Edition 756, 7 May 2018
Student Interests Matter
Monday, May 7 2018
The ‘budget season’ is well underway with the Victorian Government’s announcements about a number of new initiatives grabbing a lot of attention. Through its 2018-19 budget, the Victorian Government has acknowledged the importance of skills in underpinning economic growth, with a number of measures aimed at addressing current or emerging skills shortages in that state. With strong population growth and the need for infrastructure to support this growth, developing the state’s workforce makes a lot of sense.
It is refreshing to see this change of perspective after what has been some significant cuts in funding in Victoria, as well as in several other states. The net result of these cuts nationally is that government-funded VET student numbers are where they were more than a decade ago. In a nation that increasingly is going to rely on the skills of its workforce to be competitive in a ‘world without borders’ this approach has been very shortsighted.
So, the Victorian Government is to be congratulated on the increased focus on skills development outlined in its budget. The focus on areas identified as likely to be in demand is good news too. However, in announcing additional funding the Victorian Government has quarantined some of it only for TAFE.
The announcement of $172 million funding for a range of free courses is only available to TAFEs. While I understand the Victorian Government’s commitment to TAFE, it may not be in the interests of students. It means students will not have the opportunity to select a provider that best meets their needs. More than 300 independent providers delivered government-funded training to students in Victoria in the first nine months of 2017, yet students seeking to enroll in one of the targeted courses will not be able to access these providers.
It can’t be in their interests either when the most recent data from the National Centre for Vocational Education Research indicates government-funded graduates of independent providers in Victoria enjoy better employment outcome than their TAFE counterparts. By the way, it’s a similar picture across the country.
It will, of course, be in the interests of TAFEs in Victoria to have a ‘monopoly’ on the delivery of this initiative. But in South Australia we’ve seen what can happen when governments start quarantining programs and funding for TAFE. It certainly hasn’t been in the interests of students, or industry, in that state. Nor ultimately, in the interests of TAFE SA.
As I’ve said many times Australia needs a strong, vibrant network of public and independent providers to best respond to its workforce needs.
So, while there are increasing calls to ‘protect’ TAFE and guarantee its funding, it’s important that policy and funding proposals meet the ‘student interest’ test.
Chief Executive Officer