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Edition 481, 8 October 2012

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The flat earth society and VET reform

Monday, October 8 2012

The on-going TAFE centric hysteria portrayed in certain media reports would see private providers side-lined and quite simply ignores the reality that we live in a competitive, democratic society that espouses freedom of choice in a free market environment. Our nation and our students deserve an education and training sector that reflects quality, which is responsive and productive while encouraging innovation – nothing more, nothing less.

Having read two of the lead articles in the current edition of Campus Review, Crisis in sector requires national inquiry by TAFE Directors Martin Riordan and Balanced budgets sink public interest by John Mitchell, I couldn’t but help thinking of the tenaciousness of the Flat Earth Society.  Members of this society are of the belief that the earth is a flat disk centered at the North Pole and bounded along its southern edge by a wall of ice, with the sun, moon, planets, and stars only a few hundred miles above the surface of the earth. The society is going well, has podcasts and hosts forums that act as a conduit for free thinking and debate. Indeed, TAFE too has a pivotal role to play, but is no longer the centre of the VET universe.

In Mitchell’s article, Professor John Quiggin of the University of Queensland is quoted as describing the free market ideology in VET as “incredibly short sighted” and observes that “I think we will continue to see many examples of (dodgy) educational institutions. They are going to be much more common than examples of successful profit driven training or educational enterprises”.  Quiggin is also stated as commenting “the general principles of competition policy were being pushed in a number of areas, such as international education, and have largely blown up in governments’ faces.”  A strange observation given international education is our third or fourth largest export industry.  What’s $18 billion give or take a billion amongst friends? 

Martin Riordan’s article calls for a national enquiry into the VET sector and observes that private colleges are in meltdown while also being critical of ASQA wasting money in regulating “what amounts to 90% of providers for 10% of public VET training effort.”   ASQA Chief Commissioner Chris Robinson is on record at the ACPET National Conference as acknowledging that around 5% of providers are considered to be risk of some sort, so I would rather take it that 95% are doing the right thing. And I fail to see how guaranteed taxpayer funding to an institution is a measure of quality.

As for the real figures, NCVER data reveals that of the publicly funded students 66.3% of students are at TAFE, 6.8% at Community colleges with some 25.6% at other providers (as in not TAFE).  It is interesting that over 80% of international VET students in Australia choose a private provider, and when domestic fee-for-service is taken into account, it is obvious that private VET RTOs are the dominant provider.  

Both articles make claims as to the waning quality of private VET provision, yet the figures speak for themselves.   In Victoria, the combination of funding to public and private providers has seen dramatic improvements to better meet areas of industry importance. For example between 2010 and 2011:

  • 16% increase of training in skill shortage areas and 24% in apprenticeships and traineeships
  • 80.5% of students gained employment after undertaking their study with a private provider
  • 75% of youth were in a job within 12 months of completing their study with a private provider

Employment outcomes for disadvantaged groups meet or are above the national average. E.g., 60.9% of Victorians with disabilities are now in employment in comparison to only 53.3% nationally. The number of Koorie students undertaking VET has grown by as much as 30 per cent since the introduction of the Victorian Training Guarantee.  Importantly employer satisfaction levels with the delivery of nationally recognised training, is higher with the services offered by private providers at 92% compared to TAFE at 85%.

The current  education and training reforms are not perfect, and we will still have individual states and territories driving their own agendas, but underpinned by a common understanding that enhanced delivery and value-for-money are a given.

Time to step up to that plate again, but don’t stand too close to the edge as you might fall off.

For more on the flat Earth Society, please go to


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