The Gillard government's reform agenda to develop a more skilled workforce and boost the economic outlook by increased participation in higher education and training is not being advanced by its privatisation push, and any efforts to strengthen Vocational Education and Training (VET) outcomes must swing the balance back in TAFE's favour, said Senator Lee Rhiannon today in response to the Productivity Commission's report into the impact of COAG reforms.
"To date the government's handling of the transition to more contestable vocational education and training markets is not delivering the key qualifications needed in skills shortage areas," said higher education spokesperson Senator Lee Rhiannon.
"The Government has coerced states to increase competition for VET courses, a strategic emphasis which has resulted in a weaker TAFE system and a dramatically increased market share for private providers.
"Since 2008 Victoria's experience of making all public VET funding contestable has been a disaster for public TAFE colleges, which have shifted across the board from operating in surplus to operating in deficit.
"Between 2008 and 2011 Victorian TAFE colleges' market share for delivery of VET course dropped from 75 to 48.8 percent, while the market share of private providers rose from 14 to 40 per cent.
"Some of these courses have proved highly profitable, such as fitness courses, but are not necessarily in the national interest.
"In Victoria we have seen examples where students have gained certificate III or IV qualifications that were heavily marketed by private providers, only to find that they need a more relevant qualification down the track but cannot access further study because their training entitlement has been used up.
"If the VET reform agenda is to succeed there needs to be a rigorous assessment of the flaws of the contestability approach.
"This is a big report which I look forward to examining in more detail. It contains significant provisos about its findings, because of data gaps and difficulties in estimating impacts of changes. With this in mind, COAG members should be wary of spinning it as evidence of the reform agenda's success.
"The Greens support a deliberate shift back towards funding a high quality TAFE system to deliver the broad range of advanced qualifications needed to build a more highly skilled workforce," Senator Rhiannon said.