In the Report on Government Services: Vocational Education and Training released at the end of January, the NSW Government summarised the unique strengths of TAFE NSW (see sidepanel), yet it plans to weaken the system.
No private provider can match the achievements of TAFE NSW as a universal education provider, accountable to the parliament of NSW. Students from disadvantaged groups are actively encouraged and supported to participate in TAFE. Private for-profit training providers such as Seek and Open Colleges, through their partnership arrangements with TAFE’s OTEN and North Coast Institute, exploit the quality of the TAFE brand to boost their own image, course offerings and profits. TAFE also provides secular education and training at a time when private providers who celebrate their religious ideology are expanding their offerings to cash in on courses that attract government funding including VET FEE HELP.
Sydney Institute of TAFE on its website states the importance of the stability of TAFE: “TAFE NSW has the financial stability and support of the NSW Government. As part of the NSW Government, TAFE NSW is a dependable organisation which students and industry can confidently rely on for the long term.”
Under successive budget cuts and with the government planning to destabilise TAFE NSW through TAFE having to compete for funding with for profit private providers under the misnamed Smart and Skilled, that stability and reliability as well as work to support disadvantaged students is being undermined.
Yet whilst for-profit private providers and their shareholders have profited from the carve-up of public institutions such as TAFE, the marketplace does not provide stability or certainty for students. Nor does it provide stability and certainty for the private providers and their investors. Navitas, an ASX listed company, has gained contracts for the delivery of English programs from public providers. At the end of January it was nervously awaiting a Federal Government decision on the renewal of $80 million work of adult migrant English programs in NSW. According to a report in the West Australian, the contracts account for 40 per cent of revenues of the $200 million a year Professional and English Programs division. Having vulnerable students shift between providers, as occurred in 2011, is hardly sound policy. Back then, students who had been studying with the government provider NSW AMES, had to read the sign: “From July 2011, you will study with a new organisation.” For many students that new organisation was Navitas.
The private for-profit providers are in a business to be profitable. In the main, they are run by entrepreneurs rather than educators. The business model relies on the employment of lowly paid trainers and assessors on a casual and contract basis. Their modes of delivery, on-line in particular, require less capital investment than TAFE with its high capital investment in buildings and equipment. The private providers must spend big on marketing to attract students. TAFE offers stability and quality.