Representing quality private education
providers in Australia

For those who missed it....

Monday, July 9 2018

For those who missed it, last week saw the release of the latest publication from NCVER, reporting on government-funded vocational education and training students for 2017.

While government funded students now only make up around 28% of all students, the data still makes for interesting analysis.
There were 1.2 million government funded students across the country in 2017, a decrease of 5.9%. This is another decrease as a result of States and Territories continuing to remove funding from the sector. In terms of jurisdictions, New South Wales, while the largest provider of government-funded training, also experienced the largest decline of 6.8%.

In other fast facts, the ACT was the only jurisdiction that experienced growth of 6.0% and grew subject only enrolments by 5.3%.

South Australia reported the largest decline of 11.2%, symptomatic of the problems in TAFE SA and the lack of investment in other providers. The performance in other states and territories is captured in the graph below, courtesy of NCVER:

**Click to enlarge

There were commensurate declines in AQF qualifications, training package enrolments, non-award programs and skill sets. A sobering picture indeed. The decreasing funding has a had major impact, meaning government funded courses no longer are the major contributor to national skills development. This is a sad but a fact nonetheless.
However, more broadly we do need to use caution in interpreting the results. A full picture can only really be obtained from the Total VET Activity data. I have seen commentators using the data to lament the failure to fund TAFE and to question our qualification structures.

As I have written previously, I remain convinced that the industrial structure of qualifications does need urgent attention, to meet the needs of the future economy, the learning choices of students and the impact of the fourth industrial revolution.

In terms of providers, the fact remains that despite receiving the overwhelming majority of funding, the number of students enrolled in TAFE declined 5.8% and TAFE now deliver to 52% of total government funded students. The efficiency of independent providers is exemplified by the data. Using 2016 finance data as a proxy, independent providers received around 20% of total government expenditures and yet delivered to 40% of total students (noting a decline in students from 2016 of 8.1%)

Last week I also had the opportunity to attend the TEQSA engagement forum with higher education providers. TEQSA should be applauded for holding the two sessions so far. Regulation can only be improved through open and honest dialogue and that certainly happened. The CEO of COPHE, Simon Finn and I both presented to the forum on the issues impacting our industry.

While our industry supports TEQSA and the notion of a national regulator, there are issues emerging. The industry is in the midst of a regulatory super storm, where both TEQSA and government are doubling down on regulatory controls, in what has been described as a Vetification of higher education. This slide towards compliance does need to be addressed, as the industry need a regulatory partnership that builds the standards, rather than one that exerts control.

TEQSA acknowledges their current challenges in meeting timelines. These issues are impacting in a range of places, including in assessing reports against conditions and in removing conditions.

Independent providers need confidence and continuity to be able to raise capital and invest in infrastructure and resources to meet the growing needs of higher education. Independents can be characterised by their ability to be responsive and innovative, however there is a real fear that these attributes are being restricted by the regulator. A fear of failure and an inability to stretch the thinking of students through innovative qualifications will fail the future proof test.

Concerns continue to be raised about the TEQSA risk matrix that seems to start with the proposition that independent providers (particularly for-profits) are higher or high risk. This must be challenged

If the regulatory framework is fit for purpose and the partnership with industry is in place, independent providers, including for profits, can bring much needed investment in infrastructure, resources, academic rigour, teaching quality and student support to the market quickly.

The alternative of government funding everything seems very unlikely.

I look forward to continuing discussions.

For those who read last week’s NMU you would have noted some similar themes with my article regarding ASQA. I must say the Chief Commissioner Mark Patterson did contact me and discuss the piece. He certainly did not agree with some of my findings and we will continue to discuss the issues. The Commissioner needs to be congratulated for making the call.

He has also agreed to attend a national webinar with me to discuss the realities and perceptions of ASQA. More information on this will be available shortly.

To further test the industry’s views on the national regulator we have recently written out to members for feedback.

I will report that to you next week.

Rod Camm
Chief Executive Officer


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