Representing quality private education
providers in Australia

I think they say a week is a long time in politics…….

Monday, February 12 2018

Last week saw the announcement of the new ASQA Deputy Commissioner, Ms Saxon Rice.

Ms Rice was Assistant Minister for Technical and Further Education in the former Campbell Newman Government from 2012 to 2015, and has since held senior management roles and been a member of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal since 2016.

She will bring good experience to the role and an understanding of business, certainly imperative as ASQA brings forward a quality agenda.

I would also like to recognise Michael Lavarch. Michael was a very willing contributor and was always prepared to engage with our sector. Who could ever forget his baked cake description of the approach of ASQA.

My columns in the last few weeks have reflected on the need for a wholesale review of VET and its links to Higher Education. This week let’s look at this from another perspective.

Industry, parents and students have begun to express alarm about the changes to the funding and support arrangements that relate to Centrelink.

I wrote about the changes in this Column after the budget and participated in the analysis of the topic on The Hack, however, word seems to be only just now spreading.

Following on from the failed VET FEE HELP program, government made the decision to link access to Vet Student Loans availability to a skills list. That is to access a loan the qualification had to be on the list. The rationale was about improving job outcomes. Employment is of course an imperative ‘KPI’ in any VET program, though the list did represent a drastic cut to the courses that were available, and perhaps hit the Creative Arts, alternative therapies and journalism the hardest.

Many still consider that the changes were about saving money rather than the outcomes.

On budget night the government also decided to link the availability of income support, such as Youth Allowance and Austudy to the mystical list.

This was missed by many as it wasn’t announced in the Education Portfolio.

In real terms it means students who are receiving income support can’t select any courses that are not on the list. That means, again, this excludes the same qualifications from the Creative Arts, journalism and some alternative therapies that were excluded from VSL.

I do fully support our collective obligation to ensure that people receiving income support to study choose courses that maximise their chance to get a job. However, this pathway for many is not a linear one. Succeeding in what they love will get them a job across the broad range of the economy. Not necessarily in a job isolated to the industry area they have studied.

However, my main point in this article is that this change alone is very significant to students, providers and the industry. When combined with the other changes in VSL, the Skilling Australians Fund and the further reduction in some States and Territories, most noticeably in Victoria at present, it is no wonder many feel the sector is experiencing upheaval.

All this might make sense, but not when it appears each change is being approached independently. To mirror previous weeks, where is it all headed? What is the vision? What should we be expecting from VET?

A hard one to answer.

My final comment this week is about the Senate Enquiry into TAFE South Australia.

Yes, it is true that the Enquiry was held in Sydney. A bit odd no doubt?

However, so were the people invited to appear. Reviewing the list of attendees and their testimony, even I was surprised that every attendee has a considerable bias to TAFE. My point is that this approach is hardly objective or likely to produce any recommendations that might actually help TAFE.

To remain internationally competitive, we do need to get every reform right, including TAFE. A rush back to a monopoly or large ‘walls’ of protection will fail.

If you don’t agree let’s let the South Australian Minister Dr Susan Close have the last word:

“….Extra places had been offered at private providers for students who were hesitant to study at TAFE…”

Yes, it must be about the quality not about the owner.

Have a good week

Rod Camm
Chief Executive Officer


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