Political heat in the VET kitchen – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

Political heat in the VET kitchen – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

Interesting week in the politics of TAFE, at least for Canberra watchers like me.

It started with the Opposition and Senate crossbenchers sending the new Tuition Protection Scheme (TPS) Bills to committee for review. There are three separate pieces of legislation, covering two protection schemes – for VET Student Loans and FEE-HELP – but there are five schemes and they don’t work together. Two of the others are embedded in VET and higher education registration requirements and the third ,is a default scheme because it gives tuition protection free of charge to universities.

TAFEs, to be fair, do not have as much to complain about compared to decent non-government providers in both VET and higher education that need student loans and student fees to operate. VET and higher education registration for these operators requires membership of a tuition assurance scheme outside of the TPS, however, there’s no insurance company prepared to underwrite the scheme given the upheaval caused by VET FEE-HELP closures.

It seems logical for the government to take over tuition protection, however, it amounts to nationalisation of VET which seems at odds with the philosophy of this government.  What do I mean by nationalisation? It means that the government is taking over the responsibility of poor practice because the market can’t be trusted.  Got that?  The market can’t be trusted.

But it’s nationalisation in part. For VET Student Loans the good providers are being asked to pick up the pieces from the poor, at least those that rapidly close courses or close altogether. The office of the TPS can issue fines and penalties for those providers which refuse to take on students. One has to wonder how things have got to this point. The government is relying on threatening the good providers to pick up the poor.

It’s fair to say that national VET policy dictates that statements of attainment issued by any provider carry equal weight with other providers. But with ASQA auditing assessment and record keeping practices more rigorously, the receiving provider carries risk of ASQA non-compliance on any number of fronts, just by taking on defenceless students. Why isn’t ASQA conscripted in the name of nationalisation? The legislation should have ASQA issuing the statement of attainment and they carry the responsibility (it’s a generally accepted back-stop when all other options have expired)!

Anyway, we’ll be making a submission to the Senate committee. If you have views please feel free to let me know.

The other political action was the closure of the Education Investment Fund with a deal to provide $50 million for TAFE capital with an expectation that states and territories match. We don’t decry the drought assistance the remaining $3.95bn from the funds will be directed to, however closing education capital investment is trading the future of education to fix a current emergency without digging into Government coffers in order to protect the surplus. It doesn’t make sense that a national government committed, supposedly, to productivity enhancing infrastructure would withdraw support for education infrastructure – one of the more reliable productivity enhancers.

We can’t complain about the $50m but the cost of $3.95b is way, way too high.

Then mainstream and social media is asking questions about the appointment of the National Careers Ambassador, Scott Cam. I direct you to Sammy J on ABC iview if you are after a laugh. Regardless, while Cammy is worth a bit, it’s hard to imagine his efforts would add $3.95b to national productivity, let alone the multiplier effect from education infrastructure.

This week could see the pressure mount. At Senate Estimates hearings, the process where senior public servants front senators to explain and defend government expenditure, I’m sure they’ll be asked to explain how much of our future is being traded for a quick sugar hit.

Cooperation needed to safeguard TAFEs after abolition of investment fund

TDA has called on the states to work with the Commonwealth to provide much-needed TAFE funding in the wake of the abolition of the $4 billion Education Investment Fund (EIF).

Parliament last week agreed to scrap the fund which was established in 2009 to provide capital funding to help upgrade TAFEs and universities.

In its place will be a $50 million TAFE revitalisation fund that the federal government expects will be matched by the states.

The CEO of TDA Craig Robertson said the decision was disappointing, but that it made more urgent the need to ensure adequate funding was available to help upgrade TAFE campuses around the country.

“TAFE facilities are under extraordinary pressure and our skills needs are greater than ever.  It is very important that we continue to make an economic investment in the country’s TAFEs so that we can meet growing skills needs,” he said.

“We strongly urge the states to commit to matching this funding so that vital infrastructure works can continue and TAFE facilities, especially in regional and rural areas, can be brought to a world class standard,” Mr Robertson said.

See TDA’s media release

New higher education category suggested for TAFEs

TAFEs that deliver higher education qualifications may fall into a proposed new category of “National Institute of Higher Education” under a model suggested in the Review of the Higher Education Provider Category Standards.

Report author Professor Peter Coaldrake says the new National Institute of Higher Education category would be reserved for the highest performing higher education providers which are not universities.

“National Institutes of Higher Education will be recognised for meeting additional criteria to those required of other higher education providers outside the universities and will have a significant measure of self-accrediting authority status,” the report said.

It said they should be created to serve “aspiration, destination, or progression purposes.”

There are 11 TAFEs registered with TEQSA in the existing ‘Higher Education Provider’ category.

The report ruled out a distinct new category for TAFEs and polytechnics.

The report also recommended changes to funding of Commonwealth Supported Places in higher education, noting that “a non-university student is arguably disadvantaged twice” as a result of no government funding for the course and an additional debt to obtain a student loan.

See the Review of the Higher Education Provider Category Standards

Audit outcome reaffirms the quality of TAFE Queensland

TAFE Queensland has been given the tick of approval by the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) this month after receiving a seven-year licence to continue to operate as the state’s leading public provider of world class training.

The outcome not only demonstrates the confidence the regulator has in the organisation, but it also sends a strong signal to the market, and speaks to the strength of TAFE Queensland as a public VET provider.

TAFE Queensland Chief Executive Officer Mary Campbell said she is proud that the organisation has received a seven year registration.

“This confirms that we’re not only delivering our training in line with the National Quality Framework, but also that we’re providing students, industries and the communities we serve with the skills they need for future success,” Mrs Campbell said.

“Standards for training organisations in this country are high and rightly so – because Australians deserve the very best. TAFE Queensland meets, if not exceeds, these standards.

“Our commitment to providing training to the highest standard and delivering the best outcomes for our students is what sets TAFE Queensland apart,” she said.

TAFE Queensland will also continue to deliver high quality training services to overseas students, receiving renewed provider status on the Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students (CRICOS).

Agents dominant and growing in international education

Approximately 75 per cent of overseas student use an education agent to facilitate their study, according to a new report examining the role of agents.

The report ‘International Education Agents’ has been prepared by the Department of Education and shows there were 6,878 agencies and 19,413 agents involved in student enrolments for overseas students in 2018.

The percentage of enrolments facilitated by agents was higher in emerging partner countries such as Brazil (92%), Colombia (89%) and Nepal (84%), compared with more established partner countries such as China (73%), India (72%) and Malaysia (71%).

The size of agencies appears to have a positive correlation with visa outcomes, with larger agencies experiencing lower visa rejection rates than smaller agencies. There has also been rapid growth in recent years with some 40% of all agencies less than two years in existence.

See the report, International Education Agents

TAFE finalists named in national training awards

Sunraysia Institute of TAFE, Charles Darwin University and Canberra Institute of Technology will battle it out for the title of Large Training Provider of the Year at the Australian Training Awards in November.

TAFE institutes, teachers and students feature prominently in the list of finalists, released lats last week.

Melbourne Polytechnic and TAFE Queensland are the finalists for the International Training Provider of the Year.

Holmesglen and Canberra Institute of Technology are both members of partnerships vying for the Industry Collaboration Award.

The winners will be announced in Brisbane on November 21.

See all the finalists

WA govt slashes TAFE fees, upgrades campuses

The West Australian government has cut TAFE fees by half for 34 high priority qualifications, commencing January 1.

Premier Mark McGowan said the $53 million “lower fees, local skills” policy aligns with emerging skills shortages and key sectors of the local economy, including aged and disability care, METRONET and civil construction, defence, hospitality and tourism.

As part of the plan, TAFE facilities in Broome, Karratha, Rockingham and Bunbury will be upgraded to support NDIS training. Also, Midland TAFE campus will become a speciality METRONET Trade Training Centre, with upgraded workshops and new fabrication training equipment.

“Unfortunately the cost of training skyrocketed, that’s why we froze fees and now with the budget back on track, we are slashing fees for specific courses by 50 per cent to make them affordable,” Mr McGowan said.

Meanwhile Campus Morning Mail reports that WA has added international VET students studying in the state to its Graduate Occupation List. This means there is now a pathway to state-nominated skilled migration under a wider list of occupations for international students who study and graduate from universities and VET in WA.

See more

Senator Jacqui Lambie aiming to secure millions of dollars for TasTAFE

Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie has outlined her plans to use her political clout to secure a better deal for TAFE in Tasmania.

Declaring TAFE has “a special place in my heart”, she told ABC Radio Hobart that some TasTAFE facilities are “outdated” and “quite depleted”.

“For me its really important so make sure these trade skills are staying around and that we are giving our kids the best opportunity to obtain them at the highest level they possibly can, and therefore that would include brand new machinery,” she said.

“It would be nice to have those TAFEs the way they were ten years ago.

“The state government has had more than enough time to come up with a plan of attack and I just don’t think they are doing a very good job of it,” she said.

Senator Lambie said $50 million to $100 million was needed to overhaul the state’s TAFE facilities.

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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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