Senate inquiry flagged into TAFE SA fiasco

Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham will this afternoon refer the TAFE SA fiasco for a Senate inquiry, a day after the state government announced its own independent review.

The South Australian public provider has been rocked this week after the Australian Skills Quality Authority suspended 14 of its courses. The crackdown, which triggered the resignation of TAFE SA CEO Robin Murt, followed a random audit in May in which failings were identified in all 16 courses scrutinised.

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority also suspended a TAFE SA aviation maintenance course earlier this year. Collectively, the two regulators’ moves have directly impacted close to 1000 students and graduates with many facing additional training or assessment.

Education Minister Susan Close has had TAFE SA board chairman Peter Vaughan removed over the debacle, while Opposition Leader Steven Marshall wants Dr Close’s scalp. “Minister Close has abjectly failed the students of TAFE and has no option but to tender her resignation,” he said.

The draft motion for the new inquiry, which is expected to be approved by the Senate, calls for the Education and Employment References Committee to report by February 28.

It will look into the “failures” that prompted the course suspensions as well as the state government’s use of $771m in federal skills funding over six years, and the impacts of $91m in state government funding cuts over five years.

The inquiry will also examine the impacts of the scrapping of SA’s “Skills for All” training scheme and its replacement with the “WorkReady” policy, and of the frequent changes the state government has made to course subsidies.

SA has produced the most chaotic of the state-based open training markets, despite the opportunity to learn from the experience of neighbouring Victoria. As in Victoria, rampant enrolments blew the state training budget and forced massive and constant cuts to funding rates and availability.

The experiment proved disastrous for the state’s TAFEs and arguably even more catastrophic for private colleges, after they were suddenly denied access to most of what was supposed to be contestable funding.

Former TAFE SA chief executive Jeff Gunningham said “non-stop tampering” with the system had produced an “absolute shemozzle”, with the government unveiling nine versions of its training market inside two years.

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