PC Review favours profit above ensuring TAFE’s future

The Productivity Commission National Agreement for Skills and Workforce Development Review Interim Report into the future of skills and workforce development in Australia favours private providers, increasing contestability, student loans and vouchers and fundamentally fails to ensure TAFE’s future as the pre-eminent public provider of high-quality Vocational Education and Training (VET) across the nation.

The Australian Education Union’s (AEU) submission to the review process has highlighted the abject failure of a decade of VET marketisation, contestability and privatisation by governments at all levels, and the catastrophic damage it has wrought on this sector:

  • VET funding was cut by more than 15% in the decade from 2007 to 2016 and government expenditure declined by 31.5% over that time.
  • As a result of this continual assault, TAFE enrolments have declined steadily in recent years, from nearly 800,000 in 2015 to 680,000 in 2017.
  • There are now over 4,600 active registered training providers, but only 96 of these providers have more than 100 full time students.
  • In 2018, states, territories and the Commonwealth spent a combined total of $6.1 billion on vocational education, a decrease of $135 million when compared to 2017.
  • In 2018, the Commonwealth contribution to all vocational education fell by $326 million (10.6%) , while Commonwealth contributions to public VET delivery fell by more than double that total, by 23.2%, in that year.
  • The number of government funded vocational education students has fallen by almost 17% since 2012 across all jurisdictions, but in TAFE, student numbers have fallen by 25%. Meanwhile, students enrolled in subjects not delivered as part of a nationally-recognised program (private providers) increased by 4.9% to 2.5 million people in 2018, compared with 2017.
  • Overall VET student numbers have also decreased by 1.5% to 4.1 million people in 2018, compared with 2017.

AEU Federal President Correna Haythorpe said the interim report’s focus on giving profit-seeking private training providers more access to public VET funding was appalling and would make it more difficult for Australian workers and apprentices to access high-quality public vocational education at a time when they are most urgently needed to help rebuild the economy.

“The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the urgent need for qualified workers across all industries to be able to adapt quickly to new opportunities when they arise,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“TAFE is the only institution with the infrastructure, the workforce and the trusted reputation to be able to provide high quality VET qualifications across the country today.”

“TAFE is Australia’s most trusted brand when it comes to the public provision of vocational education and training. The community knows, understands and values TAFE for what it is and what it offers. The Morrison Government has shown time and time again that it does not,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“Governments must prioritise investment in TAFE as the anchor institution of vocational education, to ensure that it is the centrepiece of rebuilding Australia’s economy,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“History has shown that private providers do not provide the skilled and highly qualified workforce to meet the needs of a changing economy.”

Ms Haythorpe said the Morrison Government should put TAFE at the forefront of the economic recovery process through immediate investment in infrastructure, equipment, staffing and programs.

“TAFE offers high quality vocational education at all levels, with nationally accredited programs, a highly qualified and experienced workforce, campuses across Australia, and it has the trust and respect of employers and the community,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“A strong, fully-funded TAFE sector must be at the centre of the Commonwealth’s response post COVID-19 so that Australia emerges in the best-possible social and economic condition.”

The AEU’s submission can be viewed here: https://www.pc.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/254862/subir104-skills-workforce-agreement.pdf

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