House of Representatives Inquiry into TAFE

review

From: House of Representatives Inquiry into TAFE, May 2013,  http://bit.ly/1JY3XxQ

Contents

Introduction

1. TAFE’s contribution to the development of skills in the Australian economy.

2. TAFE’s contribution to the development of opportunities for Australians to improve themselves and increase their life and employment prospects

3. TAFE’s role in the delivery of services and programs to support regions, communities and disadvantaged individuals to access training and skills and through them a pathway to employment.

4. TAFE and the operation of a competitive training market.

5. TAFE in those jurisdictions in which State Governments have announced funding decisions which may impact on their operation and viability.

6. Conclusions

There is broad agreement about the need to increase the stock of skills and knowledge in Australia, for both economic and social purposes. Governments have affirmed through the Council of Australian governments the central role of the VET system in meeting this need and have equally acknowledged the underpinning role of TAFE in the VET system.

The National Partnership Agreement entered into at the COAG meeting of 13 April 2012 was intended to ensure accessibility and equity, transparency, quality, responsiveness and efficiency of the VET system. It also committed governments to “the development and implementation of strategies which enable public providers to operate effectively in an environment of greater competition.”

The agreement set out the respective responsibilities of the various jurisdictions – Commonwealth, State and Territory – and areas of shared responsibility. However, a little after a year since its execution, the partnership has apparently broken down in key respects, principally to do with overall VET funding and around maintaining the capacity of TAFE, as evidenced by the impasse between the Commonwealth and several States over incentive funding.

Over the past year, the long run decline in relative VET funding identified by AWPA has been exacerbated by funding cuts in most jurisdictions, which have particularly impacted TAFE. As put by the chief executive of the Australian Industry Group, VET funding has become an increasingly a discretionary budget item – a source of budget savings. There is merit in a review of VET funding as proposed by AWPA and that it specifically encompass a “TAFE base funding review” in order to establish the minimum funding required to sustain the public provider network in its role as a comprehensive service provider.

The outcomes of such a review could form the basis of a new National Partnership Agreement on Skills, in much the same way as the Gonski Review established the basis for the proposed National School Improvement Plan and the Bradley Report established the basis for higher education funding reform. Such an agreement would need provide for maintenance of overall effort – that is, at the very least, current funding levels per student contact would need to be maintained, which would require increases in funding in line with growth in participation.

The agreement would formally recognise role of TAFE as a comprehensive service provider and require, as a condition of funding, for appropriately maintaining this role through funding separate to generally contestable funding. Consideration needs to be given to the efficacy of current national arrangements. While a transfer of responsibilities for post-secondary education and training to the Commonwealth would seem the neatest and optimal outcome, it seems not to be a practical option for the immediate future.

AWPA’s predecessor, Skills Australia, proposed, instead, a clear differentiation of government roles premised on:  the Australian Government driving coherence of national strategy, policy, regulation and standards;  the key focus of state and territory governments residing in service delivery—streamlining for consistency; comprehensibility and ease of access; maximising of service impact; and providing seamless support for clients and users.

The current National Partnership Agreement has failed to create the clarity, certainty and consistency necessary for effective national arrangements and a new agreement needs to focus on establishing such arrangements. With the emergence of many TAFE institutes as truly multi-sector providers, with growing regulatory frameworks serve to constrain TAFE’s multi-sector operations and need to be revised to remove such constraints. In particular, the withholding of a Commonwealth tuition subsidy from students undertaking higher education in TAFE cannot be justified on either policy or equity grounds.

Likewise, denying TAFE institutes access to streamlined international student visa arrangements cannot be justified given that TAFE institutes share more or less those characteristics of universities which provide the rationale for granting the streamlined arrangements to universities.

COMMENT: 

While the provision of high quality public vocational education and training (VET) through TAFE has been under threat across the nation for decades, it has intensified dramatically in recent years.

Driven by privatisation and marketization, government policies have used workforce casualization, breakdown of the statewide system into stand-alone institutes, administrative and industrial separation of TAFE from the schools sector, introduction of ever increasing fees and so-called competitive tendering to undermine TAFE as the pre-eminent provider of VET.

These policies neglect the needs of students, communities and the nation as a whole, by turning VET provision over to private companies whose primary purpose is to profit financially.

This approach epitomises state and federal governments’ abrogation of their core responsibility to provide high quality public education that enables individual students to realise their potential in education, work and life, and that builds the knowledge, expertise and skills base that underpins our socially cohesive, democratic and economically prosperous nation.

Essentially, TAFE has been in a state of transition since the mid-1980s, when VET was moved toward a national system and aligned more directly to industry. Increasingly, there has been contestation between state and federal governments over curriculum, regulation and funding. Since the late 1990s, TAFE has been under growing pressure through a decline in real funding and a steady increase in enrolments.

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