Business unveils radical planes to raise the status of vocational education

Australia’s tertiary education funding system is distorted, unfair, creates the wrong incentives and needs to be dramatically overhauled, Business Council of Australia CEO Jennifer Westacott will tell the National Press Club on Wednesday.

On the eve of the Turnbull government’s higher education funding reforms being debated in the Senate next week, Ms Westacott will release a BCA discussion paper that goes much further. She will urge root-and-branch reform that puts funding in the hands of consumers and corrects an imbalance that favours universities over TAFEs and vocational colleges.

In her speech Ms Westacott will call for the creation of a “single tertiary system with a reinvigorated VET [vocational education and training] sector as a cornerstone”.

The BCA proposes that every young person be given a capped “lifelong skills account” – effectively a tertiary education voucher – which is partly a government subsidy and partly an income contingent loan (such as the current HECS-HELP loan scheme) which the student can use to pick and choose their credentials from either the university or the vocational education system.

End the bias

Ms Westacott believes such a system would end the bias which encourages students to choose university education over vocational education. Universities are currently better subsidised, and better supported by government-provided student loans, than vocational education providers.

“Once and for all we need to fix this cultural bias, reinforced by a funding bias, that a VET qualification is a second-class qualification to a university one. It isn’t,” she will say.

She also believes the BCA’s plan will allow students to meet the need for continued study to keep pace with change, or make a career switch.

“The great feature of this scheme is Australians would be able to dip in and out of their account as required throughout their working life,” she will say.

Because higher education is mainly federally funded and vocational education is mainly funded by the states it will require a new national body – jointly run by the Commonwealth, the states and the territories – to manage the system.

‘Big reform is hard’

She will say that “big reform is hard” and that it will require compromise to achieve the outcome, as well as letting go “of rigid ideologies that are not serving us well, such as the view that more funding is always the solution”.

She believes the changes can be achieved within the current $20 billion total government budget for higher and vocational education.

Mr Westacott also plans to mount an impassioned defence of VET, which has been hurt by state government cuts.

“Not one dollar should be removed from VET until state and federal ministers work out what we are going to do with this important sector,” she will say.

The BCA has long taken a close interest in education policy, but for Ms Westacott the interest is personal because she was a less privileged child who made her way through education, her partner and her sister are both teachers, and she is a former head of the Victorian education department.

In her speech she will also propose a new platform to help people find jobs that suit them, with up-to-date information about the qualifications needed, tuition fee funding through subsidies and loans, a comparison of education providers and the likely income they will earn.

“This is an essential tool if the funding is in the hands of the consumer,” she will say.

Read more: http://www.afr.com/leadership/business-unveils-radical-plan-to-raise-the-status-of-vocational-education-20171010-gyxwvy#ixzz4v6AeA6RE
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