The case for Free TAFE – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

The case for Free TAFE – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

In conversations with several people they have lamented the introduction of Free TAFE courses in some states and territories, although each scheme varies in scale and scope. There has not been the chance to test their logic, but it has caused me to think it through. I assume they are concerned that they distort the VET market due to the moral hazard.

According to the economics boffins, moral hazard is a situation in which one party gets involved in a risky event knowing that it is protected against the risk and the other party will incur the cost.

In post compulsory education it is the perceived risk (to government) that free courses encourage frivolous enrolments or early dropouts as there is no apparent cost to the students to make them think before enrolling. Or there is free‑riding from those who can afford to pay fees and should. Costs are borne by governments. This deserves some unpacking.

There is cost to those who take a Free TAFE place. Apart from foregoing earnings or their free time (the most common understanding of cost) there is also significant emotional cost in making the decision to study. I am reminded of a story we presented some time back about a lady who walked past a Skills and Jobs Centre three times before plucking up the courage to enter, such was her anxiety about failing. Deciding to study is a huge undertaking.

When TDA spoke to students displaced from closed VET FEE-HELP providers almost 100% enrolled because they were intent on building their career chances, not because they could rip-off the government.

From what I hear, Free TAFE is presenting people with a chance to study that they thought was not available to them. Even a token fee acts as a barrier – when every dollar counts, paying for training ranks it down the order of things, regardless of its long-term benefits.

Given that government fee waivers would have been available for people in these circumstances, why has Free TAFE made the difference? I suspect those taking them up are responding to the message from governments – we care about your future, education and training is the pathway to success and we offer you a government-guaranteed service.

There is another possibility. Many people are uncertain about the occupation and industry they want to enter, let alone their capacity to study or adjust their life to make way for study. In a sector structured around selection of courses aligned almost exclusively to an occupation, it is a logical consequence that people will need to try several courses before they find their bearings. Free TAFE liberates students to go on this journey. After all it’s better to try several times and eventually find your way than be limited to just one shot.

Free-at-TAFE stands up also. In the face of uncertainty, TAFE students know they have access and the freedom to survey and move to courses that resonate with their aspirations and their capability, supported by TAFE staff. This is the public mission of TAFEs and why we regard them as comprehensive learning institutions.

If concern remains about distortions and moral hazard, there are other areas more deserving of the concern. The combination of Government subsidy and deferred payment of student loans effectively saddle universities with a moral hazard dilemma, maybe we should call it free-Bachelors. The financial return from university study mitigates that risk, however. Or, how much is industry control of VET qualifications a moral hazard – a prevalence to over-specify its expectations from the VET sector at a cost to governments (and providers), or employers’ free-riding off public subsidy for what is their responsibility for skilling workers? These are issues yet to be rigorously tested in policy discourse.

Overriding everything are ethical considerations. What kind of society are we to exclude a person from study, deliberately or accidentally, because it messes with market settings or there’s a risk of free‑riders? Do we not accept sick patients in our hospitals even though there’s a risk they’ll disregard the treatment and present again, or that free-riders who can afford to pay for their health care access the services?

These are the dilemmas typical of universal services such as health but there are sophisticated preventive and triaging strategies that go with it. It is not too inconceivable that TAFEs are also regarded as a universal service, especially given the challenge for citizens to recover from COVID.

Governments for the last decade or so have seen a market can solve these issues. Starting with TAFE as a universal service, then adjusting other supply to round out the dimensions VET needs to serve makes far more sense. For example, community education providers can reach into the community to start citizens into the education journey and industry-owned providers can train to suit their needs. The sense that a blind invisible hand of competition can meet the multi‑faceted needs of society and industry is misplaced.

TAFE First allows governments to meet a range of outcomes for the community, whether it’s the passage to success for those at risk, the key for core skills needed across each state and territory and the trusted government entity in which it can invest to design, deliver and foster new skills.

The propensity of governments to outsource their responsibilities and a short-term focus on market design hide the longer-term costs. Governments around the world are wrestling with climate change action because they can now see the impact down the track. Action now may not be cost‑effective in today’s terms but it is compared to the environmental cost that is not that far down the track. If action now makes sense for the planet counting for the cost over centuries, then the right action now makes sense for the life of someone wishing to pursue further education to improve their life. Free TAFE makes sense.

Government announces 5,000 short courses for non-university higher education providers

The federal government has provided $26 million for 5,000 additional short courses for non‑university higher education providers (NUHEPs) as part of a $53 million package for international education providers.

The short courses will be allocated through a competitive merit-based process. They are restricted to Undergraduate Certificates and Graduate Certificates and can be delivered on-campus, online, or a combination of both.

NUHEPs seeking an allocation of Commonwealth supported places (CSPs) to deliver the short courses need to apply by May 16 to ensure the courses can be delivered from Semester 2 this year.

More information on the selection criteria and the application process is available here.

Other support measures in the package include:

  • $17.7 million to extend regulatory relief for CRICOS, TEQSA, and ASQA fees and charges until 31 December 2021.
  • $9.4 million to establish an innovation fund, enabling private English language and non-university higher education providers to apply for grants up to $150,000.
  • A further extension to 31 December 2021 of the FEE-HELP loan fee exemption granted to private higher education providers

Also, revised cost recovery arrangements for CRICOS, TEQSA and ASQA, previously scheduled for introduction from 1 July 2021, will commence from 1 January 2022.

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New education and training centre to tackle 'skills urgency'

National employer association Ai Group has announced its new Centre for Education and Training (CET) – a research and advocacy body designed to drive debate and action on skills development.

The Melbourne based body will be headed by Executive Director, Megan Lilly (pictured), and aims to bring together innovative thinkers in skills, education and training.

“It will be a powerful and credible advocate for policy outcomes that address the current and emerging needs of employers and the career aspirations of individuals,” Ms Lilly said.

The launch of the centre was accompanied by the release of a new Ai Group report, Skills Urgency – Transforming Australia’s workplaces.

The report notes that the World Economic Forum considers Australia is not one of the best places for tertiary education that delivers what employers need.

“Skills development needs a different approach for the future: where learning is not separate from doing; where we immerse learning in work environments,” the report says.

It calls for new responses, support and partnerships across the skill ecosystem.

Reforms recommended include broad digital skills development, an expanded apprenticeship system, flexible qualifications to allow short form training, and an extension of work-based learning beyond apprenticeships and across more qualifications.

Liberal win in Tasmania seals TasTAFE reform 

TasTAFE’s evolution into an independent government business looks to have been affirmed following the Liberal party’s almost certain win in Saturday’s Tasmanian state election.

Before the election, the Minister for Education and Training Jeremy Rockliff said the government would accept the key recommendation of the Premier’s Economic and Social Recovery Advisory Council (PESRAC) to make TasTAFE an independent government business.

“TasTAFE must have the autonomy and the workforce flexibility to continuously align its training offering with evolving workforce needs,” Mr Rockliff said.

“It also needs the financial capacity and flexibility to invest in and manage infrastructure best suited to deliver contemporary training.”

The government also promised an additional $98.5 million for TasTAFE to fund 100 extra teachers, new infrastructure and increased access for rural and regional students.

Thousands of places for women to enter the trades

As many as 3,000 women in NSW will be supported to secure training places in trades qualifications under a new state government program.

The ‘Built For Women’ training program will target women aged 16 to 24, female jobseekers, women at risk of unemployment and women receiving Commonwealth benefits.

It will provide fee-free trades training in areas such as construction, manufacturing, engineering, transport and logistics.

Women represent 8.9 per cent of all current learners in trades but just 2.1 per cent of those studying a trade in the building and construction industry, the Minister for Skills and Tertiary Education Geoff Lee said.

“Growing housing developments, new road and infrastructure upgrades as well as the new Western Sydney airport are creating skills demands in manufacturing, engineering and transport and logistics, providing an opportunity for women to increase their skills and participation in the industry,” he said.

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GOTAFE's social justice charter a first for inclusion and diversity

Victoria’s GOTAFE is in the vanguard of efforts to address diversity and inclusion on its campuses, with a social justice charter that aims to protect people of different backgrounds and identities.

The GOTAFE Social Justice Charter was officially launched in Shepparton after several months’ consultation with about 540 students and staff, led by a group of 18 students and alumni known as Social Justice Champions.

GOTAFE has more than 9,400 students across nine campuses. Almost 75 languages are spoken across its student body and around 11 per cent of students and 4 per cent of staff identify as having a disability.

The charter aims to embed five key principles – respect, equity, participation, diversity and empowerment into all aspects of GOTAFE’s operations.

It will see the creation of prayer rooms, multilingual interactive displays on campus, and LGBTQI+, autism and mental health training for staff.

GOTAFE CEO Travis Heeney said “GOTAFE strives to be more than an education facility – we aim to create a sense of belonging for our community so that everyone, regardless of their identity or background, feels safe and included.”

See the GOTAFE Social Justice Charter

TAFE NSW to train elite athletes for life after sport

TAFE NSW has signed a partnership with the Australian Institute of Sport that will see more elite athletes supported to pursue a VET career.

Under the memorandum of understanding, athletes will be given personalised support to balance their sporting commitments and vocational training.

The NSW Minister for Skills and Tertiary Education Geoff Lee said TAFE will join the Elite Athlete Education Network, firming its reputation as a world-class vocational education and training provider.

“This partnership cements TAFE NSW as a provider of choice for elite athletes who want flexibility and personalised support to gain employment skills while they compete at the elite level,” Mr Lee said.

The number of athletes seeking professional career advice through the AIS Career Practitioner Referral Network more than doubled in 2020 with around 20 per cent going on to enrol at TAFE or university.

Elite athletes enrolled at TAFE NSW will receive a nominated point of contact to provide advice and guidance on academic planning, course management and timetabling designed to support their post-sport career aspirations.

“This is great news for elite athletes who can take advantage of the wide range of courses and flexible study options offered by TAFE NSW,” AIS CEO Peter Conde said.

New faces on skilled migration advisory body

The Department of Home Affairs has detailed the expanded membership of the government’s key advisory body on skilled migration.

Members of the Ministerial Advisory Council on Skilled Migration (MACSM) have been published on the Department of Home Affairs’ website.

TDA is represented by CEO Craig Robertson.

Also on the council is Janelle Chapman, Executive Director of the Australia Pacific Training Coalition and President of the International Education Association of Australia.

MACSM is a tripartite body, comprising industry, unions, state and territory government representatives and any other members nominated by the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs.

MACSM provides advice to the Minister on Australia’s temporary and permanent skilled migration programs and associated matters.

Vacancies for vocational managers in the Pacific

The Australia Pacific Training Coalition (APTC) is recruiting two Vocational Training Managers (VTM) to be located in Fiji and Samoa.

The VTMs will manage the delivery of Australian qualifications and skill sets in each country, ensuring high quality delivery and regulatory compliance.

Key responsibilities include overall responsibility for ASQA, TAFE Queensland and National TVET regulatory compliance, as well as delivery of joint training with local institutional partners, and business development activities surrounding APTC.

Applications close Thursday 13 May.

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Diary Dates

The Real Future of Work
Career Development Association of Australia
Three-part program, early April – early May
More information

CICan (Colleges & Institutes Canada) 2021 Connection Conference
April 26 – 28
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Year13 Expo
17 – 19 May 2021
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Virtual Skills Week
24 – 27 May 2021
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Student Voice Australia Symposium 2021
25 & 27 May 2021
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Apprentice Employment Network, NSW & ACT
Skills Conference
16 June 2021
Dockside Darling  Harbour, Sydney

VET in Schools Forum
25 June 2021
Southern Cross Catholic Vocational College, Burwood, NSW
More information

30th National VET Research Conference ‘No Frills’
Past informing the future
National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER)
7 – 9 July 2021 (Online)
More information 

Journal of Vocational Education and Training
Vocational and Technical Education Keynotes Conference
9 July 2021 (online)
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TVET World eConference
International Vocational and Training Association
28 – 30 July 2021
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QLD Schools VET Conference
Velg Training
6 August 2021
Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre
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National Apprentice Employment Network
National Conference
17 – 19 August 2021
Grand Chancellor Hobart, Tasmania
More information soon

National Skills Week
23 – 29 August 2021
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WorldSkills National Championships & Skills Show
25 – 29 August 2021
Perth Exhibition and Convention Centre
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2021 National VET Conference
Velg Training
9 – 19 September 2021
Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre
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Australian International Education Conference 2021
5 – 8 October 2021
Gold Coast & Online
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Australian Training Awards
18 November 2021
Perth, Western Australia
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