Student VET FEE HELP debt to the tune of $493 million wiped by Canberra so far this year and more to come

The effects of the now defunct VET FEE-HELP scheme is still being felt three years after the government scrapped the program as more people discover they were duped by shonky private training providers. It could take up to a year to assess thousands more unresolved complaints according to the Commonwealth Ombudsman and this is due to the unprecedented volume of people coming forward now seeking to have their debts re-credited.

Morrison Government’s ‘anti-worker agenda’ ignores unions in VET program

Senator Michaelia Cash announces new Industry VET Stakeholder Committee, which does not include workers or unions (Screenshot via YouTube)

‘One has to wonder if the money funding the VET reform program is actually being applied to real reform of the program itself.’

Craig Robertson, CEO TAFE Directors Australia 

Employment Minister Michaelia Cash outlined reform plans within the VET program in a $525 million Morrison Government project, while announcing the formation of the Industry VET Stakeholder Committee on September 26.

While the Morrison Government seeks to reform the Vocational Education and Training sector (VET) – a key component of the TAFE education program – the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) contends those actions are being performed with a bias heavily slanted towards big business and employer groups.

The ACTU points out that among groups represented on the VET committee, the voices of those who ultimately benefit in the way of training and jobs are not being consulted: workers’ groups and union members themselves.

So this is where we are now.
Michaelia Cash dismissing the value of university education & denigrating VET teaching in another stupid slogan👇🏼

As if you don’t learn in VET, and as if you don’t earn from a university degree.

View image on Twitter

And to officials in the organisation overseeing the union movement in Australia, it’s not just that they feel ignored in the consultation process within the committee and the decision-making process, but that it may have been purposely done as a typical Liberal Party pro-business, anti-worker agenda.

The committee – which will convene once a month effective immediately until mid-2023 – contains officials from organisations among its 19 members such as accountancy firms Price Waterhouse Coopers and KPMG to business lobby bodies Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Australian Industry Group, and the Business Council of Australia.

And eight of the 19 officials represented are CEO’s of various pro-business organisations, and almost all of the officials on the committee are leaders of their respective organisations.

The ACTU said in a statement:

‘This panel looks to be more of the same from a Government that will do anything to accommodate its big business donors.’

The ACTU and its affiliated union groups also cite the budget cuts and privatisation moves by the Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison Government since 2013 – actions seen as not just debilitating to the TAFE system, but ultimately anti-worker tactics in general – as precursors to the Coalition’s current VET reform agenda.

Exclusive: ACTU secretary Sally McManus wrote to Scott Morrison calling for him to overturn unions being sidelined from the VET industry panel.  @AAPNewswire

Unions fuming over training panel snub

ACTU president Sally McManus has written to Scott Morrison criticising the decision to leave unions out of a panel to guide training reform.

“Excluding working people from a discussion about skills training is disappointing but not surprising from a Government that caters exclusively to the interests of big business,” said Scott Connolly, the ACTU’s assistant secretary.

The ACTU and its affiliated groups also possess the view that the Coalition’s moves on the TAFE system since 2013 have resulted in shortages of skilled workers across a variety of industries.

Shadow Education Minister Tanya Plibersek agrees with that view and backed it up with statistical evidence in August:

We see about 150,000 fewer apprentices today than when the Liberals first came to government. We’ve seen billions cut from TAFE and training and apprenticeships.  Employers are saying it’s hard to find skilled staff, at the same time as we have unemployment, underemployment and high rates of temporary migration.

The lack of focus on the human element of consultation also appears to exist as just one apparent shortcoming of the planned reforms of the VET program at present.

We’ve got skills shortages right across Australia because of the Liberals’ failure to invest in TAFE and training. This is a brake on our economy. Because when you lock someone out of education, you’re locking them out of a job.

Embedded video

Of the $525 million committed to raising apprenticeship numbers within the VET program, as announced in last April’s Federal Budget, TAFE Directors Australia – incidentally, one of those groups on the VET Stakeholders committee – said that $70 million of that funding is new and the remainder has been taken from unused funds that were previously earmarked for Victoria and Queensland, in previous budgets for similar programs.

And just by paying attention to the sage words of TAFE Directors Australia’s own CEO, Craig Robertson, one has to wonder if the money funding the VET reform program is actually being applied to real reform of the program itself.

“Only $200 million will be incentives to employers to take on new apprentices. It is good to introduce incentives, but its a sad state we’re in when we are relying on incentives to get employers to take on apprentices,” said Robertson.

Moreover, the VET reform package of proposals has allowed for a five-year plan to raise the numbers of apprenticeships by 80,000 places in occupations facing shortages including bakers, carpenters, bricklayers and plumbers.

But even if those plans are successful, that still fails to accommodate for projected apprenticeships and potential jobs that have been lost since 2013.

Yet Cash has defended the reforms defining the program. “Our vision to create a strong VET sector is critical to our economy and to helping prepare Australians for the workforce of today and the future,” said Cash.

Moreover, for a Government which uses the Australian Bureau of Statistics employment definition of anyone who works as little as an hour per week as being “employed” to inflate its claims of employment growth being greater than what it actually is, it is also counting on other programs to fill the gaps on long-term employment.

‘The Morrison Government is committed to creating more than 1.25 million jobs over the next five years and I’m confident that more and more of the people filling these positions will be coming to employers through the VET system,’ said Cash.

‘We are acutely aware of the workforce requirements in the Australian economy. Our reform agenda will deliver better outcomes for Australians who make the choice to pursue a VET pathway,’ she added.

And yet, Cash has talked around the assertion about workers’ groups, from unions and otherwise, taking part in the reform consultation process:

“Together we will improve the VET system through collaboration of Commonwealth, state and territory governments, industry and training providers, and shift community perceptions around industry-focused training.” 

And Connolly remains defiant to Cash’s plans on the reform program, insisting that workers’ groups need to be a part of that process:

We need skills training which puts the needs of working people first and fills genuine skills shortages, not a system that pours money into the pockets of for-profit training providers…

…To fix the big problems in VET, the Morrison Government needs to listen to all stakeholders and act on their concerns. We call on the Morrison Government to include working people in this process.

If that fails to occur, then the benefits to TAFE students and those who enrol in the VET program will be negligible, if not debatable altogether.

More Liberal lies. @ScottMorrisonMP says They will skill up Australia with its apprentice program. They have cut $3b from vocational education presided over 150,000 less apprentices and ignored investment in TAFE. I call on Michaelia Cash to debate me on our respective policies.

William Olson was a freelance journalist from 1990-2004 and hospitality professional since late 2004. You can follow William on Twitter @DeadSexyWaiter.

TDA Newsletter-Federal Court finds Vocation and senior officers made misleading statements to market

In this edition

  • A spine in need of a shiver – comment by CEO Craig Robertson
  • Department changes see VET switch from education to employment
  • Labor’s Tanya Plibersek keeps education and training
  • VET leaders reflect on what to expect from the new federal government
  • VET reform likely to be small steps rather than giant leaps, KPMG
  • says
  • Federal Court finds Vocation and senior officers made misleading statements to market
  • UK tertiary education review finds college students ‘neglected’
  • A reader question about newsletter links to subscriber-only sites
  • Diary

A spine in need of a shiver – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

Paul Keating once famously said John Hewson was “simply a shiver looking for a spine to run up”!

Today, TAFEs are the spine waiting for the shiver.

At its meeting in Hobart last week the TDA board renewed its commitment to working with the government of the day to grow the effectiveness of tertiary education in Australia.

There’s enough of a platform under the Morrison Government. Minister Dan Tehan is charged with re-tuning the Melbourne Declaration for schooling, responding to the review of the Australian Qualifications Framework and contemplating whether to adjust the higher education provider category standards to generate greater diversity in higher education. Senator Cash and Assistant Minister Irons need to contemplate the import of all of Joyce’s recommendations, quite apart from those taken up in the Budget.

TAFEs are central in all these areas – the stepping off point to a career and the scaffold for people wanting to re-enter work, change career and build their education credentials on the way to higher education. Everything hangs off a strong backbone.

One thing clear from Joyce’s recommendations on VET is the problem doesn’t rest with TAFEs. Often cited as the reason for introducing competition in the sector, TAFEs, nor their supposed laggard-ways, don’t rate a mention. Apart from lamenting some poor private provision under VET FEE-HELP, he points to failings in planning, regulation practice, accreditation and poor leadership.

As institutions established and governed by states and territories (including TAFE divisions of dual sector universities) they are the power for good in economic advancement of the state and the regions they serve through applied learning.

They leverage off their stock for the public good, whether it’s their operational footprint, the industry relevant facilities or in their expertise.

That’s why the theme of this year’s TDA convention is The Power of TAFE. If there’s a network of institutions upon which to rebuild the sector, then its TAFEs.

TAFE leaders were also hosted by Jeremy Rockliff, Deputy Premier, Minister for Education and Training, Infrastructure, Advanced Manufacturing and Defence Industries, and the chair of the TasTAFE board, Mike Blake.

In the Deputy Premier’s speech he reflected on the role of TAFE in Tasmania as a key agent for economic advancement and transformation. And importantly, while recognising the role fulfilled by the range of providers in Tasmania he said, “People across Tasmania respect the TAFE brand,” a sentiment he felt is echoed across the land. “People want their TAFE to succeed,” he concluded.

In other news this week it was confirmed that VET functions move departments to the new Department of Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business, with the Adult Migrant English Program transferring to the Department of Home Affairs.

Responding to questions during the week about the impact of the move on an integrated or coherent tertiary sector, Minister Tehan said there’d be good collaboration with Ministers Cash and Irons.

TAFEs can be the link as they serve students across the two sectors. TDA will advocate for cohesion in the policy settings.

‘The Power of TAFE’ is in Brisbane on Tuesday 3 September to Thursday 5 September. Put the dates aside in your calendars.Left to right: Mike Blake, Chair of TasTAFE; Jeremy Rockliff MLA Deputy Premier; Craig Robertson; Jenny Dodd, CEO of TasTAFE; and Mary Faraone, Chair TDA.

Department changes see VET switch from education to employment

There are significant changes afoot for the administration of VET following the transfer of portfolio responsibilities from the former Department of Education and Training to the new Department of Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business.

The new Administrative Arrangements Order sets out the scope of the departmental changes which follow the appointment of Senator Michaelia Cash as Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business, and Steve Irons as Assistant Minister for Vocational Education, Training and Apprenticeships.

The Department of Education and Training becomes the Department of Education. Its key personnel with responsibility for VET and apprenticeships will transition to the Employment portfolio under Secretary Ms Kerri Hartland. 

The Employment portfolio, previously overseen by minister Kelly O’Dwyer who retired ahead of the federal election, will lose responsibility for industrial relations, which moves to the Attorney-General’s portfolio.

Meanwhile, Education also loses responsibility for migrant adult education which shifts to the Home Affairs portfolio. TDA acknowledges the collaborative spirit with which Michele Bruniges, Secretary of the Department of Education and Training, engaged with TDA and TAFEs.

Where VET international education will be housed is not yet clear.

Labor’s Tanya Plibersek keeps education and training

Labor’s former deputy leader, Tanya Plibersek, has retained the education and training portfolio in the new frontbench lineup, announced yesterday by Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese.

Ms Plibersek relinquished the deputy leader’s position to the new Shadow Minister for Defence, Richard Marles after the election, but remains in charge of education and training.

In the outer shadow ministry, Graham Perrett was appointed Shadow Assistant Minister for Education and Training, and Ged Kearney as Shadow Assistant Minister for Skills.

Other changes see Kristina Keneally appointed Shadow Minister for Home Affairs; Bill Shorten made Shadow Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and for Government Services; Dr Jim Chalmers as Shadow Treasurer; and Chris Bowen the new Shadow Minister for Health.

See the ALP Shadow Ministry list.

VET leaders reflect on what to expect from the new federal government

Three leaders in vocational education and training have given their insights into what could be expected under the new Morrison government in the area of tertiary education.

VET consultant Claire Field interviewed the sector leaders as part of a new series of podcasts – the first titled ‘What Now? What Next? Insights into Australia’s tertiary education sector’.

The CEO of TDA Craig Robertson addressed the proposal for a National Skills Commission as recommended by the Joyce Review of VET and accepted by the government in the Budget in April.

“I think it is important that we do have that skills commission as proposed. The question is, is it a skills commission in terms of forecasting labour market demand? Is it about bringing together the qualification requirements of a particular industry? Or, in fact, is it a purchaser? I think as a good first step, they should be looking at what’s the nature of the change in the economy and then going from that point onwards,” he said.

The National Executive Officer of the National Apprentice Employment Network, Dianne Dayhew welcomed new incentive payments to both employers and apprentices to drive the uptake of apprenticeships and traineeships, but warned that recruiting mature age apprentices is increasingly a challenge for employers.

“Sometimes the incentive (payment) is just not enough in relation to the award wage that a mature-aged apprentice needs to be paid.

“Often, we have these amazing candidates that are applying for apprenticeships, but they have to compete with the lower cost of taking on a younger apprentice.”

The chair of the  Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia (formerly ACPET) Alexis Watt said he was “pretty underwhelmed” with the policy offerings from both major parties at the federal election.

“There’s a really marked lack of valuation, is how I describe it, of VET as a sector of our economy, as an engine room of economic contribution, productivity, social value, human capital development.

He singled out the area of training package development for reform, saying that while the current process was “structurally logical”, it had become unwieldy and was not keeping pace with the needs of the economy.

VET reform likely to be small steps rather than giant leaps, KPMG says

It’s likely to be small steps toward VET reform under the newly elected Morrison government, rather than the wholesale change expected under Labor, according to two leading tertiary education experts.

In their latest newsletter, KPMG’s National Education Sector Lead, Professor Stephen Parker and Director, Management Consulting, Andrew Dempstersay TAFEs, universities and private providers now have certainty about who they will be working with over the next three years – even if the overall vision for tertiary education is still taking shape.

They say that “big bang” reform of the tertiary sector now appears off the agenda, with Labor’s promised inquiry into post-secondary education consigned by voters to history.

“In this term of government, reform is likely to be more incremental in nature – a series of small policy changes, each of which is difficult to take issue with, but which overall add up to significant change in the tertiary landscape,” they say.

They note that the demise of uncapped funding for public universities will be “a disappointment to many but a mixed blessing for some”.

“A restoration of the demand-driven system for public universities in the absence of broader funding reform would have further exacerbated the differences between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’.”

The VET sector will continue to experience challenges, they say.

“Public TAFEs find themselves competing against a range of fast-moving training providers with lower cost bases and more productive workplace arrangements, and they have been less successful than universities in balancing the books with international student revenue.”

Federal Court finds Vocation and senior officers made misleading statements to market

The Federal Court has found that the failed private training college, Vocation, and its former key executives including chair John Dawkins, CEO Mark Hutchinson, and CFO Manvinder Gréwal made misleading statements regarding the company’s financial position.

Last Friday, the court delivered its judgement in ASIC’s civil penalty proceedings against Vocation, which is now in liquidation.

The proceedings relate to statements made to the ASX and in documents relating to a fully underwritten placement to institutional and sophisticated investors in 2014 and a review undertaken by the Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD) into two of Vocation’s registered training organisations.

Under the terms of the settlement reached between Vocation and DEECD, Vocation lost almost $20 million in government funding and the two main RTOs (BAWM and Aspin) relinquished their funding contracts.

The court found that Vocation made misleading and deceptive statements to the ASX and UBS and contravened its continuous disclosure obligations.

It found that Mr Hutchinson and Mr Dawkins contravened section 180 of the Act by causing or permitting Vocation’s contravention of the continuous disclosure obligations.

Also, Mr Hutchinson and Mr Gréwal contravened section 180 of the Act by causing or permitting Vocation’s contravention of continuous disclosure obligations in relation to an ASX announcement and a due diligence questionnaire.

ASIC Commissioner Cathie Armour said: “ASIC regards statements that mislead or withhold material information as risking serious damage to the integrity and operation of the Australian market.”

The court will hear further submissions as to penalty on a date to be fixed. ASIC will be seeking pecuniary penalties against the officers, disqualification orders and costs.

UK tertiary education review finds college students ‘neglected’

While Australia grapples with possible tertiary education reform, the UK government has been handed a sweeping review, launched by Prime Minister Theresa May, that examined the entire post-secondary education sector.

The Review of Post-18 Education and Funding (the Augar Review) describes post-18 (tertiary) education in England as a “story of both care and neglect, depending on whether students are amongst the 50 per cent of young people who participate in higher education (HE) or the rest.”

The report identifies critical factors that effectively discriminate between universities and further education (FE) colleges, saying there are essentially two different systems for funding universities and the college sector.

“The one allows uncapped student numbers, is unrestricted in the application of funds and until recently did not have to be recognised in the public accounts for 30 years. The other caps numbers, is restrictive in the use of funds and has to be accounted for upfront in public expenditure,” the report says.

In addressing deepening skills shortages and the relatively small number of people attaining higher level skills, it says “The much needed increase in higher technical and intermediate skills provision will only occur if FE is equipped and able to provide it; moreover, for adults at all skill levels, opportunities will only open up through high quality locally accessible institutions.”

The Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges in the UK, David Hughes,said that whoever becomes the UK’s next prime minister has a tough task ahead with widening skills gaps and stagnating social mobility.

“The recommendations in this report tackle both head on and should be a priority from day one in the job,” he said.

See the Association of College’s checklist of how the review measures up against priorities.

A reader question about newsletter links to subscriber-only sites

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Diary Dates

TechnologyOne Showcase
Empowering industry transformation
Brisbane: 29 May 2019
Sydney: 4 June 2019
Melbourne: 6 June 2019
More information

2019 EduTech
6-7 June 2019
International Convention Centre, Sydney
More information

Skills Conference 2019
Apprentice Employment Network NSW & ACT
13 June 2019
Dockside Darling Harbour
More information

22nd Annual Conference of the Australian Vocational Education and Training Research Association (AVETRA)
No future for old VET’: Researching for the training system/s of tomorrow
17-18 June 2019
Western Sydney University and University College, Parramatta, Sydney
More information

No Frills 2019: The student journey: skilling for life
28th National Vocational Education and Training Research Conference
10-12 July 2019
TAFE SA Adelaide Campus, 120 Currie Street, Adelaide, South 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
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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 coming soon

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
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Australian Training Awards
21 November 2019
Brisbane, Queensland
More information