Federal plan alone won't quench TAFE's funding thirst

It has, as they say, been a long time between drinks for the TAFE system. 
Around the country there has been an inexorable push to separate vocational education and training from the schools sector and to corporatise and marketise activity.

With this comes a lowering of real funding as calls for efficiency drive the price of a student contact hour down. Most of this has been done under the auspices of federal policy initiatives starting in the Howard era and perpetuated until recently by Labor.

However, in recent comments, the Federal Minister Chris Evans indicated that this year’s Council of Australian Governments (COAG) proposals for VET would seek to emphasise the importance of public provision through TAFE or its equivalent.

Julia Gillard released the federal government’s “Skills for all Australians: national reforms to skill more Australians and achieve a more competitive, dynamic economy” on 19 March. In some cases merely reinforcing commitments that have been made in the 2010 and 2011 budgets, no additional funding has been announced as a part of the plan. Given the 25 per cent decline in funding in real terms since 1997, TAFE won’t be taking any long cool drinks any time soon.

At the centre of the document are proposals around a national shift in responsibility for funding of vocational study. A “national training entitlement” will fund qualifications up to certificate III. Students studying government-subsidised qualifications at diploma and above which have up-front fees will be eligible for an income contingent loan (ICL), just like those students studying full fee for service courses. Certificate IV seems to have escaped the attention of the policy makers, being eligible for neither the training entitlement nor the ICL.

It is proposed that a strengthened quality regime will be a condition of the ability to offer ICLs. The low trust , high surveillance environment will continue, despite the current failure of such mechanisms to rein in the worst excesses of dodgy providers. No mention is made of resourcing the professionalisation of the VET workforce, for instance, providing funding for a structured mandatory professional development scheme linked to teacher qualifications.

The one ray of sunshine is that the federal government will require a statement of intent from the states illustrating how TAFEs will be maintained within the contestable environment. But there are no details as to what the federal government is looking for.

What is needed is real action and leadership from the federal government to match the vey fine rhetoric and the pretty pictures that adorn the policy document.

David Terauds
TAFE Organiser

Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 117 No 3, 20 April 2012, p19