TAFEs role from “Social Service” and “Economic Utility” Perspectives


Extracts from: 30 Years on from Kangan: An Analysis of the Current Policy Position of TAFE Queensland, GREG MCMILLAN, Doctorate Dissertation, 2007

The ……. literature indicates that there has been a policy shift for TAFE, away from the core social service principles espoused in the Kangan Report (1974) to one that places more emphasis on the economic utility role undertaken by TAFE than the traditional social service role.

What needs to be clarified is whether the current policy position shift of TAFE with respect to the emphasis placed on a social service and economic utility role is supported.

TAFE’s Role from a Social Service Perspective

A social service view of TAFE`s role extends beyond meeting the needs of certain
disadvantaged groups. The concept of TAFE`s social service role is embedded in a
number of interpretations of the role of education, particularly those provided by the
Government provider. This social service role for TAFE provides a framework for
education, not simply training, and a broad base of access by the community (Ferrier
& Anderson, 1998; Kangan, I974; Powles & Anderson, 1996), although it does not
ignore the economic benefits gained from education and training (Ferrier &
Anderson, 1998; Kangan, I974; Lloyd. 1976).

A social service role for TAFE, as presented by Powles and Anderson (1996), provides a system that focuses on individual needs and outcomes; multiple pathways and outcomes; is student centred in terms of course entry; is a publicly funded system; and has a broad approach to equity goals. In a social service paradigm, TAFE`s role can be described as a view whereby “the individual is TAFE’s primary focus and equity of access within a broad framework of social concern is the guiding principle” (Powles & Anderson, 1996, p.98).

This view means that in addition to teaching specific vocational skills, the acquiring of knowledge and skills as the development of adaptability, social responsibility and the personal development of the student should be supported. It reflects the original purpose and role of TAFE as identified by the Kangan Report (I974) that chose to emphasise a focus on the individual learner and accessibility over a narrower emphasis on meeting the ‘manpower` needs of the economy. Under a social service view of TAFE, the issue of access and equity is reflected in a broad concem of “what is fair for all” (Hattam & Smyth. 1998, p.136).

Nationally, TAFE provides education and training to a diverse group of people with special needs such as low income earners who cannot afford university, private RTO or corporate training, people who do not complete secondary school and are looking or a second chance opportunity in an adult environment, the unemployed, remote or rural communities, Indigenous people, people with recognised disabilities and people from non-English speaking backgrounds (NCVER, 2005). With TAFE providing opportunities for such a diverse group of people, many who have not previously had success in a formal education setting, a measure of ‘success` may be simply attending one class or participating in a program.

Qualification outcomes, jobs attained or promotions received, while perhaps ultimate goals are not always the primary purpose for the individual student enrolling into a TAFE course. For example, in 2004, 30.7% of VET students, the majority of whom were TAFE students, were not studying Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) recognised qualifications (NCVER, 2005). ’I’hat is, their studies were not directly tied to the national approved qualifications framework, which meant they were undertaking programs that were non-formal in nature and had more to do with individual development than competencies aligned to specific industry sectors.

Adult and community education (ACE) provision caters for individual needs and performs a key social service educative function in the community. ACE provides both vocational and non-vocational training, accredited and non-accredited training and supports a lifelong learning paradigm. ACE is an example of the development of social capital through less formal education (Birch, Kenyon, Koshy, & Wills- Johnson, 2003). ACE is adult learner focussed and delivered by a wide range of providers, including mainstream VET providers such as TAFE and private registered training organisations, but also by smaller, local community providers.

However, there is inconsistency and a lack of coherence in defining ACE activity across
Australia (Birch et al., 2003). In Queensland, while some adult and community education activity occurs within TAFE Institutes, ACE is seen more as a community owned and managed activity (Volkoff, Golding & Ienkin, I999). This view of ACE, for example, is reflected in the national statistics on ACE activity where Victoria and NSW represented 86% of the reported ACE activity (NCVER, 2001). The implication is that there is either a lack of commitment to ACE activity by the other states, or what may be termed ACE activity by Victoria and NSW is not being recognised as such by the other states.

A social service view of TAFE`s role is underpinned by an ideological commitment to the public good and social development. In this context, while TAFE has a role to play in the provision of` skilled and qualified people for the betterment of industry, e-commerce and the economy, its central role is to meet people`s broader education needs.

TAFE’s Role from an Economic Utility Perspective

The rationale of an economic utility perspective of TAFE is that the economy is the key driver behind the development of a VET system, and in this context, TAFE is seen by government as one channel through which to promote national economic development (Powles & Anderson, 1996). An economic utility role for TAFE, as presented by Powles and Anderson (1996), provides for a system that focuses on industry needs and economic outcomes; that provides for pathways that support the economic benefit and market value of a qualification; and that is industry demand driven. It suppons a user pays system and sees equity goals as market issues whereby selective subsidies off-set any individual disadvantage.

The economic rationale is that the economy drives enrolments, determines their social distribution, and influences the nature of student demand. In a neo-classical economic rationalist environment, governments seek to minimise ‘frivolous consumption’ through the management of education and training as a commercial transaction.

Seeing education and training as a commercial transaction minimises the emphasis of education and training as a process of social and cultural formation (Marginson, 1993). In a human capital context, education becomes skill formation, with the objective of boosting industry productivity and competitiveness rather than contributing to social and personal development (Marginson, 1993, Powles & Anderson, 1996). From this perspective, a lifelong learner is seen as a person who is prepared to invest time, money and effort in education and training on a continuous basis (Watson, Kearns, Grant, & Cameron, 2000).

One of the key characteristics of the TAFE sector, and arguably one of its greatest challenges, is its diversity. In 2004 in excess of 1.6 million students in Australia were enrolled in a broad range of qualifications, competencies and non-award courses and programs (NCVER, 2005). Compare this with the 430,265 enrolled students reported at the time of Kangan (I974) and it is evident that the TAFE sector has grown significantly in its impact on the general population and labour market.

Given that this rapid growth needs to be funded, and given limited government contributions, the issue of funding is potentially one of the significant elements that has influenced an apparent shift towards a more economic focus on TAFE.

More than any other education sector, the rationale for VET is explicitly economic; a key manifestation of this economic focus can be seen in the ANTA principles for the National Training Reform Agenda presented in 1994 (Burke, McKenzie, Magle, Selby-Smith, Perrier, & Selby-Smith, 1994). Further, it was during the 1990s that the concept of a training market was introduced into the policy discourse on VET in Australia (Anderson, 1996).

The Deveson Report (1990) identified this focus as a central feature of VET reform; it has been reflected in such activities as the overseas marketing of VET through governments, TAFE and Private RTO’s; an increase in competitive tendering that provided opportunities for an increase in private provider entering this new training market; and a new focus on the themes of choice, diversity, efficiency, client focus, consumer sovereignty and competition.

The features of a training market provide a stark contrast to the traditional Kangan focus of TAFE that functioned in a non-rnarket environment, insulated from pressures of resources and clients, with public access heavily subsidised and rationed by government (Smith et al., I999). In essence the early 1990`s period was predicated upon a concentration on supply, though there was also a shift towards making the market more contestable than in the 1980’s and earlier.

During the 1980s and l990s there was an ascendancy of economic rationalism and a preoccupation with economic objectives in debates about public education policy (Powles & Anderson, 1996). This ascendancy has seen a shift towards a user pays environment and an access and equity policy that focuses on identified target groups rather than a broader or more inclusive view of access and equity for all. However, it has also seen the development of a TAFE sector arguably more responsive to industry, government and clients needs.

What underpins an economic utility role of TAFE is an ideological commitment to economic growth and industry priorities.

The question of what is an appropriate role for TAFE is not new. The tensions that
arise between a social service and economic utility paradigm can be related to a
series of models for TAFE developed by Ryan and Schofield (1990, pp10-I2). The
following examples drawn from these models demonstrate the complexity around
developing either a social service or economic utility model for TAFE.

For example, from a social service view, the ‘Comprehensive Model’ conceptualises the Kangan philosophy that esteems equally the vocational, community and second chance
education functions. Fees for individuals, under this model, would be minimal and
would not be used as a rationing device. ‘l`he ‘Entitlement Model` is a socially responsive model that recognises that individuals are entitled to a measure of training from the public purse. An economic element of this model would suggest that beyond the initial entitlement, a level of contribution from the beneficiary is appropriate.

From an economic utility view, the ‘Industrial Efficiencies Model` reflects the
economic rationalist agenda and would provide TAFE with clear goals as an
economic development contributor, given limited resources that need to be optimally used. Equity and access are not necessarily irrelevant, but are viewed in relation to providing employable skills to disadvantaged (identified) groups.

The ‘Market Place Model` recognises that TAFE is only part of a wider market and favours a more level playing field, supporting a greater, if not total use, of a user-pays regime.

The ‘Public Policy Model’ is a blended model that encompasses a number of` other
models, but is focussed on the issue that TAFE is available to deliver on specific
government policies, regardless of the social or economic emphasis of  the policy of
the day. This model recognises that it is a traditional and legitimate function of` State
governments to implement Commonwealth policy, in this case, using the State TAFE
sector as the policy vehicle.

Ryan and Schofield (1990) argue that it is not possible to fully separate each view of
the role of  TAFE as depicted by each model. Each model has an element of several
models; however, there are sufficient differences in underlying values to distinguish
each model in its own right. The models ground an argument that each of them has
its own underlying values and that there will be tensions between a social service and
economic utility paradigm. Chapter Three builds on the options identified by Ryan
and Schofield (1990) to create a model that captures the social service and economic
utility view of the role of` TAFE.

Vocational education and training in Australia is now a federally driven system with
performance outcomes measured through compliance with the regulatory
frameworks identified (particularly) within the AQTF. This strategic focus on
economic measures has created tension between social and economic roles for

A key example of these tensions is evidenced through a shift in the premise of TAFE as a supplier driven organisation to one that is demand driven, with the need for this industry demand stance stemming from a view that TAFE was unresponsive to industry needs. The advocates for this shift to a market (or demand) driven paradigm have argued that it would be achieved through creating a competitive market in which TAFE and private providers operate; developing a national policy, planning and regulation regime that is driven by training needs of employers and industry; increasing flexibility in content and delivery of vocational education and training; and by developing the concept of ‘user choice’ that provides an opportunity for employers and uainees to select their registered training organisation, attracting the associated public funding through this process (Fooks et al., 1997).

This watershed brought a range of concepts such as competition, demand driven, client focus and an emphasis on training rather than education to TAFE management. Fooks et al. (1997) suggest that TAFE can be a full competitor in a market driven VET system, while at the same time meeting its obligations as the major public provider of vocational education and training. Many of these concepts, particularly those that focus on client satisfaction and organisational efficiency, can be seen as constructive, positive, and potentially necessary shifts for the ongoing viability of a healthy and strong TAFE sector.

Again, it is a question of balance.

How much efficiency, how much accountability, and how much competition are enough? If the premise is that TAFE should be a privatised, commercial operation, then TAFE would be faced with no more or less social service obligations than any other private training provider. However, as the public provider, TAFE Institutes are arguably becoming more challenged in having to deal with somewhat conflicting obligations – meeting social service obligations and maintaining fmancially sound public service businesses.

The literature supports the conclusion that TAFE has traditionally fulfilled both a social and economic role. However, over recent years, a strong argument in the literature indicates that policy has shifted towards a more significant emphasis on the economic role, at the expense of fulfilling the broader social role. This thesis aims to contribute to a body of research in this field by providing a greater understanding of the nature of the social and economic roles of TAFE Queensland, as evidenced both by policy documents and perceptions held by senior policy personnel.

The influence of a neo-liberal perspective has manifested itself in the development of
a VET market that has provided opportunities for private training providers to
contest for funds and compete in markets that had been the traditional domain of
TAFE. The framework presented by Powles and Anderson (1996) provides an appropriate
means for analysing a policy position of TAFE Queensland since it identities a range
of social service and economic characteristics. Work undertaken by Ryan and Schofield (1990), Anderson (1994), Powles and Anderson (1996), Kilpatrick and Allen (2001) and Ryan (2002) suggest that it is not possible to treat a social service and economic role of TAFE as a dualism; that is, as a set of distinct and irreconcilable differences. Rather, they are dualities in that the characteristics of a social service and economic utility role are a set of related factors.

The ……. literature indicates that there has been a policy shift for TAFE, away from the core social service principles espoused in the Kangan Report (1974) to one that places more emphasis on the economic utility role undertaken by TAFE than the traditional social service role.


What needs to be clarified is whether the current policy position shift of TAFE with respect to the emphasis placed on a social service and economic utility role is supported.


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