‘Skills crisis’: VET and TAFE undone by rampant neoliberalism

Ian Learmonth, Ai Group boss Innes Willox and Luke Menzel. Willox is calling for an improvement to our skills systems (image via Twitter).

Late last week Innes Willox – head of Australian Industry Group – sent a letter to Scott Morrison, alerting him to the dire skills crisis in Australia.

Our Vocational Education and Training (VET) system was a complete “debacle” he remarked: ’75 per cent of employers experiencing difficulty in recruiting suitably qualified or skilled people into vacancies’.

But Willox stopped short of citing the real cause of our broken national training system: namely the ideology of extreme neoliberalism ⁠— the unwavering belief that unregulated markets will produce superior results even when the evidence suggests otherwise.

It all started back in the early 1990s, when Australian politicians and policymakers became infatuated with Thatcherism. From their perspective, TAFEs were an affront to the credo of free market capitalism. Too unresponsive to industry. A drain of public resources. Yet another case of “big government” getting in the way market forces. Welfare by stealth.

🌱💧Helen McAfee – Save the Darling!
Restore TAFE to full glory Neoliberal wreckers! https://twitter.com/tafeeducation/status/774240083339714564 …

Adam Curlis
Really!! A $5,000 shopping spree on top of an expensive marketting campaign? Can we just have our TAFE back, please? https://twitter.com/tafewsi/status/774155414963310592 …

5:46 AM – Sep 10, 2016
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A new system was introduced that allowed private providers – Registered Training Organizations (or RTOs) – to compete for government funding. By 2015, 42 per cent of government spending on vocational training was awarded to non-TAFE providers, today numbering in their thousands as TAFEs wither on the vine.

The content of training changed too. Rather than building a standardised skillset that individuals might use in a variety of jobs, targeted “training packages” were proposed by employers instead, keying them in specific work settings.

This revamped approach to VET was no government handout either. Following the holy commandments of Thatcherism, students would require a loan to pay for the training via the FEE-HELP system. Skills were recast as a strictly private good, not a public one.

This setup follows a familiar neoliberal formula. Employers loved it because they didn’t have to invest in training. The government would do so for them, using private businesses and with the final bill shoulder by individual trainees in the form of personal debt.

AEU Victoria
The #MelbourneStorm ⚡️⛈ stopped us travelling to Parliament to see Daniel Andrews, so we brought the Premier to us.

The rain will stop, but the TAFE community will keep fighting until we get a fair deal! ✊ #TAFE4ALL

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12:59 PM – Dec 1, 2017
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Loans that many would never repay.

Direct government funding – especially to TAFEs – was then cut because it was assumed that a flexible and competitive marketplace would generate efficiency gains and push down overall costs.

So, did we see a tremendous increase in skilled tradies, sparkies and engineering designers as a result?

No, the opposite.

Shady RTOs learned how to rort the system early on. They were less hindered by national regulations and gleefully soaked up the flood of government cash. Unfortunately, their mind was on the money rather than skills, hell-bent on signing up as many students to useless programs as possible. Between 2011-2016, RTO compliance to national standards stood at a dismal 22 per cent.

RTOs have little pressure to invest in buildings and capital, or even hire properly trained teachers. Low entry and exit barriers diminish commitment to industry best-practice. And given the lack of government oversight, investigators discovered that corruption is a major problem in the private training market, as RTOs find ever more creative ways to make money.

Robert Reich

It is a travesty that the most profitable corporations avoid millions of dollars in taxes while ordinary Americans pay their fair share. We must stop this corporate welfare.

12:57 AM – May 27, 2019
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Neoliberal economists expected RTOs to compete with each other, allowing newly “empowered” trainees to choose providers with the best quality and reputation. In reality, most students – especially those from lower-economic groups – simply opted for the cheapest package. As a result, the training they received was inferior.

Sadly, this part of the industry has rapidly grown. As researcher Phillip Toner found, there has been a veritable boom in low-quality training, controlled by businesses that ultimately seek to maximise profits rather than enrich the national skills pool.

In the meantime, apprenticeships have fallen from 446,000 in 2012 to 259,000 today.

It is testimony to the power of ideology – in this case, extreme neoliberalism – that despite the patent failure of the private training market, successive governments and industry leaders have continued to prop it up for decades. Billions of dollars have disappeared down a black hole in the hope that the “god” of market forces might save the day.

Adam Curlis
No TAFE is costing Aust public dearly. Pity we can’t say the same of the privates RTOs who have rorted VET FEE HELP! https://twitter.com/rmabennett/status/745226779569250304 …

Replying to @TAFEeducation
If we had TAFE would we still have so many unemployed unskilled workers.No TAFE is costing Aust public dearly. Do the numbers

8:28 PM – Jun 21, 2016
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No wonder global private equity firms are now circling Australian RTOs. This is too-easy cash and lots of it. And it’s us – the taxpayer – who is helping to pay for it

Clearly, Australia needs to follow the example of countries that actually do have a vibrant vocational training system, renationalise it and start again. That would allow its funding structure (as a semi-public good) and overarching purpose be thought afresh.

Most importantly, an end has to be put to the rampant “corporate welfare” that has blighted the system for years at the expense of our national skills base.

The trickle-down ravages of neoliberalism ~ Dr Evan Jones https://independentaustralia.net/politics/politics-display/the-trickle-down-ravages-of-neoliberalism,12218#.XBncq6HgZXM.facebook …

The trickle-down ravages of neoliberalism
Dr Evan Jones examines the deep-rooted and devastating effects of neoliberal economic policies.

1:53 PM – Dec 19, 2018
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Peter Fleming is a Professor at the University of Technology Sydney.

The vision and legacy of Australian tertiary education https://independentaustralia.net/politics/politics-display/the-vision-and-legacy-of-australian-tertiary-education,11857#.W49RS8pgP7I.twitter … @IndependentAus

The vision and legacy of Australian tertiary education
Dr Michael~John Shea examines how the Whitlam Government gave rise to the tertiary education system we have today


TAFE SA wins vote of confidence from national regulator

In a massive win for South Australian industry and job seekers, the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) has granted TAFE SA the maximum seven-year registration as a national VET Registered Training Organisation (RTO) for local and international students.

It is the first time that TAFE SA has ever received this length of registration.

This tick of approval from the national regulator represents a significant step towards TAFE SA’s goal of becoming known as a benchmark for high-quality vocational education in South Australia.

Applications for the renewal of RTO registration are rigorously assessed by ASQA and are granted for two, five or the maximum seven years.

ASQA has also registered TAFE SA on the Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students (CRISCOS) for the next seven years.

Education Minister John Gardner said the announcement represents a significant milestone in rebuilding TAFE SA into the quality vocational training provider that South Australians deserve.

“Today’s announcement is a clear vote of confidence in the Government’s policy direction, as outlined in our Fresh Start for TAFE SA,” said Minister Gardner.

“South Australian industry and job seekers can now go forward with enhanced confidence that TAFE SA is delivering high quality training that meets the standards required and industry needs.

“This is a very positive outcome for TAFE SA which would not have been achieved without the dedication and commitment of staff across the organisation to implement a new quality framework.

“TAFE SA remain committed to maintaining ongoing quality measures and the Government has put in place radically improved structures and oversight to ensure TAFE SA continues to deliver on its fresh start.

“This seven-year registration demonstrates that the Government’s commitment to TAFE SA and their efforts in improving compliance has not gone unnoticed.”

TAFE SA Chief Executive David Coltman said that the positive response to the registration renewal was a strong show of confidence in the improvements that have been made across TAFE SA.

“This is a really positive outcome for TAFE SA and a vote of confidence in the extensive quality improvements that have been implemented across all of our programs,” said Mr Coltman.

“TAFE SA has embarked on a fresh start, we are committed to providing quality outcomes for students and working closely with industry, and this seven-year registration confirms that we are on the right path.

“Staff across TAFE SA have worked tirelessly to ensure all of our education and training services are compliant, and at the standard that students, industry and the community deserve.

“We are at the first stage of the journey, we are focused on continuous improvement and we will continue to develop high quality and innovative training that responds to student and industry needs.

“At TAFE SA, we will continue to ensure that our education and training services meet the standards of all relevant regulatory bodies and that it plays an important role in building the South Australian workforce for the future.”

/Public News. View in full here.


College students moving around man at desk in classroom
Going to uni may not be the most lucrative option for everyone.

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A new report by the Grattan Institute shows that some low-ATAR university graduates earn more after graduating TAFE compared to their uni graduate counterparts.

Despite this new finding, the number of students enrolling in universities has more than tripled in the last three decades, while participation in vocational training has remained steady.

Vocational diplomas in construction, engineering and commerce are courses which are most likely to result in a higher lifetime income for students with low ATAR results.

Grattan’s higher education program director Andrew Norton said the popularity of university has led to students overlooking vocational education that could lead to better job prospects.

“A good tertiary education system steers prospective students towards courses that increase their opportunities and minimise their risks,” he said.

“Australia’s post-school system does not always achieve this goal.”

About a quarter of students who start a bachelor degree leave university without a qualification. New graduates are less likely to quickly find a full-time job than they were a decade ago.

Mr Norton said high schools need to give better career advice to inform students of all the options available.

“And governments should end funding biases against vocational education,” he said.

Better financial outcomes for vocational graduates are skewed toward male-dominated courses such as construction and engineering, where few women enroll.

“Engineering occupations are male-dominated, often deny women employment, and are inflexible in providing part-time work,” Mr Norton said.

The outcomes for courses popular with women, such as teaching and nursing, are similar for vocational and university courses.

“For lower-ATAR men, a few vocational education courses would probably increase their employability and income. But for lower-ATAR women, higher education is almost always their best option,” Mr Norton said.

The report follows a new federal government scheme that will tie university funding to the number of graduates who get jobs, ending a two-year freeze on funding.

The performance-based funding scheme will take into account graduate employment outcomes, student success, student experience and participation rates of Indigenous and low-socioeconomic status students.

Education Minister Dan Tehan said the model would provide an incentive for universities to produce job-ready graduates.

“This report shows that while we have a world-class higher education system, it needs to be stronger, more sustainable and fit for purpose,” Mr Tehan said.


University debt and limited job prospects mean learning a trade at TAFE is better for income, report finds

The earning capacity of many young Australians would be significantly higher if they learned a trade instead of going to university, a new report has found.

Key points:

  • The Grattan Institute looks at the earning capacity of university students and those young people who learn a trade
  • It finds for some people, particularly young men with lower ATAR scores, vocational occupations result in higher earnings
  • The report comes as the vocational education industry is reporting a 43 per cent drop in trade-based enrolments
  • One commentator says the idea that university is the only option often comes from parents

The Grattan Institute report found that for men, particularly those who scored lower ATARs at school, vocational qualifications in engineering, construction and commerce resulted in higher average earnings than a degree qualification.

The number of students enrolling in university has swelled by more than one-third over the past decade, with more students with lower ATARs and those from diverse backgrounds now attending.

That increase has come at the expense of vocational education, with the number of students taking up a place in those trades-based courses down 43 per cent in the past five years.

The Federal Government made the issue a key focus of COAG talks last week amid concerns about critical skills shortages. It has also commissioned a review of post-secondary school pathways.

Grattan’s higher education program director Andrew Norton said some university graduates were struggling to get jobs, especially if they studied generalist degrees in humanities and science.

This was particularly the case for students with lower ATARs.

“This report is looking at the concern that some low ATAR students, who have been increasing in numbers at university, would have been better off in vocational education,” Mr Norton said.

“The report finds that is true in some cases, particularly for young men.

“We find that there is a high risk that they won’t get the financial benefits of higher education that higher ATAR students would get, and that they would do well in a range of vocational occupations such as engineering and trades related [to] construction and some commerce type degrees.”

But Mr Norton said the picture was different for women.

“By contrast, lower ATAR women who go into nursing and teaching degrees have pretty good employment outcomes, very high rates of professional employment, and we think they’ll end up earning a lot more than the women who go into vocational education,” he said.

Students growing up with university as only option

Nineteen-year-old Liam Mills enrolled in a university degree earlier this year but left in favour of a TAFE course. He’s now studying web development at Hornsby TAFE in northern Sydney.

“I prefer a much more hands-on approach, so sitting in a lecture wasn’t really doing it for me,” he said.

“I much prefer being behind the computer.”

Mr Mills said he had grown up with the idea that going to university was the only option.

“My choice to go to university was mainly based on what a lot of my friends were doing at the time,” he said.

“It was kind of the plan I’d always had basically from starting high school, [but] by the time I got there I realised it wasn’t exactly what I wanted.”

Many parents still believe university is the ‘right route’

The decline in those taking up vocational training comes despite national skills shortages in many of the trades that are predicted to soon become more critical.

It is estimated Australia will need up to a million workers with vocational qualifications by 2023.

The decline in vocational students will be a focus of National Skills Week later this month.

The event’s founder Brian Wexham said he believed change needed to come from parents.

“We’re faced with this challenge that many, many parents still believe that the right route for their child is to go to university and they will get a more fulfilling and better career, and for some that is true, but of course it’s not true for everyone,” he said.

“A lot of students are practical learners, they’re not academically inclined.

“And frankly I think universities have got a lot to answer for, because they encourage people to go there even if it might not be suitable for them.

“It’s been widely reported that some universities have accepted ATARs of 50, and frankly all they’re doing is enrolling somebody who’s probably destined to fail, and all they end up doing is having a HECS bill, but if you’re an apprentice you get paid to learn.”

Universities have defended their graduates’ employment outcomes in the light of the Grattan report.

Universities Australia chief Catriona Jackson said a low ATAR can be a sign of disruption during a student’s Year 12 studies, or which postcode they came from.

“It doesn’t predict the destiny of every student, and the vast majority of students who enter university go on to successfully complete their studies,” she said.

On graduate jobs and salaries, she said: “University graduates earn up to $1 million more over their lifetimes on average and are 2.5 times less likely to be unemployed than those without a higher qualification.

“Nine in 10 university graduates are in full-time work three years after graduation, and four out of five undergraduates work in professional or managerial roles.

“And the median salary of university graduates three years on from finishing their studies is $70,000.”


PM pushing TAFE students into jaws of a profit-driven feeding frenzy

The Morrison Government’s push to put the private sector at the forefront of Australia’s VET sector will only create a profit-driven feeding frenzy that hurts the career prospects of thousands of Australians who need access to high quality vocational education.

Since being in government the Federal Coalition has already overseen $3 billion cut from vocational education and training (VET) and 140,000 fewer apprentices now than when it was elected.

Australian Education Union President Correna Haythorpe said that Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s plans to privatise VET would leave hundreds of thousands of trainees and apprentices across Australia at the mercy of profit-seeking private training providers.

“Putting profit-seeking private training providers in charge of vocational education is all about helping big business line its pockets at the expense of ordinary Australians,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“The Prime Minister is on record as saying he thinks TAFE is as good as university. Yet if this is the case, why has he stripped $3 billion in funding from TAFE, our world-class public vocational education provider?”

“If Mr Morrison supports TAFE so strongly, why didn’t it get a single mention in the Federal Budget? Why do we have 140,000 fewer apprentices learning their trade today than back in 2013?” Ms Haythorpe said.

“History has already shown us, via the VET FEE-HELP scandal, that private training providers will go into a feeding frenzy in their drive to extract profits from VET students.”

“People need to remember that Australia will always need TAFE as a strong public provider at the heart of VET to provide affordable and high quality vocational education,” Ms Haythorpe said.

The latest available data from the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) on government funding[1] shows that:

  • since 2013, the year the Federal Coalition was elected, the number of students in government-funded vocational education has fallen by 25%, from 1.48 million to 1.1 million. In addition, the number of hours of vocational education delivered has fallen by 28% between 2013 and 2018.
  • in 2017, following the VET FEE-HELP scandal, nearly $1.2 billion of public money flowed directly to private providers.
  • despite the fallout from the VET FEE-HELP scandal, in 2017 more than a third of the hours of training delivered by private providers were funded from public sources (34.5%) and more than a third of all state and commonwealth publicly funded hours (34.3%) were also handed to private providers.

“Despite the clear and undisputed benefits that a fully funded high quality public TAFE 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.

“The Morrison Government just isn’t concerned enough about the 25% fall in TAFE enrolments on its watch to even acknowledge the existence of TAFE anywhere in the budget, let alone to do anything about this crisis.”

“Instead of reigning in private providers and rectifying the incalculable damage they have inflicted on the sector in recent years, Mr Morrison plans on handing them the keys to the piggy bank,” 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.

Exclusive: TAFE NSW staff details stolen after computer systems allegedly hacked

Around 30 employees have not been paid on time after having personal information stolen in what TAFE NSW said was a “targeted phishing attack”. (AAP)
A TAFE NSW spokesman said the organisation was working with the NSW Police Cyber Crime Unite to identify the source of the data breach and “to ensure it does not happen again”.
Payroll staff were urgently processing payments manually for affected workers, he said.
One employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said she only learned of the hack when she received a phone call from TAFE’s payroll department.
“They asked me if I had changed my bank account details,” the woman told nine.com.au. “My account had been compromised, my bank account details had been changed.
“She (payroll) said it was being investigated, that my pay would be late.”

Thinktank: Australia has too much uni and not enough TAFE

The Mackenzie Institute believes that Australia’s economy has become “hollowed out” by a misguided belief that universities must be research intensive, as well as policies that preference higher education over vocational alternatives:

In a paper coinciding with its launch, the institute condemns the 2008 Bradley review – which spawned Australia’s recently abandoned demand-driven system of higher education funding – for producing a glut of graduates and exacerbating the funding decline in vocational training, particularly among public technical and further education colleges.

The paper blames the Bradley review for cultivating one of the worst skills mismatch profiles in the world. It cites figures showing that Australia ranks sixth among 33 Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development nations for “high skills” development, but 27th for technical skills.

Read the whole article at:https://www.macrobusiness.com.au/2019/08/thinktank-australia-much-uni-not-enough-tafe/

TDA Newsletter- Educational inequality sees VET students stuck in a ‘bygone era’, university vice-chancellor says

In this edition

  • Commonwealth for the common good – comment by CEO Craig Robertson
  • Government-funded training activity falls to a decade low
  • ASQA says college cancellations the result of deliberate refusal to meet obligations
  • Educational inequality sees VET students stuck in a ‘bygone era’, university vice-chancellor says
  • Grattan Institute axes higher education program after director’s departure
  • Seminar on the future of universities to mark Zelman Cowen centenary
  • Employment Minister Senator Cash says deleting tweet after college meeting was the right thing
  • Tasmania offers grants to grow apprenticeships
  • Google’s expansion into training kicks off with free digital lessons
  • Diary

Commonwealth for the common good – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

Whether it’s planning or luck, the international speakers for this year’s TDA Convention in September in Brisbane present a distinct Commonwealth flavour – England, Canada and New Zealand. Accompanied by a panel of Australian experts, we’ll be ready for our very own Commonwealth Games!

David Hughes, the CEO of the Association of Colleges in England is returning to Australia following high praise for his presentations at the World Congress last October in Melbourne. Since then he has led a hugely successful campaign – Love Our Colleges – which has engaged local politicians and even had marches in the streets. It seems to have paid off. The Augar report, headed by Dr Philip Augar, released by Prime Minister Theresa May earlier this year points to the disproportionate focus on higher education at the cost of those needing alternative educational pathways. I count David as one of the leading thinkers in the world on TVET and the intersect with politics. You’ll love his presentation, just as many of you did last October.

Our Canadian speaker hails from George Brown College in Toronto, Ontario. Dr. Rick Huijbregts is Vice-President, Strategy & Innovation and comes to the convention loaded with impressive credentials and experience. Prior to joining George Brown, Rick spent 12 years with Cisco, most recently as Vice-President of Digital Transformation and Innovation at Cisco Canada. He was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012 for his transformational work in municipal innovation. Several TAFE leaders met Rick as part of the CISCO-Optus TDA study tour in May. It’s learning about his practical experience in serving local industry growth through technology and innovation which excites me about Rick’s attendance.

And to finish off the friendly invasion, I am pleased that the Hon Steven Joyce, author of Strengthening Skills, the review of Australia’s vocational education system will be the final of our keynote speakers for the convention. This will be an opportunity to get underneath the report and the approaches he has proposed. Don’t book flights home too early, as this is one of the key sessions of the convention where we can set up the TAFE agenda for the year ahead based on Steven’s insights. We will also wrap other events around Steven’s time at the convention.

The Commonwealth flavour is pertinent. Often referred to as the Common Weal at the time the term arose, it means ‘for the common good’. It’s often related to the political writings of John Locke which were hugely influential in the English Revolution in the mid-1600s when the parliament wrestled control of the treasury and armed forces from the Crown. Wealth to the realm switched to wealth to the people.

It’s pertinent to contemplate the rationale of the authors of our Constitution who called the collective force of the colonies the Commonwealth of Australia. I suspect the common good was clear in their mind and since has been the motive for most of the advances in the way we live – our progressive tax and welfare systems, universal health, postal services to all parts of the continent, distribution of GST revenues to states and territories based on need, and public education so all citizens can access opportunity upon which our fair go ethos depends.

Growing the common good is broader again in the Commonwealth of nations.

The Augar report has messages for us about rebalancing our post-school education system as commentators and citizens alike are perplexed about the poor treatment of TAFEs in national policy.

Canada represents a powerful message about alternatives to higher education. The previous conservative Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, writes:

“In my government, we came to believe that a greater focus on technical and polytechnic education is advisable. First, it is easy to forget that only a minority of people in our societies possess a bachelor’s degree or higher. Policy-makers cannot afford to be disconnected from the majority of the population. But second, the elite consensus in favour of university education is not justified by the data. The numbers indicate pretty clearly that the job and income prospects of many vocational or technical careers are much better than believed. It is simply social bias that presumes otherwise.”[1]

And it will be critical that we reflect on how the finding of Joyce’s review build our VET system.

Let’s hope we can learn from all three countries and our Australian speakers about a new world for VET in Australia – one focused on the common good.

Locke’s influence is deeper still. His political philosophy is regarded as the foundation of liberalism and was cited as the underpinning rationale of the French and American revolutionaries. And in his A Nation at Risk he connected a flourishing educational system to a country’s security and prosperity, themes I’ll return to one day.

In good news to finish. Australia leads the all-time tally of medals of the Commonwealth Games, followed distantly by England, with Canada a lap behind and New Zealand out of sight!

Early-bird registrations extended by a week

Early-bird registration for the TDA Convention, ‘The Power of TAFE’, in Brisbane on 3 – 5 September has been extended to this coming Friday, July 26 in recognition that staff may have been on leave the past fortnight.

Get you plans together now!Register here.

To view full details on the convention and confirmed keynote speakers, visit here.

Australia makes an appearance in the US Congress to talk about apprenticeships

In a first since 1994, an Australian representative appeared before the US Congress last week and the topic was Australia’s apprenticeship system. Australia’s Education Counsellor in the US Embassy, Tim Bradley joined representatives from Germany and Switzerland to share about apprenticeship.

See the article. Those with a deep interest in apprenticeship are encouraged to view the two-hour hearing.

[1] Right Here, Right Now: Politics and Leadership in the Age of Disruption

Government-funded training activity falls to a decade low

The amount of government-funded vocational education and training delivered last year dipped to its lowest level in a decade, according to the latest statistics from the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER).

NCVER’s Government-funded students and courses 2018 shows that hours of delivery – the actual teaching and training output from TAFEs and other providers – fell 6.4% to 336,400 hours in 2018 – the lowest level since 2008, and almost 31% below the peak in 2012.

This was accompanied by a 1.9% fall in student numbers and a 5.7% drop in subject enrolments during the year.

For TAFE, there was a 3.4% fall in total hours of delivery in 2018, but virtually no change over the three years since 2015. For private providers, hours of delivery were down 6.4% last year and almost 32% below the level in 2015.

The Chief Executive of TAFE Directors Australia Craig Robertson told Nine newspapers there had also been large declines in the 15 to 19 age category, which fell 3.1 per cent.

He said the decrease in the number of people seeking diplomas and advanced diplomas was a direct result of the ineffective and overly complex VET student loans program.

Advanced diplomas fell 7.5 per cent and diplomas fell 4.8 per cent, while there were also drops in Certificate IV (down 0.7%) Certificate III (7%), Certificate II (10%) and Certificate I (8.2%).

Mr Robertson was quoted as saying, “Possibly what’s going on is that people are just not seeing the qualifications as attractive enough either as a learning pathway or leading into jobs that are attractive in terms of conditions and salary.”

He said the sector needed to be revamped and providers needed more control to deliver training that students wanted.

See ‘Cultural bias’: Business calls for action as vocational education enrolments fall again in the Sydney Morning Herald/The Age

ASQA says college cancellations the result of deliberate refusal to meet obligations

In last week’s newsletter we reported the large number of training colleges that had their registrations cancelled by the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) in late June.

We stated that “Some of the cancellations appear due to relatively minor oversights.”

ASQA Chief Commissioner and CEO Mark Paterson has responded to make it clear that ASQA does not cancel the registration of providers on the basis of such oversights.

“While some recent cancellations were triggered by failure to submit Total VET Activity data, this is neither an oversight nor is it minor,” he said.

“This data is of a critical nature to the VET sector, being the only information on delivery that exists and it is imperative that this information be complete, given it is the basis for policy decisions that have a significant impact on the sector and on providers.

“Where a cancellation decision has been made, it is preceded by numerous reminders to providers collectively and to individual providers, including notices of intent to impose a sanction and opportunities to respond,” Mr Paterson said.

He said that a provider that fails to submit data has not done so on the basis of an oversight, but “a deliberate refusal to comply with regulatory obligations”.

Mr Paterson said a small number of the cancellations were due to failure to submit the Annual Declaration on Compliance required by the Standards for RTOs.

“The same reminder and notice of intent process was followed in these cases and many had also failed to submit the required data. It is ASQA’s experience that, in many of these cases, the provider has effectively closed, but has failed to notify ASQA that it is no longer operating as an RTO,” he said.

Educational inequality sees VET students stuck in a ‘bygone era’, university vice-chancellor says

An educational “caste system” that discriminates between VET and university students has been graphically exposed by the recently appointed vice-chancellor of CQUniversity Professor Nick Klomp, pictured.

As head of a dual-sector university delivering TAFE courses alongside degrees, he says he’s one of a handful of educational leaders “who sees first-hand how our educational inequality manifests on both sides of the wall”.

In a column in The Australian, he depicts the divergent fortunes of two fictional students – Pete who chooses university and Rebecca who opts for an apprenticeship.

Pete enrols in a bachelor of engineering with a guaranteed spot within weeks. He is entitled to a low interest HELP loan with a generous repayment threshold, covering 100 per cent of the student contribution component of his tuition fees with the Commonwealth funding the remainder.

“For those who choose an apprenticeship, however, the system retreats to a safe distance to watch the sink-or-swim spectacle of the vocational hunger games,” Professor Klomp says.

Seventeen-year old Rebecca is expected to scour the industry for a potential employer and negotiate the terms of her employment and training package.

“She has zero room for error here; if Rebecca doesn’t nail this step, someone else will get her spot.”

There is no student loan available to Rebecca unless her apprenticeship is at the diploma level or higher, and even if she is eligible there is an upfront loan administrative fee.

“Despite countless reviews and attempts to break it down, this wall is still dividing ambitious school-leavers into two distinct camps,” Professor Klomp says.

“Our apprenticeship training system may have served our economy well for a time. But the world has moved on, whereas the way we train our apprentices remains stuck in a bygone era.”

Grattan Institute axes higher education program after director’s departure

The Grattan Institute has decided to end its higher education program following the imminent departure of its program director Andrew Norton, pictured.

Grattan CEO John Daley said “Andrew is truly irreplaceable, and in view of his departure Grattan has made the difficult decision not to extend the Higher Education Program further.”

Mr Norton commenced in the role eight years ago and has been an influential voice in  tertiary education policy debate and media commentary.

“Andrew has made an enormous contribution to the Grattan team,” Mr Daley said.

“His wise counsel and wry observations about the realities of politics, ministers, and all sides of politics have often helped Grattan to steer a better course.”

He said Mr Norton is exploring a number of opportunities beyond Grattan, and his last day at Grattan will be September 26.

Seminar on the future of universities to mark Zelman Cowen centenary

Victoria University is hosting a symposium that is part of a series of events commemorating the centenary of the birth of Sir Zelman Cowen, the distinguished Australian scholar, statesman, and former governor-general.

‘The Role of Universities in the 2020s Symposium’ will explore the role of universities and the tertiary sector in responding to changing labour market needs and a diverse student population.

It is presented by VU’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Peter Dawkins, the Sir Zelman Cowen Centre and the Mitchell Institute for Education and Health Policy, and builds on the recent Mitchell Institute policy paper, Rethinking and Revitalising Tertiary Education.

It will be facilitated by Professor Glyn Davis. Other speakers include vice-chancellors from the universities with which Sir Zelman was closely associated – the University of Melbourne, the University of Queensland, University of New England, Griffith University and Oriel College, Oxford – along with senior leaders from business and industry.

Employment Minister Senator Cash says deleting tweet after college meeting was the right thing

The Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business Senator Michaelia Cash said she was not aware that a West Australian training college she met with had its registration cancelled and was the subject of a review.

Senator Cash deleted a tweet congratulating Stirling Skills Training and its chief executive Bala Suppiah for being an “integral part of the vocational education scene in Perth for over 30 years”.

ASQA cancelled Stirling’s registration in April and the decision was put on hold pending the outcome of a review by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. In the meantime, the college has been told it can “neither enrol nor train additional students”.

Senator Cash said she was unaware at the time of the meeting that the college had a matter before the tribunal.

“We actually had a really good conversation. It was all about youth unemployment and the different programs that the government has in place,” Senator Cash said.

“When it was brought to my attention, I thought it was appropriate to take down the tweet, so as not to be seen to be influencing anything before the AAT.”

Tasmania offers grants to grow apprenticeships

Skills Tasmania is seeking submissions from eligible organisations to undertake innovative projects that help lift the number of apprentices and trainees.

The Growing Apprenticeships and Traineeships: Industry and Regionally-Led Solutions Program (GATIRS) program is funded by Department of State Growth and will provide grants of up to $200,000 for projects that lift apprentices and trainee employment.

Applications closes August 6.

See more.

Google’s expansion into training kicks off with free digital lessons

Google’s move into the area of skills training has taken another step with the launch of an Australia-wide program of free digital skills training.

Google Australia Managing Director Mel Silva announced that ‘Grow with Google’ will be rolled out next year in all states and territories to provide digital skills training, both online and in-person.

“Grow with Google aims to help everyone – from business owners, to students, teachers, startups, workers, retirees, job seekers and not-for-profits – to build their skills, with lessons for people at all stages of the digital journey,” Ms Silva said.

The initiative was launched in March and includes an online learning hub accessible from any device with hundreds of training modules.

Diary Dates

National Apprentice Employment Network
2019 National Conference
31 July – 2 August 2019
Crowne Plaza, Gold Coast
More information

QLD School VET Conference
Velg Training
9 August 2019
Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre, Brisbane
More Information

VTA 2019 State Conference 
15 – 16 August 2019
RACV City Club, 501 Bourke Street, Melbourne
Save the date

National Manufacturing Summit
21 & 22 August 2019
More information

National Skills Week
26 August – 1 September 2019
Locations around Australia
More information

TAFE Directors Australia 2019 Convention
‘The Power of TAFE’
3 – 5 September 2019
More information

2019 National VET Conference
Velg Training
12 &13 September 2019
Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre, Brisbane
More Information

Community Colleges Australia 2019 Annual Conference
18-20 November 2019
The Stamford Plaza Hotel, Brisbane
More Information

Australian Training Awards
21 November 2019
Brisbane, Queensland
More information

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
More information


TDA Newsletter- TAFEs and private colleges to collaborate following landmark South Australian agreement

Let’s test VET’s value proposition – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

There’s been encouraging news for vocational education this past fortnight or so. On separate occasions the Prime Minister and Minister for Skills, Senator Michaelia Cash have said:

“We believe that learning through a vocational education is just as valuable as a university degree, so we want to transform the way we deliver skills, support employers and fund training.”

Word for word – a unity ticket. A good one.

It’s unusual in political discourse but in this case, I suspect it’s by design.

Both sides of politics have similar aspirations for the sector. In February 2018 in announcing a review of post-school education if Labor were elected, Tanya Plibersek said: “Labor wants prospective students to see TAFE and uni as equally attractive study options.”

I suspect both sides of politics are reflecting the growing sentiment in the community. Whenever I mention this issue with friends and acquaintances, they are quick to say we have the balance wrong between university and TAFEs. Before universities withdraw their support for a strong TAFE, let me add, the centrality of education and training in the economic fabric of a country and its chances globally, warrants new investment in TAFE, not transfer from universities.

I’m focused on the phrase “just as valuable”. Value holds different meanings for each of us. Just because I value my tweed jacket doesn’t mean my wife does, nor that I place the same value as she would on yet another pair of shoes!

In VET the term is loaded. The sector is structured, the rhetoric is straightforward and it’s shouted loud and clear – vocational education and training is about getting a job, or a better one!

Then, what is the data telling us about the chance of success of that message. The chart below shows trends in VET students by age group. It seems young people are not responding to the VET message.

Do job outcomes for those who choose the VET option stack up? Last November KPMG released research by NATSEM on the wage and earnings return from VET and higher education compared to completing Year 12[1]. VET does not fare well as the chart for males shows. For females the wage return is better from completing Year 12 than VET.


The report acknowledges that enrolments in catch-up VET courses dampens the returns. That’s a point worth contemplating. If that training is catch-up as it is supposed to be (Certificate II is equivalent to Year 12 as the policy goes) then those students should have earnings equivalent to Year 12. Then, for the remainder, about 70 per cent by my calculations, completing Certificate III or higher, you would contemplate higher outcomes. This makes the overall result for the sector more disappointing.

Some will say that the VET outcome measures collated by NCVER tell us students are satisfied with the training. That may be the case, but it’s difficult to draw conclusions from such subjective feedback. Their feedback about their jobs is more objective though. The same student survey tells us that of the 62 per cent of the students in employment at the start of their training, just over one-fifth reported getting a job at a higher skill level! Of those without work when they started, one-in-two got a job! For the 74 per cent of students who cite a job benefit from training, remember one of the three responses which give rise to this measure is simply a positive response to “received a job-related benefit.” I’m not sure these figures stack up for a sector selling jobs.

KPMG’s report cites Dame Alison Wolf, someone of enormous value to TVET across the globe, as saying: “Teenagers are entirely rational in their quest for academic qualifications … these seem to pay much better on average than vocational ones, as well as opening-up far more alternatives in a mobile changing economy.”

I recall friends from KPMG almost apologising for publishing the report. There’s little they could do. The question is what governments can do.

What can we draw from the Government’s statements? The aim is to be applauded but the path will not be easy. One thing that will help is Minister Cash’s commitment to a co-design process for implementation of the 2019 Budget measures such as the Skills Commission and Skills Organisations.

I say, give TAFEs a chance to stretch the value proposition. After all, they know a thing or two about skills for their communities and the aspiration of the students they serve.

TAFEs and private colleges to collaborate following landmark South Australian agreement

Private training colleges will have access to TAFE campuses and will share resources and coordinate on course offerings under an MOU between TAFE SA and the Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia (ITECA-SA), signed last week.

The Minister for Education John Gardner said the agreement will see the organisations working together through joint policy priorities, professional development initiatives, closer liaison regarding the scope of delivery offered by providers, and access for independent providers to publicly owned resources.

TAFE SA Chief Executive David Coltman said the closer relationship between the sectors would ensure that local education and training needs are being met.

“TAFE SA will contribute by providing access to our campuses for other training providers and businesses, sharing professional development opportunities and making sure that the right training for future needs of industry is being provided,” he said.

ITECA’s South Australian Executive Officer Dr Joy de Leo said the state would obtain greater value from the increased use of taxpayer-funded facilities with benefits going ultimately to those in receipt of training.

See more.

Response to Victorian free TAFE courses shows the value of a TAFE qualification

The overwhelming student response to Victoria’s free TAFE initiative demonstrates the pent up demand for new skills after years of upheaval in the sector, TAFE Directors Australia says.

TDA CEO Craig Robertson said the despite some initial teething problems, the free TAFE roll-out showed that Victorians value a VET pathway and that many had been held back by upfront costs or concern about the state of the training sector.

“The undoubted success of Free TAFE in Victoria reveals more about the aspirations of Victorians for career change and new work opportunities than initial teething problems reported in The Age,” Mr Robertson said.

“Free TAFE has been the right strategy to bring people back into vocational education because it removed financial barriers and ensured options were available across the state.

“All of the sector is rebuilding, especially after the disaster of VET FEE-HELP which saw many sudden closures of private providers, leaving students stranded and TAFEs picking up the pieces.

“But it would be naive to think that upheaval hasn’t impacted TAFEs. They are also rebuilding and some teething problems in the face of such demand is understandable,” Mr Robertson said.

See TDA’s media release.

Dozens of training colleges affected by ASQA regulatory hit

Dozens of training colleges have had their registrations cancelled by the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA), in one of the regulator’s largest single crackdowns.

A total of 61 training providers were notified in late June that their registration as VET providers was cancelled. A further three colleges had their registrations suspended and two had renewals rejected by ASQA.

Some of the cancellations appear due to relatively minor oversights.

ASQA says the cancellations were the result of providers not operating consistently with the requirements of the VET Quality Framework, or with data provision requirements, including failing to complete and lodge annual declarations by the due date.

Training providers subject to an adverse regulatory decision have the right to have the decision reviewed, and a provider may, in certain circumstances, apply to have ASQA reconsider its decision.

See the latest ASQA regulatory decisions update

VET stakeholders to have a say in design of new national skills agency

The federal government will embark on a “co-design” approach with key stakeholders in developing the new National Skills Commission that will oversee the country’s VET sector.

The Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business Senator Michaelia Cash told the NCVER ‘No Frills’ conference last Thursday that the government’s skills policy agenda would “promote a national approach to skills development and enhance the role of industry in designing training packages.”

“We will establish a new National Skills Commission – to provide leadership on workforce needs and VET funding,” Senator Cash said.

“A national co-design process will determine the functions, remit and governance of the new Commission.

“The Australian Government is committed to a VET system that puts industry at its heart,” she said.

As recommended by the Joyce Review, the commission will determine subsidy levels for government funded training, administer Commonwealth funding to the VET sector, develop performance indicators and produce skills needs forecasts.

Minister Cash said departmental projections show that seven out of the ten fastest growing occupations have a VET qualification pathway.

See the Minister’s address to NCVER.

TAFE Queensland to feature at national apprenticeship conference

TAFE Queensland students and staff will take centre stage at the upcoming National Apprentice Employment Network conference ‘Beyond 2020’ on the Gold Coast, July 31 – August 2.

The conference will look at the future of VET and apprenticeships with speakers including the Assistant Minister for Vocational Education, Training and Apprenticeships, Steve Irons; the Shadow Minister for Education and Training, Tanya Plibersek; and the architect of the Commonwealth VET review, Steven Joyce.

The event will hear from John Tucker and Erik Salonen from TAFE Queensland SkillsTech, and will see a panel discussion with representatives from TAFE, private RTOs, Training Services NSW and Tradeswomen Australia on the future of apprenticeships, facilitated by Australian Industry Group’s Megan Lily.

The conference dinner, sponsored by TAFE Queensland, will feature TAFE hospitality and service students, and hear from WorldSkills Australia ‘Skillaroo’ Anthony Cobb ahead of the WorldSkills international competition in Kazan, Russia next month.

See more

TAFE SA campuses remain but with reduced footprint

The South Australian government has decided against closing the TAFE campus in the Adelaide suburb of Urrbrae, but TAFE’s presence will be scaled back in several locations.

Education Minister John Gardner said TAFE SA will maintain its presence at the Urrbrae campus and continue the delivery of horticulture training, after meeting its savings targets and by  providing underutilised space to the Urrbrae Agricultural High School, which is co-located at the site.

However, the minister confirmed TAFE’s Port Adelaide campus will close in January.

TAFE SA will maintain a presence at Roxby Downs, Wudinna and Coober Pedy campuses but in a scaled back form.

Mr Gardner said the government was focused on supporting TAFE to become more competitive as a training provider.

“This announcement allows TAFE to continue to deliver specialist courses on sites where they can be best delivered, while reducing and consolidating underutilised spaces,” he said.

See more.

Diary Dates

CISA (Council of International Students Australia) National Conference
15-19 July 2019
Perth, Western Australia
More information

National Apprentice Employment Network
2019 National Conference
31 July – 2 August 2019
Crowne Plaza, Gold Coast
More information

QLD School VET Conference
Velg Training
9 August 2019
Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre, Brisbane
More Information

VTA 2019 State Conference 
15 – 16 August 2019
RACV City Club, 501 Bourke Street, Melbourne
Save the date

National Manufacturing Summit
21 & 22 August 2019
More information

National Skills Week
26 August – 1 September 2019
Locations around Australia
More information

TAFE Directors Australia 2019 Convention
‘The Power of TAFE’
3 – 5 September 2019
More information

2019 National VET Conference
Velg Training
12 &13 September 2019
Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre, Brisbane
More Information

Community Colleges Australia 2019 Annual Conference
18-20 November 2019
The Stamford Plaza Hotel, Brisbane
More Information

Australian Training Awards
21 November 2019
Brisbane, Queensland
More information

Australian Council of Deans of Education Vocational Education Group
5th Annual onference on VET Teaching and VET Teacher Education
9-10 Decemer 2019
Charles Stut University Wagga Wagga Campus
More informtion