Feds not answer for VET

Pat Forward
AEU Federal TAFE Secretary

Shifting responsibility for VET to the Commonwealth would see TAFE abandoned by a number of states and the collapse of public provision in this crucial sector of education

A federal takeover of vocational education and training (VET) would see the ultimate triumph of the privatisation agenda, and the destruction of the public TAFE system.

National leaders are considering the move following at the Australian Leaders' Retreat in July.

Currently, about 30 per cent of recurrent VET funding comes from the Commonwealth and 70 per cent from the states and territories.

There has been a largely bipartisan push from successive Commonwealth governments to privatise the VET system.

Recurrent VET funding to TAFE has declined by 25 per cent since 2004.

In 2013, 42 per cent of VET funding nationally was allocated contestably - that is, open to for-profit private providers - with close to 80 per cent contestable in Victoria and South Australia.

Meanwhile, the proportion of recurrent government funding allocated to VET FEE-HELP, a student loan scheme, has risen greatly, with those funds increasingly going to private, for-profit colleges as tuition fees.

In 2008, $25 million was expended on VET FEE-HELP. In 2014, this had grown to $1.6 billion, and by May 2015, $1.74 billion had been expended. If this figure stays on track, the VET FEE-HELP debt for 2015 will be close to $4 billion.

The total annual recurrent government funding for VET in 2013 was $5.8 billion. VET FEE-HELP is on track to equal to more than half of recurrent government VET funding by the end of 2015. More than 75 per cent of VET FEE-HELP goes to private for-profit colleges.

There has been no publicly available analysis of the impact and growth of VET FEE-HELP and its consequences for some of the most disadvantaged students in the Australian community. And it is worth remembering that fees in VET are completely deregulated, with the only limited on fees charged being the $95,000 limit on the amount of money a student can borrow.

Shifting responsibility for VET to the Commonwealth would see TAFE abandoned by a number of states and the collapse of public provision in this crucial sector of education.

The implications for individuals, the community and regions will be profound.

There will be a massive growth in student indebtedness, in a climate where the quality and usefulness of VET qualification has been called into question.

TAFEs will become residual providers in the states where they remain.

Pathways between VET and higher education will collapse, and employment outcomes in the sector will be undermined as employers continue to lose trust in the sector.

A federal takeover will not solve the problems of vocational education.

The states and territories, and the Commonwealth must work collaboratively to develop coherent policy in the vocational education sector. Each level of government must commit to the provision of public education through TAFE in this crucial education sector.

This is an edited version of Pat Forward's article at http://stoptafecuts.com.au/blog/commonwealth-takeover-vet-would-destroy-public-tafe-system/.