23 June 2016

To rescue TAFE and restore faith in vocational education, PUT THE LNP LAST on 2 July.

The opportunity for change is now

This election is our last best chance to put accountability and rigor back into the vocational education system in Australia and restore TAFE to its central role in providing skills and knowledge for future prosperity.

The difference in policy and action is stark and cannot be ignored. The LNP proposes more of the same, while Labor has presented a comprehensive plan for growth and change.

The LNP has failed students and ignored TAFE

The evidence pointing to the maladministration of the VET sector by the current Coalition federal government is overwhelming.

A question on notice from the Senate’s Education and Employment Committee has clearly outlined that falling asleep at the wheel of the VET FEE HELP scheme has resulted in a policy crash of epic proportions. Billions of dollars have been wasted, with students having been deceived and ripped off. There are thousands of potentially worthless qualifications issued and in circulation, undermining the integrity of the national system.

The evidence is that some of the top private providers in the country graduated so few students in 2014 that the effective dollar cost per student graduating is counted in the millions. One of the worst examples, Cornerstone Investments, received over $46 million for enrolling 4,251 VET FEE-HELP students in 2014. Cornerstone subsequently graduated only two students, putting the cost of a graduate at $23,068,008.00 each.

Examples of the government’s lack of focus on the get-rich-quick scheming of for-profit RTOs include:

  • the federal education department’s failure to share information with the regulator about dramatic increases in the numbers of RTOs accessing VET FEE-HELP
  • a drop in the number of ASQA audits in the 2014/15 financial year, despite increased student complaints
  • for-profit providers ignoring regulatory mechanisms by continuing to use brokers and inducements for enrolments and false claims of ‘free’ training
  • use of court action by for-profit RTOs to prevent student fee hold-backs or increased transparency and regulation
  • the rapid decline in the international reputation of the Australian VET sector
  • the recall of thousands of qualifications from for-profit RTOs.

The Coalition is on record as claiming that the solution is to be found in continued support for unchanged market policies, with more regulation.

TAFE first to grow jobs: the Labor policy alternative

Labor Party policy is aimed at centralising TAFE in a viable national system and restoring faith in vocational education, which is addressed through a number of key policy measures.

The proposed National Priority Plan confirms TAFE as the foundation of training for the community and its importance in regions and to the disadvantaged. This will be a collaborative federal and state endeavour identifying the uniqueness of TAFE’s role as public provider.

Supporting TAFE through the TAFE Funding Guarantee will ensure certainty and will follow from a long overdue review of the TAFE system. There has been no comprehensive review since the Kangan Report under Whitlam in 1974.

Defending TAFE and students from dodgy profit-gouging providers is the aim of an $8,000 per annum loan cap on the VET FEE-HELP scheme. This measure is aimed at winding back the blowout in funding while protecting reputable institutions.

Restoring apprenticeship numbers by mandating apprenticeship quotas will increase the numbers of the real trade qualified workers needed for future industry.

The aim of the proposed Apprentice Ready scheme, which will be TAFE delivered, is building capacity through 10,000 places in pre-apprenticeship courses. TAFE-based student/industry liaison officers will work with students and their employers to improve the retention rate.

Recognising the skills of existing workers through a National Skills Recognition Entitlement Program will help those needing to change careers in a dynamic and transitioning economy.

No for-profit funding from government: the Greens policy alternative

The Greens policy platform maintains that government funding should be for non-profit and public VET providers. They state that they would phase out public funding of privately provided VET where TAFE can provide the same educational and training outcomes. Their position maintains a distinction between private provision and for-profit provision.

The Greens propose a fee and charges-free TAFE system, eliminating the need for income contingent loans, with the Commonwealth Government increasing its contribution to the costs of maintaining a high quality and accessible system. They identify the need for VET funding priorities to balance student needs, employment demand, and the need to provide skills for satisfying and sustainable employment.

They would place educators in a key role in developing and reviewing training packages. In addressing the over-casualisation of the TAFE educator workforce, the Greens would introduce a benchmark throughout public and private VET providers requiring 80 per cent of teaching to be undertaken by permanent staff.

As well, the Greens identify the need to ensure that the VET education regulator is strong and well-resourced in order to maintain quality and standards protecting the interests of students and staff.

With regards to apprenticeships, the Greens advocate direct government support for apprentices, including help to pay for apprentice training, tools and equipment, and a living allowance. They will seek to increase the availability of apprenticeships, in rural and regional Australia and other locations where there is a shortage.

The choice: quality through TAFE or the race to the bottom.

While both major parties have contributed in varying degrees to the current mire that vocational education finds itself in, it is clear in the evidence and the policy papers that the Coalition sees a no-change future as the best option for meeting the vocational education needs of the country. Labor, on the other hand, has provided a vision of restoring TAFE to its central and core role of offering a future to the communities and individuals that rely on it.

To secure a future for TAFE, it is important to put the LNP last on 2 July. Certainly, they have put TAFE not even second.

 Authorised by Graham Moloney, General Secretary, Queensland Teachers' Union