“Disingenuous”: giving the false appearance of being honest or sincere [in VET issues]


Above all, governments seemed then and now unable to face up to the factors that would be necessary to make TAFE institutes ready for flat playing field competition. (Robin Ryan, Evidence free policy, Campus Review, 17 November 2008, 11)


In an astonishingly frank article, Robin Ryan (2008: 11) who was involved in the development of marketisation policies in VET, argues that these policies were developed on the basis of little evidence. ( Evidence free policy, Campus Review, 17 November 2008, 11)


Anytime there is an unintended outcome from marketisation policies, governments (particularly the Victorian State Government) assert that the problem is that
the settings aren’t right, and they just need to be tweaked. It seems there are no circumstances under which governments (again, particularly the Victorian State Government) are willing to concede that markets cause problems, and that non-market mechanisms are needed to ensure we have a strong and viable VET system with strong public providers that are able to support a strong society and economy. (Wheelahan)

Education is what economists call an “experience good” – meaning it’s impossible to judge the value of a course of study until you’ve completed it and tried to use it to get a job or undertake further study. That’s why, in a fast-changing marketplace fuelled by taxpayer subsidies, trying to regulate by giving more information to students will not work.

Many people accept the disingenuous arguments and the mis-statements of facts (even by omission) of those who write to support a doubtful and unsound, subjectively-based education cause. There is no empirical evidence that privatisation of education improves, quality, efficiency, effectiveness, accessibility, etc. Many private providers seek Government subsidies for low risk, high earning courses and are driven primarily by the aim of making a large profit.

The “obvious” is sometimes the most difficult thing to discern, and few things (at least to me) are more amusing than the efforts of people who purport that they keep “open minds” about the “self-evident facts”, and then create smoke and mirrors leading to outright denial.

An all-time achiever in this category are those who do not face the fact that there is a major problem in the privatisation model of vocational educational and training in Australia. http://bit.ly/1O7pHdohttp://bit.ly/1crZVzt,

I am regularly told, by some practitioners, that only a “few” Private Registered Training Organisations do the wrong thing, and this is their evidence that the System works.

The facts tell a different story, as demonstrated by the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA)  Regulatory decisions – http://bit.ly/1DhvCEy

It is somewhat puzzling that the same people readily resort to ridicule and personal attack of others who are facing the reality and begin to offer strategic approaches to reverse the negative direction, based on objective and evidence-based solutions.

Independently determined facts

Here are some of the known, independently determined facts, by Workplace Research Centre, The University of Sydney, http://bit.ly/1EKeWIy

The complete marketisation of VET has come at great cost to taxpayers without achieving the objectives of the reforms, which were to:

• Improve training accessibility, affordability and depth of skills, including through the introduction of a national training entitlement and increased availability of income contingent loans;

• Encourage responsiveness in training arrangements by facilitating the operation of a more open and competitive training market;

• Assure the quality of training delivery and outcomes, with emphasis on measures that give industry more confidence in the standards of training delivery and assessment;

• Provide greater transparency through better information to ensure consumers can make informed choices, governments can exercise accountability, This report finds:

• The behaviour of for-profit providers has served to undermine confidence in vocational qualifications and taken advantage of students unable to make informed decisions

• Disadvantaged students are under-represented in for-profit VET providers and TAFE and other public providers continue to enrol most early school leavers, regional students, and students with a disability

VET for-profit providers are also avoiding offering courses in skill shortage areas like the trades (which are often expensive to provide and may be subject to more rigorous quality assurance), instead focusing on high volume, high profit areas like business studies.

• Students not eligible for an entitlement place are vulnerable to increasingly high fees, which in many cases are not capped. The availability of VET FEE HELP loans has encouraged some for-profit VET providers to sign up students to loans they have little realistic prospect of repaying.

• The current regulatory arrangements have failed to address serious quality issues in the forprofit VET sector, which has engaged in practices including subcontracting delivery, one hundred per cent online delivery, and allowing students to complete qualifications in less than a quarter of the nominal duration.

• The complexity of the operations of for-profit providers casts considerable doubt on whether regulators can possibly stay abreast of the operations of for-profit providers, particularly given limited disclosure requirements and audits which occur on average once every five years.

Key design features of the current system

The key design features of the current system – one hundred percent contestable funding and risk-based regulation – will fail to deliver the assumed price and quality benefits of a competitive market because of two factors:

1) Education is an ‘experience good’ – no amount of information (for regulators or students) can overcome the fact that its quality can only be evaluated after its consumption, and

2) The sector is characterised by imperfect competition between profit-seeking (and increasingly larger) providers whose business models have scant regard for educational standards.

These two factors combined point to sustained profitability and poor quality educational outcomes in the for-profit sector (even with regulatory changes), and few of the public benefits that theoretically accrue from a (perfectly) competitive market. All other educational sectors – from early childhood education and care to higher education – receive vastly more public funding (on a per student basis) and far greater regulatory scrutiny to deliver quality outcomes.

TAFEs just can’t fairly compete with private providers

TAFEs just can’t fairly compete with private providers who can choose to offer only profitable training courses and to educate only students of their choice – usually those who can pay high fees and from relative advantage. Some recognition of this public role of TAFEs needs to be built into the funding system.

A cap on the funding available to private operators would give TAFEs some certainty about their operations and ensure they remain the custodians of high-quality vocational training.

If a more sustainable funding model for TAFE is not found, then it is very likely that public confidence in the entire system of vocational qualifications will be fatally eroded, robbing future generations of a chance to improve their skills and find quality jobs.

We need to recognise that the rhetoric of privatisation has not matched reality, and work out how to shift to a system that reliably delivers what students expect – a high-quality course at a fair price.

More on this: http://bit.ly/1crZVzt


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