School leavers lured away from uni by free TAFE courses

La Trobe University is one of several Victorian universities that has suffered a slump in applications.CREDIT:DIANNA SNAPE
This year, universities in Victoria have experienced a decline in high school leavers ‘ enrolment applications, with some experts saying it was possible that many were lured away from seeking a degree under the free TAFE scheme of the state government. Data from the Victorian Tertiary Admissions Centre shows first-round applications for university courses this year have declined by 5.3 percent.

Morrison government encourages Australians to ditch university plans and take up a trade

The Morrison government says it wants to end “job snobbery” by encouraging thousands of young Australians to ditch plans for university and take up a trade instead.

The change in message comes as the government confronts big shortages in some vital blue collar jobs.

Watch the video above

In 2008, more than a quarter of a million Australians began their apprenticeship but by last year, the number of new apprentices had all but halved.

A government list of the fifty highest earning jobs, shows thirty one are the product of vocational training, not a degree.

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The government’s top example: construction managers earn almost $3,500 a week.

The major parties blame one another for Australia’s skills shortage.


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.

Universities Hit By Data Breaches

Summary —

In the past month the Australian National University (ANU) and Australian Catholic University have been hit by data breaches affecting more than 200,000 people. It’s in this environment that providers across the independent tertiary education system are reviewing their data protection protocols.

Key Issues —

Advice of a major data breach that occurred in late 2018 was released by ANU in early June 2019, some two weeks after it was discovered. The university said that there was unauthorised access to significant amounts of personal staff, student and visitor data extending back nineteen years.

Depending on the information provided to ANU, the data accessed may have included names, addresses, dates of birth, phone numbers, personal email addresses and emergency contact details, tax file numbers, payroll information, bank account details, and passport details. Student academic records were also accessed.

Upon identifying that the data breach had occurred, ANU set about working to further strengthen our systems against secondary or opportunistic attacks.

Some two weeks after ANU released public information concerning its unfortunate data breach ACU said that a data breach was discovered on 22 May 2019 and a number of staff email accounts and some University systems had been compromised.

The data breach at ANU originated from a phishing attack: an email pretending to be from ACU tricking users into clicking on a link or opening an attachment and then entering credentials into a fake ACU login page. In a very small number of cases, staff login credentials were obtained successfully via the phishing email and were used to access the email accounts, calendars and bank account details of affected staff members.

These two attacks have highlighted the importance of the tertiary education system being vigilant and proactively working to protect student and staff records. It’s a topical issue and one being considered at the ITEC19 conference to be held over 21-23 August 2019 on the Gold Coast. For conference information visit:

At the ITEC19 Conference Mr Damien Manuel, Chair of the Australian Information Security Association, will make a presentation entitled ‘Cyber Threats To Student Data Security.’ Precipitously, this presentation was planned before news of the unfortunate data breaches at ANU and ACU was made public.

Mr Manuel’s presentation will highlight the fact that independent tertiary education providers store a great deal of information about their students and it’s not possible to assume this is safe from cyber criminals. In this thought-provoking presentation lean about how student databases and other sources such as email may be subject to theft and what your business can to protect itself, and your students.

In light of the cyber attacks at ANU and ACU that saw the data breaches occur, ITECA advises all independent tertiary education providers to review their data security arrangements.

Member Engagement:

ITECA’s ability to play a lead role in matters associated with this issue rests on the advice and guidance of individuals belonging to the ITECA Higher Education Sector Interest Group.

Further Information:

For more information on this issue please send an email to or telephone 1300 421 017.  Stay up to date via Twitter @ITECAust or via Facebook at


Aussie universities pivot to failing Indian international students

Yesterday, The Australian reported official data from the Department of Home Affairs showing that visa applications from Chinese students were flattening, forcing Australia’s universities to shift their focus to lower quality students from India and Nepal.

The economic activity arising from these three source countries is nicely encapsulated by the ABC below:

As shown above, international students from China, India and Nepal have each experienced explosive growth. However, there is a huge difference in the quality of these students.

Dr Bob Birrell from the Australian Population Research Institute (APRI) released a detailed study late last year showing that Chinese students tend to pay higher fees and study at higher quality Group of Eight (GoE) Universities, whereas Indian students typically study at cheaper institutions, often for the primary purpose of gaining access to employment and future permanent residency:

The first comprises universities charging very high fees – $40,000 or more a year by 2018. These are primarily the Group of 8 universities. Despite the princely cost, the number of overseas-student commencements at Go8 universities increased massively, by 56 per cent, between 2012 and 2016. Almost all of this increase came from Chinese students…

The second market covers universities other than those in the Go8, all of whom charge much lower (though still high) fees of around $25,000 per year. Overseas-student commencements in these universities increased by 41 per cent over the years 2012 to 2016. Most of this growth came from countries located in the Indian subcontinent, particularly India itself.

We show that the surge of enrolments in this second market has been largely due to the Australian government’s opening up of these opportunities in 2012 (pages 16-17). A key initiative was to allow all overseas student graduates (including those completing two-year Masters-by-Coursework degrees) to gain access to a work-study visa. This provides a minimum of two years in the Australian labour market after completion of a university degree, regardless of field of study.

Yet, despite Chinese students tending to pay more and attending higher quality Go8 universities, those that do stay and work in Australia perform poorly in the jobs market when compared against their Australian-born counterparts:

Chinese students who do stay on in Australia after graduation and enter the job market find it difficult to obtain employment at the professional or managerial levels. Employers expect their appointees to have complex problem solving, collaboration and communication skills. Many Chinese graduates lack these skills and thus struggle to compete with local graduates and with graduates from English-Speaking-Background (ESB) countries.

Data from the 2016 Census documents this point. Table 4 shows employment outcomes for young China-born males (aged 25-34) in Australia as of 2016, who arrived here between 2006 to 2016 and who held qualifications at degree level or above in Management and Commerce. Only 34.1 per cent were employed as managers or professionals. The outcome was similar for those with Engineering degrees, though a bit better for IT graduates.

Table 4 also indicates that a high proportion (some 31.4 per cent of those with management and commerce qualifications) were unemployed or not in the workforce. This is why we chose to focus on males. The high share of those not in the workforce category is unlikely to be explained by child care responsibilities.

True, it is not just a problem for the Chinese. Most graduates from non-English-speaking background (NESB) countries in business and commerce, engineering, and IT fields struggle to find professional level appointments in these fields. This is because there is a serious oversupply of entry-level candidates, relative to the available job openings.

So, if Chinese students tend to have low standards, what does this mean for our universities’ pivot towards students from India and Nepal?

Monday’s Four Corners special on Australia’s international student trade was especially damning of the quality of students coming from the Indian sub-continent, reporting widespread instances of plagiarism, academic misconduct, and students failing their courses.  The below email to colleagues from Murdoch University’s Professor Benjamin Reilly encapsulates the problems:

“In semester one 2018 we experienced a surge in new international students into some postgraduate courses. This surge increased sharply in semester two 2018, with several hundred new students, mostly from the Punjab region of India, enrolling in a small number of postgraduate courses.

“While some were OK, many do not have the language skills to study at a postgraduate level and have thus been unable to participate in class or complete assessments for the units legitimately.

“Hence we now have a much larger number of academic misconduct issues, supplementary assessments and outright failures than we have previously experienced in the units in which this cohort has enrolled”…

As does correspondence from Dr Duncan Farrow, a maths lecturer and academic misconduct investigator:

“Perhaps the most telling statistic of them all: 48 of the 80 students admitted to the MIT in semester one this year had at least one academic misconduct finding against them,” he wrote.

“Not only was there a huge increase in numbers of misconduct cases but additionally the investigations were more difficult due to the poor language capabilities of many of the students involved.

“I have just reviewed the results for students from the Punjab region in BSC100 Building Blocks for Science Students and it is depressing. Of the 52 students in this category, 12 have passed the unit outright — a pass rate of less than 25 per cent.

Inside Story’s economics correspondent, Tim Colebatch, similarly raised the alarm on the torrent of low quality Nepalese students inundating Australia’s universities:

…one source stands out: the little Himalayan country of Nepal, just thirty million people, living in one of Asia’s poorest countries.

In 2017–18, one in every 1500 inhabitants of Nepal emigrated to Australia. In an era of strict immigration controls, that is an astonishing number for two countries so far apart, with no common language, heritage or ethnicity.

Over the five years to mid 2018, one in every 500 Nepalis emigrated to Australia — and that’s in net terms, after deducting those who returned. In 2017–18, little Nepal became Australia’s third largest source of migrants after India and China…

Deregulation has allowed universities to selectively lower their standards to bring in more fee-paying foreign students, even when they fail to meet the thresholds for English language skills or academic achievement…

This is not the first time immigration from Nepal has surged. A decade ago, we saw a scam with training visas, in which “students” from India and Nepal came for training courses in Australia, then quickly vanished into the workforce. The scam saw net immigration set record levels in 2008–09, before then immigration minister Chris Evans shut it down. But most of those who came stayed on here.

At the current pace of immigration, Australia will soon have more residents born in Nepal than in Greece.

The aggressive growth in international students has already unambiguously lowered university standards, flooded Australia’s labour market with cheap exploitative labour, as well as helped crush-load Australia’s cities.

The situation is likely to worsen as Australia’s universities pivot to lower quality students from India and Nepal in a desperate attempt to keep the fees rolling in.

Universities told no more research money under Labor

Labor has put universities on notice that they will not get any extra money for research and they will be under greater scrutiny to show students and parents that they can get people into jobs and give value for the fees they charge.

Labor education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek said a Labor government’s education policy would be focused on the training sector, which is run down, under financed and unable to serve the needs of people in country Australia.

Labor education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek: “Our commitment to universities is really a very large and substantial commitment and we know they do use some of the money generated by enrolling more students in cross-subsidising research.”  Roy Vandervegt

She was especially worried by the state of the public TAFE sector and would apply tougher standards to private sector training companies because so many “shonks” had got into the business and the Coalition government had been slow to shut down “rapacious and poor-quality” operators.

In an exclusive interview with The Australian Financial Review, Ms Plibersek said the consequences of poor-quality education were “catastrophic” and Labor was not afraid to intervene to prevent market failure in early childhood education and TAFE if it was getting in the way of providing kids with an education.

Ms Plibersek said the party was committed to raising research and development spending to 3 per cent of GDP. But she signalled the universities would get a cool reaction if they expected to get more money for research.

Labor’s only specific election commitment to university research is a $300 million fund for infrastructure.Universities say research budgets have been coming under pressure as the Coalition government’s 2017 funding freeze begins to hit harder. Money from the lucrative international student market is being redirected to research to keep spending at 2017 levels.

Ms Plibersek said Labor had promised to lift the funding freeze, which would cost $10 billion over the next decade, and that was the limit of its generosity.

“I’m not anticipating any other large spending commitments in the university sector in this campaign or in our time in government. We’ve made really substantial commitments already.

“We need to make sure we are getting good value from the research money that we’re spending, the tax concessions that we already give. There is plenty of evidence that the university-industry link is not as strong as it should be, consequently research isn’t commercialised as effectively as it might be.

“I think there’s plenty of opportunity for policy reform in this area.”

She said the party would continue to support Australian Research Council and the National Health and Medical Research Council and there would be other initiatives from the innovation shadow minister, Senator Kim Carr.

“Our commitment to universities is really a very large and substantial commitment and we know they do use some of the money generated by enrolling more students in cross-subsidising research.”

The university sector had to consider the needs of the nation and of local communities, not just churning through extra students to improve their bottom line.

As a consequence Labor would introduce performance measures for universities.

The Coalition is planning to use a performance test as the basis for getting extra funding once the freeze is lifted in 2020. Ms Plibersek said Labor was not interested in using a performance test to ration places but it would use one to make sure that students got a quality education.

She wanted students, parents and career advisers to get high-quality, transparent information about employment outcomes for graduates, starting salaries and satisfaction rates with courses.

“I think universities spend a lot of time competing with each other with their advertising material and so on. There is a role for making sure the inputs a student needs to make a decision are easily available and digestible.”

One of biggest concerns was the anomaly in fee help between university and TAFE. It could cost tens of thousands of dollars to get a degree from TAFE which didn’t get fee help and was not very different from a university course which did get fee help.

Fee help will be part of Labor’s review of post-secondary school eduction, which would be on scale similar to the Gonski review of schools or the famous Kangan review of 1974, which set up the whole TAFE system.

Her aim was to get the training sector on an “absolutely equal footing” with universities. and make sure both sectors were fit for purpose.

If anyone thought universities had suffered with a funding freeze it was nothing compared to the cuts and and bad decision making that had been going on in the training sector.

Tanya Plibersek’s aim is to get the training sector on an “absolutely equal footing” with universities. and make sure both sectors are fit for purpose. Supplied

Training participation has been on a slide nationally since about 2012 and TAFEs in NSW, Tasmania and South Australia have all had crises leading to the resignation of chief executives.

Ms Plibersek claimed the Coalition and state governments had run the TAFE sector down by about $3 billion and said Labor would spend “around a billion dollars” in restoring buildings, offering free places and setting a quota for one in 10 jobs on government infrastructure projects being done by apprentices.

The new review would make sure universities, TAFE and schools worked more closely together.

The Labor deputy leader said she was comfortable with policy that allowed for government intervention in TAFE and early education, such as setting a quota for apprentices in government jobs.

On Sunday Bill Shorten said Labor would supplement wages for early childhood teachers by nearly $10 billion, would pay $4 billion in subsidies to parents, and cap fee increases charged by providers.

Ms Plibersek said the market in education was different to almost any other because of what people expected from it and the ability of some families to pay. There was a risk that some families would get caught in a cycle without education and they could never escape poverty.

She agreed there was a risk of exposing the government to rent seekers from other sectors.

This was one reason Labor was in favour of a tougher stand against shonky private sector operators, which the government had been slow to take action against.

“I don’t care who sets up the sandwich shop as long as they are not poisoning people. If you don’t like their sandwiches you can go to the sandwich shop next door.

“But if you live in a country town and there’s one or two schools in your town, it’s not the same. The cost of entering the market for new operators are prohibitive and the consequences of a poor schooling are catastrophic.

“This absolutely means there is a role for government in ensuring high standards and a role for making sure there is not market failure. There needs to be an opportunity for every child to get a great education.”