Marshall Govt’s VET plan will privatise TAFE by stealth

The Marshall Government’s new VET plan shows it is determined to sell South Australia’s TAFE system to the highest bidder and allow private training providers to line their own pockets at the expense of TAFE students.

The plan will give profit-seeking private training providers access to TAFE SA sites at the same time that TAFE budgets in South Australia are being slashed.

AEU Federal President Correna Haythorpe warned other states and territories not to follow suit, saying it would severely impact the ability of Australians to access affordable, high-quality vocational education. She said it would leave hundreds of thousands of trainees and apprentices across Australia at the mercy of profit-seeking private training providers.

“The Marshall Government’s agenda on vocational education is clear. It plans to wash its hands of responsibility for VET by privatising TAFE SA and allowing private training providers to line their pockets at the expense of students,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“It’s clear that big business is aligning with Liberal governments at both a state and federal level in a push to squeeze TAFE out completely and hand responsibility for vocational education to private providers.”

“The private sector’s idea of VET-sector competition is to drive down costs and standards and drive the ‘competition’-that means TAFE-out of business. Then it can jack up prices and force students to pay through the nose,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“TAFE is one of the crown jewels of the Australian education system. It has proudly provided vocational education for generations of Australians in everything from plumbing to nursing, childcare and IT.”

“The Marshall Government’s plan is a poorly-disguised bid by private training providers to line their own pockets at the expense of TAFE by hiding behind words like ‘choice’ and competition’,” Ms Haythorpe said.

Ms Haythorpe said that the Marshall Government’s new plan was the culmination of a years-long campaign to slash budgets and government support for TAFE SA:

  • SA government-funded VET student numbers have reduced from 150,000 in 2013 to just 63,000 in 2017
  • The SA Government’s total recurrent VET funding contribution has been cut by 40% since 2013, with recurrent VET expenditure per person now the second lowest in the country (after NSW)
  • Thirteen TAFE SA campuses have closed and more than 700 jobs have been lost, while moreTAFE campuses were earmarked for closure in the 2018 state budget

Ms Haythorpe said the moves by the Marshall Government to marginalise TAFE SA and favour private training providers were reflected nationally.

“Despite the clear and undisputed benefits that a robustly funded and administered public TAFE and vocational education sector provides our economy and our society, there has been a concerted and continual drive from successive Coalition governments to marginalise vocational education and deprioritise TAFE,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“This anti-TAFE push is gathering speed. In its first Federal Budget the Morrison Government included no additional specified funding for TAFE-amazingly, it failed to mention TAFE at all.”

“History has shown that private providers aren’t interested in quality education. ITECA represents profit-seeking private education providers and is focused on taking government TAFE funding and giving it to private providers,” Ms Haythorpe said.

Ms Haythorpe said that TAFE must remain a strong public provider of vocational education in Australia. She called upon the Morrison Government to:

  • Guarantee a minimum of 70% government funding to the public TAFE system. In addition, no public funding should go to private for-profit providers, consistent with other education sectors.
  • Restore funding and rebuild the TAFE system, to restore confidence in the quality of the courses and qualifications and the institution.
  • Abandon the failed student loans experiment, and cancel the debts of all students caught up in private for-profit provider scams.
  • Re-invest in the TAFE teaching workforce and develop a future-focused TAFE workforce development strategy in collaboration with the profession and unions.
  • Develop a capital investment strategy in consultation with state governments, to address the deplorable state of TAFE facilities around the country.
  • Support a comprehensive independent inquiry into TAFE.

“Any proposal which undermines the importance of the Commonwealth and state and territory governments working together to build a strong, vibrant, fully funded public TAFE will be fiercely opposed by the AEU,” Ms Haythorpe said.

/Public Release. View in full here.

Minister praises vocational study over uni

Michaelia Cash
Minister Michaelia Cash hopes to raise the profile of the vocational education and training sector. (AAP)

Skills and Employment Minister Michaelia Cash wants Australian students to choose vocational training over university study when they finish school.

The federal government hopes Australian students will put their hands up for vocational education over university study.

Skills Minister Michaelia Cash will on Thursday address the vocational education and training sector at a conference in Adelaide, outlining the Morrison government’s aims for the field.

Senator Cash hopes to raise the profile of the sector to ensure it’s the first pick for students choosing their next steps after high school.

“It is a valuable career choice for many Australians and should not be seen as being something less important than a university degree,” she will say.

“We know that people with VET qualifications are highly regarded and sought after by employers, but we need more people to choose VET as their path to success.”

Senator Cash will also urge education providers to work closer with industry to ensure students receive better training.

“Employers look to vocationally trained workers because of their suitability in skills and experience,” she will say.

“Australia’s VET system must better connect with industry, respond to community needs and have clear, consistent funding.”

There were more than 250,000 apprentices and trainees at the end of last year, while more than four million Australians undertook vocational education and training in 2017.

Under the Morrison government’s $525 million plan, up to 80,000 extra apprenticeships will be created over the next five years in areas with skills shortages.

Youth unemployment in regional Australia will also be combated, with 400 scholarships on offer to the value of $8 million.

Australian expats warned on student debts

Australian graduates living overseas have been warned moving away doesn’t mean they can dodge their student loans, and the tax office intends to remind them.
The Australian Taxation Office announced on Tuesday it would contact people with student debt who leave or are already overseas in the coming months.
ATO assistant commissioner Karen Foat said it was easy to get caught up in the excitement of moving overseas and forget about one’s repayment obligations.
“Moving overseas does not cancel student loan debts and your repayment obligations do not change with your address. Current laws give us the power to pursue these debts overseas,” she said.
Expats with Higher Education Loan Program (HELP), Vocational Education & Training student loan (VSL) and Trade Support Loan (TSL) debts can expect to be contacted.
Ms Foat said it took an average of nine years for people to pay off HELP debts.
“But for Australians who travel overseas and don’t make any repayments, it takes significantly longer,” she said.
Under new rules, Australians with an income contingent loan travelling overseas need to notify the ATO of their new address and lodge an overseas travel notification.
From July 1, anybody earning over $45,881 a year had to start repaying their student loans after the government passed laws cutting the threshold from $55,000.
“Expats should know that once their income reaches the new threshold of $45,881 for 2019/20, they need to be making repayments, just like anyone living in Australia,” Ms Foat said.
As at 31 January, there are over 3.2 million Australians with outstanding student loan debts totalling more than $66 billion.

China to increase financial support for vocational education

BEIJING, July 5 (Xinhua) — China will provide more incentives to support the country’s vocational training and make vocational education more attractive, the Ministry of Finance (MOF) said Friday.

The quota for national scholarships granted to outstanding students at vocational colleges will be increased from 50,000 to 60,000 starting this year, the MOF said in a joint statement with the Ministry of Education.

The level of financial assistance provided to those vocational school students in need will also be raised, according to the statement.

China will also set up a national scholarship for students at secondary vocational schools, the statement said.

Vocational education in China is playing an increasingly important role in expanding employment and promoting students’ development.

China plans to expand student enrollment in vocational schools by 1 million this year, according to the government work report delivered to the annual national legislative session in March.


International students destroy Australia’s productivity future

Last week, Adrian Blundell-Wignall – former director of the OECD, an adjunct professor at Sydney University and author of Globalisation and Finance at the Crossroads – penned the following in The AFR on how to “turbocharge Australia’s productivity”, which claimed that “better education output is central to future productivity growth”:

More generally, the “plan” should be a framework that provides a research-and-innovation culture and policy certainty. The plan should recognise that better education output is central to future productivity growth.

After reading this diagnosis, it immediately sprung to mind that Australia is doing the complete opposite on the “better education output” front.

As has been reported repeatedly on this site, Australia’s tertiary education system has morphed from “higher learning” to “higher earner”, with universities turned into ‘degree factories’ for maximum profit.

Nowhere is this more evident than with our universities’ ruthless pursuit of international students, whose numbers have nearly doubled over the past six years:

This surge in numbers has driven the share of international students studying at Australia’s universities to alarming heights:

In fact, if the current trajectory of international student numbers is maintained, then the share of international students will soon overtake domestic students.

Australia’s universities and the federal government have actively sought international students because of the lucrative fees on offer. This is illustrated clearly by the below chart from NSW Auditor-General:

As well as the below graphic from the ABC showing the export income associated with the surge in student numbers:

While universities and government always talk up the financial dividends from international students, they refuse to acknowledge the broader costs to productivity associated with the boom in international student numbers.

The recent Four Corners expose on Australia’s international student trade exposed these costs, presenting damning evidence that Australia’s universities have badly lowered entry and teaching standards in a bid to entice large numbers of lower-quality, full fee-paying international students, most of whom lack basic English language skills.

separate Four Corners report aired in 2015 similarly documented widespread cheating, plagiarism and fraud by international students at Australia’s universities.

Alongside ballooning international student numbers, the ratio of students to academic staff at Australia’s universities has materially worsened, increasing from 20.05 in 2009 to 21.44 in 2017:

This is a clear metric showing that education quality has been eroded, especially when viewed alongside most international students being of Non English-Speaking Backgrounds and, therefore, having higher needs than native English-speaking domestic students.

Basically, Australia’s future productivity has been put at risk from the commercialisation of Australia’s universities into ‘degree factories’. Education has been turned into a commodity to be sold for maximum profit, rather than a tool for up-skilling the population.

International students gush through visa system holes

Over the past few years, multiple examples have come to light highlighting the rorting of Australia’s visa system by international students.

First, the surge in temporary bridging visas – from 107,191 in 2014 to 229,242 in 2019 – has been driven overwhelmingly by international students appealing their migration decisions en masse to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) in a bid to extend their stays:

Victorian Liberal MP Jason Wood, the chair of the joint standing committee on migration, said the backlog of cases at the AAT was “outrageous” and argued that the appeals process was “working in favour of the visa holder and not necessarily the Australian taxpayer”. He said foreign students could game the system to extend their stay by several years — an outcome which he said would deny Australian citizens more part time jobs.

Indeed, Chinese students drove an absurd 311% increase in asylum seeker claims, according to The ABC:

The number of Chinese nationals applying for refugee asylum in Australia has risen by 311 per cent in just one year, according to figures from the Department of Home Affairs…

Refugee Council of Australia director of policy Joyce Chia told the ABC the number of student visas had increased with the booming international student industry in Australia… Many claimants are arriving on temporary migrant visas such as international student visas…

Associate professor of law at Murdoch University Mary Anne Kenny said… “Once you are in the country, either as a tourist or a student, if you then apply for a protection visa, you are eligible for a bridging visa… It doesn’t cost very much to make an application and you can then extend your period of stay here”…

Experts say the significant number of appealing applicants who do not show up to hearings raises further concerns that the process is being abused by fraudulent claims in a bid by some visa holders to extend their stay…

The average time the AAT took to decide migration cases was about a year, allowing students who had a visa cancelled or expired to extend their stay by appealing.

If unsuccessful they could then apply for a protection visa, which took an average time of about eight months to be decided…

Associate professor Anne Kenny said it was possible the number of false claims was rising because word was spreading among temporary visa arrivals of the success of others in lengthening their stay.

Second, regional migration schemes have been systemically reported, especially by international students from the Indian Sub-Continent.

For example, last year it was revealed that students from the Sub-Continent were using state-based migration programs in Tasmania and the ACT as a way to gain backdoor permanent residency into Sydney and Melbourne.

The rorting was endemic in the ACT, where large numbers of international students flooded into the Territory to study at private colleges for one year and gain permanent residency:

“When the subclass 190 visa popped up, the students started streaming in,” Min Gurung, marketing and sales manager from JP International College, in Mawson said. The college experienced an increase of 300-400 students in the past year, with many students moving to the ACT with their partners and young families…

Unity College in Belconnen experienced an almost two-fold increase in its student numbers to about 50…

Some operators of the colleges are reluctant to speak out, with one reporting his institution had about 100 students before July last year. In the past year, that number grew to about 300 students…

It’s believed up to eight colleges have opened in the past year and more applications could be in the works…

Yesterday, Fairfax reported more rorting, with international students fraudulently paying a foreigner for fabricated work histories and prerequisite English-language results in order to obtain the Cert III in Security:

Victoria Police sent suspension letters last week to about 400 guards working across the security industry over allegations that “false, forged and/or fraudulently obtained documentation” was used to obtain their security licences…

Industry sources say many of the guards were on international student visas… they are said to have paid hundreds of dollars to a man police are now trying to locate who allegedly helped them falsify applications… It is understood that person, who sources believe has since fled the country, now forms part of the police investigation…

“It’s become a joke really. You’ve got registered training organisations churning out graduates who can’t even use a radio, let alone defuse a dangerous situation.

“And a lot of the foreign blokes don’t have any English [language skills], which makes it hard for them to deal with crowds,” [a security insider] said.

None of this should be surprising. Cheating on English-language tests and university courses is widespread among international students. So rorting Australia’s visa system is to be expected.

Ghana now 81st member of WorldSkills

Matthew Opoku Prempeh   EducMatthew Opoku Prempeh, Education Minister

Ghana has joined the rest of the world to compete on the job market in terms of skills following its approval as the 81st member of WorldSkills International.

The West African nation was one of six countries to take part in the first WorldSkills Africa Competition in Kigali last year, winning five medals in the Rwandan capital, including gold for Cooking, and silver in Hairdressing and Electrical Wiring.

It was introduced to the WorldSkills movement following a UNESCO conference in China and confirmed its intention to join after visiting WorldSkills Abu Dhabi 2017.

A statement posted on the website of WorldSkills International says “Ghana joins in time for WorldSkills Kazan 2019, and will also be taking part in its first General Assembly in Russia”.

It becomes the seventh African country to join WorldSkills and the first from West Africa.

Speaking recently, Dr Fred Kyel Asamoah, the Executive Director of Ghana’s Council for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (COTVET), said “The country’s aim is to be a center of excellence for technical and vocational education and training.”

“Our membership at the WorldSkills International will mean that we will be competing with all the youth in the world about the latest or current skills that is in the world so that we don’t just fall behind,” he said.

“Being a member of WorldSkills means that Ghana will be competing not only within Ghana or Africa but competitive on the job market as far as the world is concerned.”

With a population of around 30 million, Ghana is a West African country with roots that go back to the Middle Ages and the 17th Century Ashanti empire.

Formally known as the Gold Coast it declared independence from Britain in 1957, and is now a member of the African Union, the Non-Aligned Movement and the Commonwealth of Nations.

It is the world’s second largest producer of cocoa, with substantial reserves of oil and gold. The country also developed Africa’s first mobile phone network in 1992. Over 95 per cent of Ghana’s children attend school, one of the highest rates in Africa.

“We are delighted to welcome Ghana as the 81st Member of WorldSkills and look forward to their participation in WorldSkills Kazan 2019,” said Simon Bartley, WorldSkills President. “This is another important milestone in the expansion of our global mission to bring the power of skills to young people across the world, and in particular to Africa and the developing world through our Vision 2025.”

Tertiary reforms will destroy regional education and apprenticeships

The New Zealand National Party

Labour’s tertiary education reforms will be even wider than first thought and will strip power and assets from regional polytechnics, National’s Tertiary Education spokesperson Dr Shane Reti says.

“The reforms will mean regional polytechnics will be renamed as subsidiaries of a newly formed statutory entity called New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology (NZIST). After two years they will be amalgamated.

“National has obtained a Cabinet paper which outlines this information, the Government will take this paper to Cabinet on Monday.

“The polytechs will be controlled by a head office. They will have their cash and community legacy assets ring fenced at head office. All other assets including buildings and land will be taken away and consolidated.

“For high performing polytechs like the Southern Institute of Technology this will be devastating. Education Minister Chris Hipkins is pushing ahead with ideology over what is best for students and regional New Zealand. The paper shows enrolments will likely fall over the two year transition period and perhaps beyond that.

“More than a thousand jobs all over New Zealand will be lost.

“Subsidiaries will exist for two years before consolidation. Current boards will be sacked on day one, including local members and will be replaced by a subsidiary board, and regional leadership groups will be advisory only.

“There will no longer be out of region provision, like the Otago Polytechnic campus in Auckland. This has been a critical way of recruiting learners to the regions.

“The Cabinet paper also details that the industry body which looks after apprentices (ITOs) will be dissolved over a two year period. At the moment the industry organises placements for apprentices because they understand the needs of industry and who will be the best fit for them. That will now be taken from them and given to polytechs who won’t have the resources and skills to manage that.

“National has released this information because we believe these reforms will be disastrous for regional education and apprenticeships. We are bringing this information forward to try to stop the Government from going ahead with this.

“National will return polytechnic assets taken by Labour and give them back to communities. We will return polytechnic decision making back to communities and the regions. We will return apprentices to industry. Mr Hipkins should be addressing the problems where they are and leaving successful institutions alone.

“National will fight these reforms, we will fight for regional New Zealand and we will fight against idealistic educational reforms.”

The following is a paragraph from the Cabinet paper.


  1. This paper seeks to reform New Zealand’s Vocational Education system, following public consultation.
  2. This paper proposes to move from a system where vocational education is primarily split between eleven industry training organisations (ITOs) delivering work-based training and sixteen institutes of technology (ITPs) delivering provider-based training, to an integrated model where around 4-7 workforce development councils (WDCs) have oversight of all vocational education, which is primarily delivered by a single institution spread across a range of regional campuses. Provisionally titled the New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology, this institution would deliver both work-based and provider-based training. Wānanga and PTEs would continue to be important contributors to the system.
  3. A companion paper sets out fiscal implications, and seeks agreement to initial appropriations to support the reforms.
  4. A public-facing ‘change document’, a summary of submissions, a Regulatory Impact Assessment, and a Programme Business Case are all attached to this paper.
/Public Release. View in full here.

English courses for international students face audit against new standards

English language course providers that enable international students’ entry into the Australian education system will be probed by the regulator to ensure they are complying with strengthened standards.

Amid ongoing concern about the standards in Australia’s booming international education sector, the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency will later this year audit the more than 50 providers of English language intensive courses for overseas students (ELICOS).

English language courses for international students face an audit by the regulator.
English language courses for international students face an audit by the regulator.CREDIT:JOE ARMAO

The providers will be scrutinised for their compliance with national standards that were tightened from 2018, requiring proper measures to demonstrate students’ outcomes are adequate for the higher education programs they are entering.

Providers have indicated they are ramping up efforts to comply with the changes ahead of the regulator’s reaccreditation project.

“As part of this, the agency will systematically go through provider by provider (and there are about 55 providers that offer ELICOS courses) and will be assessing those courses against the strengthened ELICOS national standards,” the spokeswoman said.

Australia’s international education market has boomed over recent years, growing 14 per cent in 2018. Last year, about 400,000 foreign students were enrolled in Australian universities, pumping $34 billion into the economy.

The explosive growth has led to concerns about foreign students being treated as cash cows, the impact on teaching standards, and potential complications stemming from the heavy reliance on Chinese students.

Brett Blacker, chief executive of English Australia, a peak body representing the ELICOS providers, said there were no systemic issues on English standards in international education.

“That’s not to say there aren’t pockets of issues or areas that need to improve. Any measures that are taken to ensure the quality of the sector are welcomed,” Mr Blacker said.

“The reaccreditation project, I expect that it is going to validate that the regulations are working effectively.”

He conceded that, given ongoing concerns about the issue, there was an “onus for measures to be taken which support the student experience for all students”.

Amanda Muller, a senior lecturer responsible for student language development at Flinders University, said the tightening of ELICOS standards was “entirely needed” and it was to be expected that TEQSA was now ensuring compliance.

“Rather than each ELICOS provider setting their own private standards, now they have to show that their tests are valid, what criteria the students are meeting, and that there is some form of benchmarking going on to other related pathways,” Dr Muller said.

She said there was pressure on providers to produce results for their customers in the smallest amount of time possible.

“So it puts pressure on responsible ELICOS providers who genuinely are trying to get students very proficient in English versus ones who are more interested in selling the more popular shorter courses,” she said.

The government is currently considering further measures to tighten rules around language standards.

Following the introduction of the stricter ELICOS standards, Education Minister Dan Tehan has sought advice on applying similar rules to academic foundation courses that provide foreign students with another pathway into higher education.

TEQSA has also recommended universities be forced to “record, in detail, the basis on which a student met the required English language entry standard”.

Dr Muller backed the ideas, saying it was important for academic foundation courses to face tighter rules and that improved data collection was key to quality.

“Currently, if a university does not have full detailed records of how a student established their English proficiency, we can’t detect problematic demographics, providers, and pathways,” she said.