Representing quality private education
providers in Australia

The pursuit of policy

Monday, March 20 2017

I should hardly be surprised – last week again produced plenty moments of interest.

I was fortunate to be able to attend, along with a couple of our members, the Labor National Jobs and Skills Summit in Canberra.

Opened by the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten and attended by the full spectrum of Shadow Ministers, the Summit focused on the development of a forward thinking policy for Vocational Education and Training. I should add that while the primary attention was on VET, there was considerable discussion about a broader perspective, namely VET in schools, Higher Education and the notion of a Tertiary sector.

Our role is not about being political, it is about working with all parties in what is hopefully a genuine attempt to build skills and knowledge for the future.

Bill Shorten set the framework for the pursuit of better policy, that being a commitment to lifelong learning, preparing for jobs for the future and working together to develop solutions.

Nothing radical but if these principles become the operating framework, there will be a real opportunity to develop a long-term approach.

Now it won’t be a surprise that public providers sit at the heart of labor policy. However, there was support for the involvement of private providers who deliver to high standards.

While the Chatham house rules prevent detailed discussion in this piece, it was pleasing to be involved in a discussion of policy reform options with employers, unions, Peak Bodies, academics, former VCs and Shadow Ministers.

I will note that it was but a start – there is much more to be done on all sides of politics in this important area.

Any reform agenda should not focus on suppliers (providers), it should focus on industry leadership, a flexible qualification (and skill sets) framework, student information, labour market priorities, best practice regulation and a funding system that is built on delivering the skills needs for the future.

But what about the private and public provider component?

Many commentators now use the problems experienced in less than 6% of VET enrolments to wail for the end of allowing students to have a choice in what qualification and what provider for them. There is only one provider for these commentators.

A complete failure of objectivity and an avoidance of evidence certainly, but regardless it has created momentum.

So, if one wants to be objective, what does the evidence say?

I have repeated the statistics to you many times, that private providers now deliver significantly more training than our public counterparts. But it can’t just be about volume.

In a perfect sense of timing, NCVER has released a report on employers’ motivation for undertaking training and the ways in which they engage the training system. There is a significant focus in the report on examining their partnerships with providers.

The research builds on previous work conducted over a 20-year period in order to highlight any changes.

The research (noting some limitations in sample size) finds that the reasons employers undertake training has not changed significantly over the years.  It revolves around improving the quality of products and services (increasingly so), to respond to new technologies and meet regulatory requirements (such as workplace health and safety).

However, in a sign of things to come, the report notes an increasing focus on flexibility, including through the delivery of skill sets over qualifications.

The need for increasing flexibility and agility would appear to challenge the notion of ‘one provider will do’!

I think a debate that will never go away is whether subsidies genuinely have an impact on the training decisions of employers. Well, this report states that the availability of government funding is a key consideration in decisions about the choice of accredited training (versus non-accredited) with two-thirds of employer survey respondents indicating their decision was affected by the availability of such funding.

This of course should start the alarm bells ringing. Governments have been reducing their funding in VET in record amounts (30% over the last 10 years). That makes it tough enough. But now the Commonwealth Government is showing little interest in negotiating a new National Partnership with the States and Territories, which will place significant further pressure on those systems.

Alarm bells indeed!

Based on the findings of the NCVER report, this can only mean less commitment by industry for accredited training and ultimately less skills and lower portability for workers.

A difficult prospect when the future economy will require more creativity, innovation, knowledge of technology and of course multiple jobs in a life time.

Seriously hard to understand.

So, what of the role of providers?

Public and private providers were the key source of advice on nationally recognised training for 52.3% of employers.  That is significant in itself.

In terms of their satisfaction with providers, respondent employers indicated 80.0% satisfaction with private providers, 83.6% with industry and professional associations and 66.1% with TAFE.

But why the difference?

While factors such as understanding the business needs, government funding availability and trust are identified, the flexibility of providers to alter delivery methods and to customize content was identified as a partnership success factor. The report notes the challenges public providers face in this regard. 

So, policy 101 is about considering the evidence. So, what is the evidence?

In the TVA data, there were 4.5 million enrollments in 2015. 3.1 million of the enrolments were with private providers. So, we deliver the majority of VET, by a fair margin.

And the headline message from the report, employers are very satisfied (80.0%) with the training delivered by private providers. The flexibility we offer business and industry is a key success factor.

So where does all the noise come from? Head in the sand commentary perhaps. While we should never forget the failures of VFH, this all shows the sector is bigger and better than that. 

In summary, the future must require understanding the needs of industry and students, committing to the highest of possible standards, working collaboratively to establish a meaningful policy and funding framework and resurrecting confidence in the sector.

Have a great week!

Rod Camm

Jobs and Skills Summit - Rod Camm and Helen Zimmerman liaising with Bill Shorten, Mary Faraone and Martin Riordan


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