Representing quality private education
providers in Australia

They said it would never happen?

Monday, June 11 2018

Well perhaps we are seeing the green shoots of recovery in our VET sector.

Last week saw five of the States and Territories sign up to the Skilling Australians Fund, which was launched by the Commonwealth’s 2017 budget. The SAF was designed to create 300,000 apprenticeships and traineeships over 5 years through a $1.5 billion investment.

South Australia was the first cab off the rank and has committed to 20,000 additional apprenticeships and traineeships over the coming four years. This is much needed in South Australia.

New South Wales was second to the party with a staggering possibility of up to $500 million investment being made. I imagine this will have a significant impact on not only students and providers but the broader economy.

In a real run on announcements, the first two were followed by the Northern Territory, the Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania who also struck deals to improve the future prospects for apprenticeships and traineeships in their jurisdictions.

Congratulations to Assistant Minister Karen Andrews and the State/Territory Ministers who have persisted to get the deal done for the benefit of potential apprentices and trainees. The agreements are a big step in the right direction.

What isn’t well known is that ACPET has played a continual role in pushing for outcomes on behalf of members. We have met regularly with State and Territory governments and the Commonwealth to try and get a deal done. We could not advertise this role but we have persevered regardless.

Members will increasingly see this interventionist approach.

In other policy news, the NSW government has committed to ensuring that 20 per cent of new roles on future NSW Government construction projects go to workers learning on the job, and/or training for a higher qualification. This will undoubtedly help build the NSW workforce of the future and also help meet the need for an additional 300,000 workers over the next 10 years in the construction industry alone.

Again, skills matter.

On the principle of credit where credit is due, I must applaud Jon Black, Managing Director of TAFE NSW for his continued advocacy and demand for changes to VSL.

Jon rightly points out that the program is now constraining the development of much needed skills.

While we must all remember our history, we must also learn from it. In that regard the effort to redefine the failed VET FEE Help scheme has not only stopped the rot (of those few providers who let us all down), which we do applaud, but it is now time to consider how to ensure it adds to Australia’s skills stocks for the future.

There is an alarming reduction in students studying higher level qualifications, at a time where high end skills are increasingly becoming critical to the economy.

VSL is a critical element of the funding infrastructure and it should be about ensuring students have equitable access to a government loan that enables them to choose the qualification that best meets their needs and a provider that offers a qualification and learning style that maximises their likelihood of completion.

The establishment of VSL has seen the government invest significantly in ensuring that only reputable providers access the scheme and the Department now continually monitors their performance.

These changes should mean Government can now remove the significant administrative burden on providers and students and make it easier for students to access a range of qualifications and to progress accordingly.

I also will never understand why students accessing a VET loan must pay an additional 20% administrative fee, students of independent higher education providers also must pay a tax of 25% and yet students who choose a University don’t pay anything.

Let me explain the madness of it. If a student chooses a qualification that is also funded through a State or Territory subsidy they are exempt from the 20%, tax. Yet if an employer was to subsidise the student’s tuition, the student has to pay the 20% tax.

Why is the tax even in place but furthermore why punish students where they receive employer support and not if they receive taxpayer support?

Hard to fathom and quite simply inequitable.

Last week also saw the ALP announce a 14-member panel to oversight the development of its proposed National Review of Tertiary Education, should it win government.

The representatives on the panel include Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott, Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive James Pearson, ACTU secretary Sally McManus, National Tertiary Education Union president Jeannie Rea and Australian Education Union TAFE division secretary Pat Forward.

Universities will be represented by new Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson and TAFE by TAFE Directors Australia chairwoman Mary Faraone and chief executive Craig Robertson.

I am also on the panel as is former University of Technology Sydney vice-chancellor Ross Milbourne, higher education policy expert Mark Warburton, head of the Brotherhood of St Laurence policy and research centre Shelley Mallett, education policy expert Don Zoellner and former Labor deputy PM Brian Howe.

It is pleasing to be included and it might be an interesting ride.

My final comment this week is to reflect with tremendous sadness on the passing of Paul Rasmussen. Paul was a courageous and proud advocate for the not-for-profit sector and for private

providers more generally. I always loved his famous LinkedIn posts and his preparedness to offer a strong view. My condolences to his friends and family and I know he will be sorely missed.

Rod Camm
Chief Executive Officer


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