Funding shift a threat to the teaching profession

Sue Simpson
Research Officer

The working conditions and salaries of professional teachers are threatened by governments transferring a greater proportion of public money for post school education into the hands of private providers.

The Federal Government is set to offer funding for higher education places (previously reserved for public universities) to private providers, and the State Government is opening up all vocational education and training funding to competition from private providers, at the expense of TAFE NSW.

As government education providers lose out on funding, jobs in the public sector will go. The private training sector employs trainers on contracts and is largely not unionised. In the bigger training companies the big salaries go to the executives and marketers.

Private providers’ business models rely on governments continuing to provide more public money for private training. More small private education companies are consolidating into larger corporations including ASX listed companies such as Vocation, whose board is chaired by John Dawkins, a former federal ALP Education Minister responsible for the 1980s deregulation of higher education. Government subsidies/funding currently contribute 80 per cent of Vocation’s revenue.

The Federal Government is advocating full fee deregulation in the higher education sector. Fee deregulation will lead to students paying more to increase corporate profits. In NSW, the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal has recommended that fees be deregulated in 2018. In response, the State Government said it would “consider the option of fee deregulation in the future”.

With fee deregulation students will be paying more to increase corporate profits.

The Stop the TAFE Cuts campaign is so important to counter the lobbying of corporate Australia.

Public providers, by not having to return a profit, have the least incentive to cut quality. They are accountable to parliament and subject to the scrutiny of the Auditor-General. TAFE has a tradition of providing second chance education by teachers paid a professional salary unlike contract trainers. The students more likely to be attending TAFE and studying lower level certificate courses are those who are more likely to struggle with their learning. According to ABS statistics between 50 per cent to 77 per cent of all people with a Certificate I–IV are classified with low level adult literacy, numeracy and problem solving skills. They need the best teaching.

The VET regulator Australian Skills Quality Authority is underfunded but nevertheless has identified 38.1 per cent of providers as having a “medium risk” rating. There are still private providers advertising “no upfront fees, and a free iPad to help you stay connected”. Quality can merely be the quality of the website and marketing rather than the quality of the instruction.

The Senate Education and Employment References Committee stated in its May report that it “heard no compelling evidence that opening TAFE up to full contestability benefits anyone but the private providers”. The Committee continued: “If TAFE has to compete on a cost basis only it will not survive and will be diluted to the point that its assets, in terms of expertise and capital infrastructure, will be lost.” The Committee was also “deeply concerned that services to people with disabilities may become a casualty of opening up the training market”.

Student fees

The Federal Budget cut funding for each university place by an average of 20 per cent. Universities will be able to set their own fees, so students are likely to have to make up the funding shortfall in the form of increased fees.

NSW TAFE students face fee increases in 2015 as the State Government introduces its Smart and Skilled policy.