Representing quality private education
providers in Australia

ACPET argues to get rid of tertiary education sector funding silos

Monday, January 29 2018

Happy Australia Day!

Is it just me or is the year hotting up already?

In terms of rumours circulating the industry, there are reports that Chinese investors are looking around to buy tertiary education providers to meet the growing demand of Chinese students. Keep an eye on this!

On reading that I did start to think about where is Australia’s Tertiary system headed?

By that I mean, what is the vision for the future of this important industry?

With so much change about, a vision would seem important. It would, by definition give us a road map showing both what the industry intends to become and perhaps some guiding principles and programs.

There is a stunning plethora of reform projects underway in our industry.

The Higher Education reforms, which were more about budget cuts appear now to be history.

In VET we have reviews underway of the key pieces of our architecture, namely the AQF itself, training packages (products), short-courses (shouldn’t that be a part of the training package review?) and of the NVETR Act (ASQA) to name just a few.

Each review individually has the capacity to make major changes to what we do. Together, they could be result in almost unprecedented change.

However, what is the end result we are working toward? What is the vision for the sector?

If you have an idea let me know, as I seem to be missing something.

With the failure of the Government’s higher education 2017 budget reforms and a decline in VET funding by States and Territories it seems that despite all of the reviews mentioned above, reform is at an impasse.

In response to the inertia, the Business Council of Australia has ‘stepped up to the plate’ and put forward its proposals for reform. The discussion paper: Future Proof: Protecting Australians Through Education and Skills was released in late 2017 with written comments closing on 19 January 2018. Consultation sessions across the country are also being held in the coming weeks.

ACPET congratulates the BCA on the report that tackles some of the pressing issues facing the tertiary education and training sector. In its response to the BCA paper, ACPET has strongly supported the need to get rid of the government funding silos that distort the decisions students make about their program of study. The current tangle of State, Territory and Commonwealth funding makes it almost impossible for students to navigate and make good, informed decisions.

As the Productivity Commission recently agued in its recent review of the economy, the VET sector is “a mess".

As many members will remember, proposals for a funding model that is ‘neutral’ across the sectors has long been argued. It was a recommendation of the Bradley review of nearly a decade ago. The 2014 review of the higher education demand driven system also addressed the need for greater funding consistency in that sector.

The BCA report also picks up on the need to support lifelong learning given the demographic, technological and other changes sweeping the workforce. I support the concept of a Lifelong Skills Account but acknowledge that we need to understand how the costs can be managed. The VET sector is still ‘feeling the pain’ of several States’ failed entitlement models and the VET FEE-HELP shemozzle. The Commonwealth’s efforts to cap university funding are all about managing the costs of those entitlement arrangements.

A key to getting greater consistency will be having all the States and Territories, the Commonwealth and key stakeholders come together in some sort of ‘grand bargain’ that puts aside the parochial interests for the betterment of student, industry and the Australian community. That’s a ‘big ask’ and the BCA proposal to establish a separate organisation to oversee pricing, funding and providers across the sectors will face considerable ‘push-back’. It is a “courageous” proposal.

However, I for one can’t see another way. Federalism seems to be failing us in this arena.

Addressing the VET government-funding “mess” was a key element of the Reform of the Federation initiative established under the Abbott Government a few years ago. This opportunity for reform was lost with the shelving of the initiative. At least there was a recognition of the need for change.

Clearly action is required if Australia is to maintain its world-class tertiary education and training sector. Perhaps it is time to build on the Bradley review and develop an agreed way forward. The BCA paper provides a constructive, thoughtful contribution.

ACPET’s is doing plenty of thinking itself about all of the reviews and perhaps more importantly, what is our vision for the sector.

Rod Camm
Chief Executive Officer


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