Australia needs a long term vision for revitalising the public TAFE system to meet future high-level skills and workforce development that is crucial to our economic future.
For over a decade, skill shortages have been recognised as a looming threat to meeting the future needs of our communities and our economy. Over the last three years the Labor government has invested $11.1 billion in VET, compared to $7.2 billion over the last three years of the Howard government. Despite this record spending, our critical skills shortages persist and the public TAFE system has been downgraded.
In 2008 the Labor government introduced competitive tendering, forcing TAFE to compete with private training providers to run vocational training courses. Victoria was the first state to embrace the contestability of courses. In 2008 Victoria’s 18 TAFE colleges operated in surplus, shifting to 16 of the 18 TAFEs trading in deficit following the introduction of competitive tendering. There are numerous examples of competition disasters with reduced value for money in terms of course quality and the downgrading of the TAFE system.
Competitive tendering has driven up fees and shifted costs onto the community via student loans. Teachers are under more pressure to do more with less, overworked and facing salary attacks. Some private providers have won the tender to deliver courses, then sub-contracted them back to TAFE. There is still a shortfall of qualifications being gained in key skills shortage areas.
In our 2011/12 budget statement, The Greens committed to increased TAFE spending and reversing the casualisation of TAFE workforce:
“We need to increase our spending on education, research and innovation at every level from schools, TAFE colleges to universities and research institutions ... We need to make teachers, especially in the TAFE system, permanent again.”
The Greens long term vision is to prioritise budget spending on a well funded quality public TAFE system to meet Australia’s future skills training needs. To achieve this we must end the funding of non-government providers of VET courses that can be supplied by TAFE.
Support the Greens campaign to increase public funding for the TAFE system and revitalise the public TAFE system to be the key provider of Australia’s future skills training.
- Write a letter to the editor
- Email the federal Tertiary Education Minister today.
- Sign up to follow the Greens’ TAFE campaign
Where the Greens Stand:
Increased TAFE spending - The Australian government should address the current skills shortages by securing increased public funding for TAFE. Though TAFE remains the majority provider of VET courses, its market share is diminishing under the competitive tendering regime.
Increased VET funding and prioritised spending on TAFE will ensure it continues to offer a broad range of high quality, diverse programs for all the community.
The Greens also recognise the important role that the community and not-for-profit VET sector provides.
Abolish TAFE fees and charges - Free higher education is a key strategy to grow Australia’s future economic prosperity and increase participation in skills training. In 1973, the Whitlam government abolished TAFE student fees, increasing enrolments from 400,700 in 1973 to 671,013 students in 1975—a 59 per cent increase. The government should abandon any moves to a Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) style university loans scheme for TAFE students.
Decline in real funding – Lee raised in parliament the 2011 Productivity Commission report on government services figures that showed the government recurrent expenditure per hour of training declined by 15.4 per cent between 2004 and 2009. In its report Skills for Prosperity: A Roadmap to VET 2011, Skills Australia acknowledged that with the substantial decline in public funding per hour of training in several states it is apparent that real funding is not being maintained (p150).
Skills shortages - The Productivity Places Program is a hastily cobbled together election initiative of the former Rudd government. The $2.1 billion program failed to achieve its aim of providing 711,000 new or additional places over five years, or to deliver higher qualifications in skills shortage areas. More than 75 per cent of its funding went to private for-profit providers at the expense of TAFE.
Data released in response to questions in a 2011 Senate Estimates Committee revealed that the only key skill shortage area to attract significant training under the government’s Productivity Places Program was aged care. Nine of the top ten courses under the Productivity Places Program were not in the priority sectors announced in the National Workforce Development Fund. Through the Productivity Places Program, 233,000 jobseekers are reported as having commenced a course, 87,000 completed a program and only 29,000 ending in employment.
Victoria: a competition case study – In Victoria, full contestability and a pure demand driven publicly funded voucher system for diploma and Certificate one to four courses saw a 110% growth of enrolments in low-cost occupation specific privately provided courses. Publicly funded enrolments in privately provided fitness instructor courses in Victoria increased by 1000% since 2008, as a result of full contestable funding of VET at the expense of TAFE.
At the same time TAFE enrolments grew just 2% in the higher cost specialised courses such as healthcare and trades.. Australia's willingness to pour money into fully contestable funding of VET at the expense of TAFE is of great concern for our future skills training.
Private VET providers – The Greens recognise there is a role for private VET providers, but that is where TAFE is unable to provide the training. Private providers have lobbied the government for an even playing field to the detriment of TAFE. Whilst they play a specific role in offering quality, innovative and tailor made courses that complement the TAFE system, they should not be seen as a replacement.
A quality TAFE system has inherent overheads such as large community infrastructure, expensive high tech equipment, and a responsibility to maintain permanent, highly qualified teachers and staff. TAFE should not be forced to compete with smaller private providers who can cherry pick the cheaper to run and hence more profitable courses, such as business training, special personal care and sales training. TAFE depends on these courses to cross-subsidise the more expensive courses, such as the latter stages of apprenticeship training and high-tech digital courses. Without them, TAFE may face problems delivering higher level qualification courses in the future.