon. Steve Herbert in Melbourne and the Hon. John Barilaro in Sydney.

So what does CEDA ask for in the report?

The report calls for a comprehensive national review of the sector to underpin COAG discussions to reach a new National Partnership on Skills Reform.

There is significant concern that with the imminent conclusion of the Commonwealth-State funding agreement for VET (National Partnership on Skills Reform) there are no real signs of what direction this partnership will take. Let’s not forget that States and Territories have reduced expenditure in this important sector by 30% over 10 years, and this was done under the watch of the NP! To test whether the next NP has any real teeth in the future of skills development is critical.

Of course South Australia remains the biggest example that breaching the agreement has no effect, where the State government crashed funding to the private sector, in contravention of the agreement and yet not much seems to have happened as a result (unless you are a student where training places are now very difficult to find and choice limited).

The focus of the CEDA panel discussions I was involved in do intrigue me. They were certainly balanced and were about genuine reform directions.

Yes we did reflect on the reputational damage from VET FEE HELP as a platform of the discussion. We must do so to learn. However, the reality remains that of 4.5 million VET enrolments in 2015, 3.1 million chose private providers and yes satisfaction is very high. The 6% of enrolments that were in VET FEE HELP cannot be used as a litmus test for the sector. Yes the behaviour of a small number of providers was outrageous and we must constantly reflect on how it happened.

On this note don’t listen to me, let’s hear how it happened from Professor Ian Harper who stated the problems in VET FEE HELP came down to inadequate information for students, a quality assurance failure, inadequate oversight, no focus on outcomes and the wrong funding incentives.

Indeed!

Notwithstanding, the discussions centered on the importance of reestablishing the role of industry and to producing graduates with the skills and capabilities that will be required to navigate the many jobs they will have in their careers, rather than narrowly focused occupational specific qualifications.

Prof the Hon. Stephen Martin the CEO of CEDA stated “With the right policy settings, this sector is well positioned to meet the workforce challenges posed by digital disruption and automation and continue delivering skills needed by industry. As Australia faces coming decades of rapid technological change, which will require reskilling and new skills, our education sector needs to be strong at every level.

I am told the event in South Australia travelled a different route. In this discussion, the debate was far less reaching and got caught up in the roles and justification of public/private funding and a negative perception of the role of private providers.

All I can say is that this defies the evidence and will not position the debate about the future and relevance of Tertiary Education.

We at ACPET welcome CEDA’s call for a comprehensive national review of the VET sector. The messages in the report may not be new, but it is another strong voice ringing the alarm bell.

Without question now, more than ever, we need a flexible VET sector that can innovate and respond flexibly to the changes confronting Australia’s workforce.

CEDA’s calls for a national review and recommendations around improving the quality and transparency of data and increasing the power of regulators to act if standards are not met are relevant.

Ensuring only quality providers underpin the principles of student choice are very important.

They are ACPET’s highest priority!

Rod Camm
CEO
ACPET


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