In Focus It’s the Grinch not Santa

Before I get to that, a bit more international news.

Minister Simon Birmingham last week announced that International education was going from strength to strength.

There were 509 000 international students in Australia in February, up 12 per cent on the same month last year, according to new government data. Higher education grew by 16 per cent and VET 15 per cent.

China remains a key market, making up 31 per cent of students, with India well behind with 12 per cent. Making up the top 5 were Nepal, Malaysia and Vietnam. The Minister did point out potential diversification through growth from Nepal (up 54%), Colombia (29%) and Brazil (27%).

The Minister emphasised Australia’s unique position to meet the demands of an increasingly competitive international education market. Minister Birmingham also has put out a Facebook video talking about the importance of international students to Universities. Alas no mention of Independent providers or VET.

Now back to Grinch. Last week saw the characterization of the federal Treasurer, Scott Morrison, courtesy of some remarks by the then Acting Prime Minister, as Santa Claus who would have gifts for all on Budget night.

The Treasurer fairly quickly ‘killed off Christmas’ and promised a prudent, fiscally sound Budget that would support jobs and growth – or something like that.

Putting aside this moment of light relief, the federal Budget is important for our sector given the important role that governments have in supporting the education and training of our young people and those seeking to gain the skills necessary to support their careers. And let’s not forget the role that states and territories play, particularly in relation to the VET sector, where they are the major source of government funded training.

So, as we enter the ‘budget season’ it is reasonable to reflect upon the efforts of the federal and state and territory governments over the years.
They say a picture tells a thousand words and the following graph from the Mitchell Institute summarises these efforts over the last decade.

**Click to enlarge

Oh dear! While government spending on schools and higher education has increased significantly in real terms VET has declined and, as the report notes, the gap is widening.

It also gives some explanation of the federal government’s recent efforts to rein-in higher education spending (by higher education of course I mean public Universities) – well it explains a lot really.

While the growth in higher education spending has seen significant growth in enrolments, for VET government-funded enrolments are in decline. Student numbers are down from 1.54 million in 2012 to 1.27 million in 2016. In 2003, that’s 15 years ago, there were 1.27 million students. In a country that is growing rapidly (too rapidly for some), we are training no more students than nearly a generation ago.

I understand the shift to higher education enrolments, but a diverse skilled workforce is fundamental to our countries growth and prosperity. It’s no wonder skills shortages persist.

Unfortunately, there are no signs the federal budget, or that of the states and territories, is going to address this failure by governments. Last year’s Budget brought the Skilling Australians Fund and that has not seen a single project or enrolment.

It seems the VET sector is going to be left to slowly decay while higher education enrolments are ‘put on ice’ over the next few years.
Bill Clinton once famously reflected ‘it’s the economy stupid’.

I can only think that there is trouble ahead.

Rod Camm
Chief Executive Officer


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