Kevin Bates
QTU President

President’s comment, 14 November 2012 

How COAG lends support to Gonski, TAFE and VET

The public release of the COAG Reform Council’s report Education 2011: Comparing performance across Australia provides compelling data on two major issues currently facing QTU members: the Gonski reforms and the review of TAFE and VET in Queensland.

In terms of Gonski, Deputy Chairman of the Council Professor Greg Craven said the report showed that more work is needed “to ensure that Indigenous students and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are not left behind”, both in education and employment prospects. Implementation of the Gonski funding reforms would target exactly that area of need. To quote Professor Craven, “education can shine a light on the path out of entrenched and multigenerational disadvantage”.

The report also focuses on “learning or earning” – that is, the proportion of 18 to 24-year-olds engaged in education, training or work. It notes that “the proportion of young people (18 to 24 years) who are fully engaged in post-school employment, education and training remains below the level in 2008” and that “the year 12 attainment rate needs to increase faster than the 2001 to 2011 trend to meet COAG’s target of 90% by 2015”.

Cue TAFE and VET in schools, both of which are in the Queensland Government’s sights through the Queensland Skills and Training Taskforce’s final report.

A previous comment raised concerns about the Taskforce’s narrow focus on industry needs at the expense of personal educational attainment, plus the potential massive impact on VET in schools that would come from the Taskforce’s recommendation to restrict VET revenue general funding to the “employment” category of VET in schools.

The Taskforce’s report repeatedly supports a “demand driven” funding model for TAFE – but clearly regards demand as valid only when it comes from industry. Even then the figures are a little rubbery: the report lends support to VET that in turn supports the LNP Government’s “four pillars” of resources, construction, agriculture and tourism, yet provides figures to show that only mining and agriculture had shown employment growth in the year to May 2012. Health and community services showed significant employment growth but are barely touched on in the report.

Yet to restrict discussion about TAFE and VET purely to direct employment paths misses the point of the critical role these education areas play in enabling individuals’ aspirations.

High schools keep older students engaged through multiple pathways and broad VET offerings. The alternative would be to risk losing many students who are not interested in traditional academic schooling. TAFE provides not only second-chance education for older students and workers who are retraining, but also provides post-school education in a huge range of areas from the arts to trades – areas that can keep young adults engaged in learning even if they have no personal aspirations to attend university, or who cannot find work particularly in regional areas.

The Taskforce report values education as meeting the “changing needs of industry”. It does little to value education as meeting the changing needs of society. I know there is a new frugality and obsession with productivity and “objective outcomes” in our educational and political world – but we should never underestimate the social value of education. 

Kevin Bates