Non-completion rates a waste of public funds

Dinoo Kelleghan

Billions spent on courses where students won't graduate

Extremely low course completion rates from VET private providers show how poorly Australians are served by governments taking billions of dollars away from the TAFE sector. These same governments are handing funds to private providers without any data to justify the spending.

TAFE has double the completion rate of private providers, newly-released national statistics say.

The National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) last month, for the first time, included statistics on private providers that paint a picture of wastage and, more importantly, “the ultimate betrayal of Australia’s disenfranchised”, the unemployed (“Leg-up for the needy transformed into an expensive debacle”, The Australian, November 11).

Private providers now have double the number of students as TAFE Australia-wide, 2.3 million compared to 1.1 million, the NCVER said.

Between 2009 and 2012 — when other state and territory governments increased their funding levels to private providers, increasing their participation in the VET sector — fewer than one in five students finished their courses.

Last month the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) said one private college, Cornerstone/Empower Institute, received $46 million in government money and graduated just five students from 4000 enrolments last year; another, Keystone/College of Creative Design and Arts, had a completion rate of 11 per cent.

TAFE teachers have long pointed out that the private providers make money by focusing on low-cost online courses in Management and Commerce, leaving the heavy lifting of high-cost courses to TAFE.

The NCVER report bears this out: in 2014, with private providers dominating provision, more courses were taken externally across Australia (47 per cent compared to 45 per cent internal) with 44 per cent of enrolments in Management and Commerce. Dodgy private providers aim online courses at unemployed people – only about 8 per cent of whom are estimated to complete these courses, the NCVER says.

Course non-completion does not prevent the providers pocketing the fees. With VET Fee-Help easily accessible to private providers, fees — paid with taxpayer funds — have risen from $25.6m in 2009 to $1.75 billion in 2014, roughly $60,000 per diploma course, about twice the cost of a university degree.

One media report suggests that since 2009, up to $6 billion in public money has been given to private providers via VET students who have not, and will not graduate.

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