Back on the horse – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

Back on the horse - comment by CEO Craig Robertson

It was pleasing to see Skills ministers agree Friday week ago to review VET Student Loans.

Loans for vocational education were legislated as VET FEE-HELP (VFH) in 2007; the last Act in John Howard’s Prime Ministership. The scheme kicked off proper in 2009 with VFH providers needing articulation agreements into higher education for the courses to be eligible for loans. The objective was to grow the proportion of the workforce with higher level skills.

VFH started slowly because of the lead time for articulation agreements and the slow approval process. In 2012, as part of a new inter-government agreement to introduce demand driven entitlement to Certificate level courses, VFH conditions were loosened. No articulation agreement, first among them. Students incurred an immediate 20 per cent loan fee unless they were enrolled in a state or territory subsided course – students benefitted by following priorities set by states and territories. The rationale was to open access to this level of VET as a strong equity measure, and to encourage private training activity by using loans to mitigate the barriers caused by high upfront fees.

The VFH horse bolted – out of control and in ways no one ever contemplated. There’s been plenty of column inches on that one. VSL replaced VFH in 2017, and participation at this level of VET tanked. VSL loans are around $300 million each year for about 58,000 students. Reasons are as many as bets on a race, but chief among them must be the limits on the loans.

Given VFH experimented with de-regulated fees it reasonable, expected almost, for the Government to limit loans, and thereby regulate fees. (The Government may say fees remain unregulated because there are still options for direct student contribution, but this mocks the purpose of student loans in overcoming upfront fees, and there’s very little private contribution in practice anyway.)

Fee regulation means the government needs to have a good idea of costs of delivery lest the loan over-shoots, giving a bonus to the provider at the expense of the student, or under-shoots at the cost of the provider, although ultimately the student because the provider has little option bar cutting delivery. Remember, the logic of the consumer (student) arbitrating quality and calibrating price was proven ineffectual in the face of the slick sales jobs of charlatans.

Enter Steven Joyce, followed by the National Skills Commissioner and the Productivity Commission. Joyce has suggested, and the commissioner and commission tasked to come up with a consistent national price for VET qualifications, and move even toward university funding rates.

Let’s look at one qualification – Diploma of Remedial Massage – the seventh most popular course in VSL with a maximum loan of $10,342. It has 16 core and five optional units with about 1700 nominal hours plus 200 hours compulsory work placement. Nominal hours represent the training effort for the qualification and are set by experienced curriculum designers. NCVER says a full-time load is 720 hours, so it’s at least a two-year full-time course, with the provider receiving $5,170 per year for each student. Assuming 12 per class as the limit for a practice-based qualification like this one and the provider has $62,040 to run it for the year! That doesn’t even pay for a full-time teacher.

Am I exaggerating the requirements of the qualification? Look at the unit with the highest nominal hours – Provide Remedial Massage Treatment. It has 18 separate elements of performance which need to be demonstrated and 62 separate items of knowledge the student must acquire, before even basic physiology and anatomy. If ASQA audits this unit, it has at least 80 points it can test for compliance, before it considers the efficacy of the assessment tools, the application of foundation skills or testing inputs such as unit duration.

Is the qualification important? According to Australian Industry Skills Committee data, the number of massage therapists has grown from 3,300 in 2000 to 19,900 in 2018 with 23,900 predicted for 2023. Remedial massage is bound to follow the same trajectory.

Is the twenty per cent loan fee justified? MySkills tells us the average full-time salary for Remedial Massage is $46,500 and the repayment threshold for the loan is $45,881. Graduating students start repayment straight away. Any argument for the loan fee to remain because of poor employment or wage outcomes weakens any claim that VET is the same as higher education or has the Government diluting the merits of qualifications they endorse.

Where to start? I encourage the Commonwealth to get back on the student loan horse.

Oh, and if universities were paid to do the qualification – they’d get $13,073 in subsidy and $9.395 in student loan…. each year!

Technology to disrupt hundreds of thousands of jobs, new report finds

As many as 630,000 jobs, equal to about 7% of Australia’s workforce, could be displaced by new technologies over the next decade, according to a new report by Cisco.

The fastest-shrinking sector will be construction, which is predicted to lose more than 70,000 jobs over the decade, while a further 33,000 jobs are predicted to be lost in the manufacturing sector.

The report, Technology and the Future of Australian Jobs, undertaken in conjunction with Oxford Economics, says healthcare will be by far the biggest net job creator in Australia over the next decade, expanding by 80,000 jobs.

The tourism and wholesale and retail sectors are also predicted to experience significant net increases in the sizes of their workforces, increasing by 22,000 and 20,000 workers respectively.

The study highlights the implications for governments and education providers in preparing Australia’s workforce for the future.

“Policymakers face a dilemma between seizing the economic advantages new technologies will bring and managing the repercussions they will have for the workers that bear the brunt of the transition,” the Cisco report says.

“Many workers will have to adapt not only their skillsets, but potentially their working habits and location, to meet the demands of the new economy,” it says.

“Education providers must ensure a pipeline of skilled workers is in place to feed into the workforce. This includes relevant formal training for new entrants to the labour market, as well as a much broader base for lifelong learning and more flexible training provision.”

TDA works in partnership with CISCO and Optus to explore the opportunities through digital skilling for TAFE students.

See ‘Technology and the Future of Australian Jobs’ (able to be downloaded under the heading ‘Future of Work’)

Private college that took $210m in government funds acted 'unconscionably'

The Federal Court has found that private training college, Australian Institute of Professional Education (AIPE), engaged in misleading or deceptive conduct in enrolling students into thousands of courses under the former VET FEE-HELP scheme.

The ACCC and the federal Department of Education and Training commenced proceedings against AIPE in 2016.

The court found that AIPE breached consumer law when it told consumers their courses were free, when in fact they incurred debts of up to $20,000.

The court ruled that AIPE engaged in unconscionable conduct by offering free laptops as inducements, failing to assess students’ suitability, failing to explain the debt students would incur, and paying “extraordinary” commissions to third party agents and recruiters.

“AIPE enrolled consumers in around 16,000 courses and obtained over $210 million in Commonwealth funding as a result of its misleading and unconscionable conduct,” ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court said.

AIPE was placed into liquidation after the ACCC commenced proceedings.

CIT to get new campus

The ACT government has announced that Canberra Institute of Technology (CIT) will get a new state-of-the-art campus in the Woden Town Centre.

CIT Chief Executive Officer Leanne Cover said the new campus is expected to be the VET technology and service skills learning precinct, delivering courses in areas such as business, cybersecurity, IT, the creative industries, hospitality and tourism.

“Therefore, the ACT Government’s decision to build a new campus in the Woden Town Centre with a continued CIT presence in the CBD aligns with CIT’s strategic directions, and it is a very exciting news,” Ms Cover said.

“The ACT Government’s announcement is a significant milestone in the history of CIT and will enable the Institute to continue to be the region’s most trusted and dedicated VET provider.”

More organisations to gain access to VET student records

The federal government has introduced legislation that will expand the range of organisations able to gain access to a person’s authenticated VET transcript.

Currently anyone with a student identifier can access their national training record and give permission to share it with a registered training organisation or a VET-related body.

Legislation before the parliament will enable student-controlled access to transcripts to be extended to businesses, recruitment agencies, licensing bodies, and other third parties.

The Assistant Minister for Vocational Education, Training and Apprenticeships, Steve Irons, said employers, employment agencies, and state, territory and Commonwealth licensing bodies have shown an interest in being able to verify an individual’s authenticated VET transcript.

“This change provides confidence to industry on the authenticity of VET qualifications and reduces regulatory burden for the individual and third parties,” he said.

“These arrangements also reduce the risk of individuals tampering with their transcript before providing it to an employer.”

ASQA cancels, suspends private colleges

The Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) has cancelled, suspended and rejected the registrations of a host of private training colleges.

ASQA’s latest regulatory update shows 13 training colleges have had their registrations cancelled, three have been suspended and one had its renewal application rejected.

Some of the training providers impacted may be able to have decisions reviewed, including by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

See ASQA’s latest regulatory decisions update

Year13 & TDA – Beyond the data webinar

Join Year13 & YouthSense for a complimentary webinar hosted by CEO Will Stubley on December 10. This will be an opportunity to keep up to date with their latest research ahead of the release of their third After The ATAR report in March next year.

The theme of the webinar will be Beyond The Data: Understanding The Psychographics Of Youth and will explore what this time of year means to young people as they finish high school, receive their final marks, make decisions about their future and more.

You’ll also be able to engage live with the host Will Stubley, who will be fielding any questions you may have and take your feedback regarding what insights you want to hear in future research.

Secure your place now!

Diary Dates

Australian Council of Deans of Education Vocational Education Group
5th Annual Conference on VET Teaching and VET Teacher Education
9 – 10 December 2019
Charles Sturt University Wagga Wagga Campus
More information

AVETRA Conference
20/20 vision for VET: Research at the centre of future policy and practice
23 – 24 April 2020
More information

VDC 2020 Teaching & Learning Conference
14 – 15 May 2020
RACV Torquay Resort, Great Ocean Road, Victoria
Registrations opening soon

‘No Frills’ 2020, 29th National VET Research Conference
NCVER co-hosted with TAFE WA, North Metropolitan TAFE
8 – 10 July 2020
Perth, Western Australia
More information

World Federation of Colleges and Polytechnics
2020 World Congress

14 – 16 October 2020
Donostia – San Sebastian, Spain
More information