TAFE gets a ‘long hard look’ in VET review

By Harley Dennett

Monday August 25, 2014

Career advisors, teachers, employers and students in vocational education and training are taking part in events for National Skills Week between August 25-31 across the country, under the theme The Magical Mystery Tour of Skills.

Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane told the national launch in Brisbane vocational education and training (VET) reform was government priority:

“The Australian Government’s reform agenda represents the first time in a long time that we have taken a long hard look at all aspects of the VET system.”

Streamlining the system, getting rid of red tape and consulting more with business will ensure Australia’s training system is second to none, Macfarlane says, signalling a move to more funding for employer-based VET programs and $476 million to the Industry Skills Fund, in lieu of additional support for education institutions. The VET sector will also be involved in the reform consultation, but the future of TAFE is not clear. Macfarlane said:

“We want young Australians to aspire to be among the skilled workers of the future who create and strengthen our Australian identity as a vibrant and skilled nation. We want graduates to wear their qualification as a badge of honour because vocational education and acquiring a trade are on par with a university degree.  To be a truly smart nation that can compete with the world’s best we need to guide more people into higher education no matter whether it’s via a university degree, completing an apprenticeship or through vocational education.”

Meanwhile, Peter Noonan from the Mitchell Institute for Health and Education Policy, an independent institute at Victoria University, has called on government to be clearer about the role of TAFE as the public VET provider in light of its shrinking market share of the sector.

TAFE may no longer be the major provider of VET in Australia in the future. Non-TAFE providers have increased their income by $950 million since 2008 as VET funding becomes more competitive. Noonan cites the examples in Victoria and South Australia where, under a “student entitlement” model, eligible students select their provider of choice to which funding is then directed proportionally to student enrolment:

“Since 2008 in Victoria TAFE market share of government funded student load has fallen from almost 70% to 45% and in South Australia, it fell from 71% in 2011 to 51% in 2012.

“TAFE’s loss of market share in Victoria was exacerbated in 2012 when specific funding to cover the costs of TAFE’s role as a public provider was cut. The cumulative effect of the funding changes has seen a deterioration in the overall financial position of TAFE in that state. Five institutes are rated by the Victorian Auditor General as having a high financial sustainability risk and eight as medium risk – although four institutes also recorded a surplus.

“Loss of market share should not be confused with lower enrolments. In both states – particularly Victoria – TAFE enrolments actually grew as the system expanded but at a far lower rate than private providers.”

Noonan says it’s essential the reasons for the loss of TAFE market share are analysed and understood at the institutional level, and by government as the owner.

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