Where to for the VET sector?
The last six weeks have seen the government start to ‘thread the needle’ on their VET reforms and it is therefore timely after Minister O’Connor’s address to the National Press Club yesterday to reflect on where the sector is at and what lies ahead?
In the last few weeks the government has introduced a significant number of new reforms which very clearly signal the direction and shape of the sector over the next few years – and in a nutshell it is going to be more difficult for private providers and better for TAFE.
And whether you agree with that approach or not – no-one should be surprised by it.
Labor’s election commitment that a minimum of 70% of government funding should go to TAFE very clearly meant that private providers which received government funding would find it much harder to grow their enrolments in this environment (as I first cautioned in May 2022).
Since then Nine media (notably The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald) have run story after story of how badly some private international VET providers have operated and, after a very impressive review by former Victorian Police Commissioner, Christine Nixon, the government has responded with a series of targeted measures aimed squarely at unethical private VET providers who exploit their students and the student visa system.
Most private international VET providers are ethical and do the right thing by their students, and that is why the government’s response is welcome – because it is so tightly targeted.
And now it is in ASQA’s hands to ensure they also target their regulatory response. ASQA will receive an additional $37.8m for a new integrity unit (equivalent to 60% of its annual budget). Let’s hope they focus on weeding out the unethical and low quality providers and not on a ‘one size fits all’ approach.
As for the Minister’s speech – he started with reference to the Kangan Review – a major review commissioned 50 years ago which led to governments agreeing to establish a more national VET system with the aim of enhancing national prosperity. The Minister noted that Kangan was tripartite and then went on to say:
He also emphasised that:
Note that there is no mention of private providers in these comments about funding for VET.
Private providers will still receive some funding in the next National Skills Agreement but they are not a priority for the government. The government’s emphasis is on re-building TAFE and arguments about the importance of the private VET sector need more than just data if they are to gain any cut through.
About non-TAFE (ie private) providers the Minister had this to say:
He went on to add:
So if you work in a private provider – it is time to make the case for the good work you do beyond merely reciting statistics on the scale of the private VET sector. Governments across the country have been explicitly elected to bolster TAFE and to fund more students to study with TAFE. The size of the private VET sector is a concern, rather than a positive, in the minds of many officials and decision makers. They need to hear the testimonies of students and employer partners of private providers as part of any efforts to change their views.
And if you work in TAFE – the challenge lies in delivering on the government funding while also rebuilding what are now relatively low levels of fee-for-service activity, particularly so that as employers invest in more upskilling and reskilling they look to TAFE as their delivery partner. Enrolling more international students will also help reduce the reliance on government funding and offer broader educational experiences for TAFE’s domestic students.