More than 19 per cent – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

More than 19 per cent – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

The Education and Employment Senate Committee was told last week that TAFE represents 19 per cent of VET in Australia, echoing a comment made previously by the Prime Minister. I repeat, 19 per cent!

Where has this figure come from? Total VET Activity, or TVA. It reported there were 4.1 million VET students in 2018. With 777,100 enrolments, TAFE accounts for 19.1 per cent of students!

Fair enough. The 4.1 million students include millions who only engage in training for less than a day such as the White Card or Responsible Service of Alcohol. I doubt they would even regard themselves as students. They are simply meeting a work obligation or wanting to help out at the sports club.

If this is the way VET figures are going to be used, I’ve had a go at a different view of VET, drawing on this magical 4.1 million student denominator. (For accuracy I’ve used 2017 TVA and finance figures as it is the latest year where both data sets are available.)

  • The Commonwealth contributed only $444 per student in 2017 for vocational education delivery – based on Commonwealth funding of $1.86bn for vocational delivery in 2017.
  • $1.16bn of the $1.86bn appears to have been wasted as 62.2 per cent of the students were enrolled in subjects not part of a nationally recognised program.
  • 345,320 students are at school and it’s likely the Commonwealth doubled up on payment for VET as well as schooling.

The Senate committee was also told that the National Agreement on Skills and Workforce Development, which transfers Specific Purpose Payments from the Commonwealth to states and territories, will grow over the next four years. These are bulk payments recognising that the Commonwealth has most of the tax raising power yet states and territories carry the lion share of delivery costs.

I couldn’t help myself.

  • An extra $5.16 per student for the year will be provided based on the growth from the 2018 to 2019 Financial Year in the National Agreement – 1.43 per cent, or $21.7 million. Amanda Vanstone once said a $4 per week family tax cut would barely buy a sandwich and a milkshake – it seems VET students are limited to one milkshake per year!
  • But the working-age population will grow at around 1.5 per cent in the same year so the same funds have to spread further. The $5.16 becomes $5.09.

The student count seems implausible doesn’t it? 4.1 million students equates to 22.7 per cent of the population aged between 15 and 64. That means that at least one person in a standard Australian family enrolled in VET in 2018. Go on, do the test. Has someone snuck out at night to do a spot of carpentry? Do the test for the rest of the week.  Wherever four gather, check who it is!

If we are using the magical 4.1 million student count what would it cost if they were each funded on the same basis as university students – after all we are aiming for VET to have equal standing. The mid-point across fields of education for rates of Commonwealth Supported Places is $14,523 per annum. For 4.1 million VET students that’s $59.5 billion for the year. You beauty! VET, come on down!

That is ridiculous you say. The situation is no better with the regard of TAFEs within the count of RTOs. In the 2018 TVA report there were 4,675 RTOs. Because the number of TAFEs is impacted by recent amalgamations, let’s assume (generously) that 100 of the 4,675 are TAFEs. On the same logic presented to the Senate, TAFEs represent only 2 percent of providers!

Imagine you are on an island, quite a large island, but the population must move to another place, over the ocean. The ocean is unpredictable – swells and waves depending upon the tempest and sharks and other menaces make it impossible to make it in your own make-shift vessel.

Then imagine that the authorities of the island guarantee you passage on a vessel. According to the island’s official definition the vessel is a floating device suitable to carry person(s). Sounds good. Now imagine the officials being most fastidious about vessel-neutrality. It’s policy that they could not be seen to favour any vessel over another provided the definition – a floating device suitable to carry person(s) – is met.

It’s not too hard to imagine the officials, holding vessel-neutrality principles close to heart, requiring you and your fellow islanders to select one sight-unseen. After all, they need to be fair to the owners of the vessels. Sort of having a range of doors to select from.

Imagine the surprise on opening the door to be presented with a dinghy – after all, it’s a floating device suitable to carry person(s). Or the sheer relief when the door opens to an ocean liner – big and sturdy to cut through the waves, with a choice of rooms, ample dining and recreation options to boot. What’s your chance of getting the Ocean-liner? Taking as a guide the logic applied to VTA, 2 out of 100!

For islanders faced with the dinghy determining their destiny on the bumpy ocean, what or who is at fault? The dinghy isn’t. It’s always been a dinghy. The ocean liner isn’t. It’s always been an ocean liner and has always had plenty of room for passengers.

I reckon they’d be looking sternly at the officials who gave them the assurance that a floating device suitable to carry person(s) could take then through the tempest.

My point is two-fold. Competitive neutrality is not a policy outcome. Addressing the need at hand is. And misuse of information makes poorly-informed policy.

Misrepresenting the place of TAFEs in VET, even innocently from TVA, risks the sector being seen as little more than a flotilla of dinghies with little capacity to give citizens safe passage to a better future.

For your interest, TAFEs deliver just under 60 per cent of subjects and hours of publicly funded training.

Leading economist appointed as new national skills commissioner

The former chief economist at the Business Council of Australia, Adam Boyton, has been appointed as the new Interim National Skills Commissioner. 

Prior to joining the BCA Mr Boyton was a managing director at Deutsche Bank, the bank’s Australian chief economist and head of fixed income research.

He started his career at the federal Treasury and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and also served as chief of staff to former NSW Opposition Leader John Brogden.

He is a member of the NSW Skills Board, the NSW Rural Assistance Authority and the NSW Rice Marketing Board.

The Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business, Senator Michaelia Cash said Mr Boyton will play a critical role in the overhaul of the VET system.

“The newly appointed Commissioner will oversee the early design work on how to nationally forecast skills demand in industry and options for a new funding model for VET qualifications,” Senator Cash said.

Mixed VET and uni subjects to lead to qualifications

Students are likely to be able to mix subjects across university and VET as part of their qualifications, following the expert review of the Australian Qualifications Framework released last week.

The AQF review led by Professor Peter Noonan recommended closer links and pathways between VET and higher education, including:

  • A revised AQF architecture that is simpler and more flexible to promote the equal value of qualification types across higher education and VET.
  • The creation of a Higher Diploma at the same level as a Bachelor degree and renaming VET certificates to reflect their purpose.
  • Recognition of microcredentials and greater fluidity between VET, higher education and schools.

The Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business Senator Michaelia Cash said the report recommends a more flexible system which can provide workforce skills and qualifications for people at all stages of their career.

“For example, someone doing a VET course in carpentry may want to study some business courses at a university to help them run a small business. Likewise, someone studying engineering at university may want to get some hands-on experience in refrigeration,” Senator Cash said.

The Minister for Education Dan Tehan said the government would consider the review and respond in due course.

VET should be a "wide pool of connectivity" in the modern economy, says Paul Keating

Former prime minister Paul Keating says “turbocharging vocational education” should be a key part of an ambitious federal government plan to boost infrastructure investment and stimulate the economy.

In an article in the Weekend Australian, he said that the Reserve Bank had reached the limits of its ability to boost the economy through interest rate cuts, and that new fiscal stimulus measures were required.

“We are moving into a new world of big government after 30 or 40 years of smaller government because, with world growth shrinking and monetary policy being incapable of providing the stimulus, the building of infrastructure both by governments and by private industry, perhaps acting in concert, is the way ­forward,” he said.

In a separate interview in the paper, he says people are more globally connected because of the digital revolution, which means the economy and society are more horizontally structured rather than the silos that prevailed in business, society and politics when he left school at 14.

“We should be pulling together the important threads and struts of the vocational education system,” he said.

“Modifying our education system to allow young people to swim their way more confidently in the much more horizontal and collaborative world that the digital economy facilitates.

“In the great Japanese houses, you often see they have a shallow pool with many fish swimming around. We are moving into a world like that, a shallow but wide pool of connectivity, and we have to teach young people, especially, to be able to swim … and to find the opportunities in that pool.”

Demand-driven programs to blame for $919m VET 'underspend'

The federal government has disputed claims by the Opposition of a $919 million underspend in the skills and training budget over the last five years.

Shadow Minister for Education and Training Tanya Plibersek said the Department of Education’s annual report shows that since 2014, the 17 per cent underspend was worst in apprentice and trade programs, including apprentice incentives for business.

However in Senate Estimates, the Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business, Senator Michaelia Cash rejected the claim as “absolutely false”, attributing the spending shortfall to a lack of demand for the programs in question.

“It is a demand-driven program and the demand for that program was met,” Senator Cash said.

Department of Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business Deputy Secretary Nadine Williams told the committee the department expects demand for incentive payments to soon increase following the government’s recent skills package.

“Our view is that, as those programs start to roll out, we’ll start to see a much higher uptake of apprenticeship and traineeship incentives, and that will work towards ensuring that there is more money spent, essentially, in these demand driven programs, because demand will be rising,” Ms Williams said.

Senator Cash also told the hearing that the Productivity Commission would be examining the central agreement that sets the framework for Commonwealth, state and territory funding of skills – the National Agreement for Skills and Workforce Development – and would be reporting back next year.

ASQA disputes Coalition MP's claim of regulatory over-reach

The Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) has hit back at claims it has used its regulatory power to damage and, even wipe out, some private training colleges.

In August, Queensland Coalition backbencher Dr Andrew Laming told parliament his nationwide investigation revealed ASQA’s “aggressive and adversarial conduct” toward private RTOs was forcing many to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) over trivial matters.

In Senate Estimates hearings last week ASQA Acting Chief Commissioner Saxon Rice, pictured, said the organisation “certainly took on board” Mr Laming’s comments but rejected his claim that the AAT was being misused.

She said that from almost 4000 training providers regulated by ASQA, there were 1,600 audits, including some 600 compliance audits last financial year.

“The vast majority of providers are either not triggering ASQA’s risk indicators or demonstrating compliance at audit,” Ms Rice said.

In terms of critical non-compliance, there were 263 cancellations last financial year.

Ms Rice said there have been a total of 484 matters that have been referred to the AAT over the past eight years, with around half settled “by consent”.

“There have only been 32 occasions where a matter before the AAT has run its full course and there’s been an actual decision by the AAT,” Ms Rice said.

“On 21 occasions, ASQA’s decision was affirmed, and on 11 of those occasions ASQA’s decision was either set aside or varied.”

Minister Cash said Mr Laming was “a backbencher who is entitled to his opinion, as are all backbenchers”.

Queensland outlines TAFE fee cuts across state

The Queensland government has named a series of VET courses that will be eligible for further training subsidies across metropolitan and regional areas.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the $4 million “Skills Boost” will slash the cost of TAFE for many Queenslanders.

Skills Minister Shannon Fentiman said there were over 10 courses on offer for each region.

“These have been chosen specifically to provide the opportunities for Queenslanders to boost their skills and increase career opportunities,” She said.

“For example, through Skills Boost a Certificate III in Hospitality will mean students will pay around $300 to $600 instead of up to $3,700.”

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SA gets generational VET-in-school shake-up

South Australia will see closer integration of VET courses in secondary school under the state government’s ‘VET for School Students’ policy released last week.

It will see Industry Skills Councils, which operate under the Training and Skills Commission, given a key role in the design and development of vocational pathways for each industry sector.

The ISCs will also develop “industry and employer immersion programs” which will include student and parent information sessions, workplace visits and industry-based projects.

There will also be a new VET for School Students Ministerial Advisory Council.

Education Minister John Gardner described it as “the biggest overhaul of VET in schools in a generation”.

“It is vital that our schooling sector is preparing students to take advantage of emerging industries, and we know that growing areas such as defence, space, cyber security and health all require employees with vocational qualifications,” he said.

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Maths compulsory for teachers, students in NSW

Maths will be compulsory for all students under a new curriculum in NSW, and anyone wanting to teach maths in primary schools will need to achieve a minimum standard.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the NSW government is working to make maths compulsory from Kindergarten to Year 12 to ensure students have the necessary numeracy skills.

It follows the release of the interim report into the NSW Curriculum Review.

Also, starting in 2021, anyone wanting to teach maths in NSW primary schools will need to have achieved at least a band 4 or equivalent in maths for the HSC.

A student who fails to achieve a band four in maths – but undertakes and succeeds in a maths based course at university of equivalent or higher standard will still be able to get job as a primary school teacher.

“We promised to take the curriculum back to the basics and today we are taking the first steps to deliver on that commitment by prioritising maths,” Ms Berejiklian said.

Diary Dates

‘Supporting young people into their futures: research and practice’
14 November 2019
Ballarat, Victoria
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Community Colleges Australia 2019 Annual Conference
18 – 20 November 2019
The Stamford Plaza Hotel, Brisbane
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ASEAN Australia Education Dialogue (AAED)
18 – 20 November 2019
Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
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Australian Training Awards
21 November 2019
Brisbane, Queensland
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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
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AVETRA Conference
20/20 vision for VET: Research at the centre of future policy and practice
23 – 24 April 2020
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