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TAFE funding war continues with new report

The Australian Education Union comments on report, demands new TAFE funding to support school leavers.

Following the Productivity Commission’s final report into the National Agreement on Skills and Workforce Development (NASWD) recommending that governments continue their agenda for more contestable funding for the VET sector, Australian Education Union (AEU) Federal President Correna Haythorpe said:

Governments must ensure that Australia’s strong TAFE system is properly funded to minimise the economic consequences of the COVID pandemic.

“TAFE is the best way to ensure that Australians can access a quality and rounded education provided by industry experts, with the extra learning supports in place that make the difference between a student passing or failing a subject.”

“Therefore it is unbelievable that the Productivity Commission would recommend increased contestability and force TAFE to compete as ‘just another provider’ in the marketplace, when TAFE generates a staggering $92.5 billion in economic benefits each year, which is 16 times the annual cost of running the institution[1],” Ms Haythorpe said.

“We need a strong TAFE more than ever now. The majority of RTOs in this country provide less than 15 courses, while TAFEs are able to provide up to 500 thanks to guaranteed public funding.”

Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business, Senator Michaelia Cash, defended the Morrison Government’s decision to commence negotiations with states and territories:

“This report shows that our world-class VET system can be improved with a more transparent and consistent funding model,” Minister Cash said.

It’s clear the NASWD is overdue for a replacement, but with a major overhaul we could achieve a better return on public investment. 

“That’s why we are negotiating with state and territory governments on a new National Skills Agreement, following the signing of a heads of agreement for Skills reform by the National Cabinet last year. 

“This agreement has to ensure investment is targeted at areas of skill needs for our economic recovery and into the future.”

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg insisted that the VET system will help the Australian Government’s Economic Recovery Plan to build back from the COVID-19 crisis. “Our Government is investing a record $7 billion in the VET sector in 2020-21, which will play a critical role in supporting Australia’s growth and prosperity,” he said:

The investment in VET reform is an important component of the Government’s JobMaker Plan, which will secure Australian jobs and keep businesses open.” 

Minister Cash said the Federal Government’s boost to skills is already taking place with the JobTrainer fund being rolled out across the nation. 

“We have already joined forces with state and territory governments to roll out the $1 billion JobTrainer Fund, supporting around 320,000 additional free or low-fee training places for job seekers and young people.

“In addition, we’re providing $4 billion in wage subsidies and incentives for apprentices and trainees, and have established the National Career Institute and the National Skills Commission to ensure we are meeting Australia’s current and future workforce skills needs.

Haythorpe rebuked: “Take TAFE funding away and there will a narrowing of education choice for the millions of Australians looking to reskill or upskill. Private RTOs are only interested in offering profitable courses in profitable regions.

“TAFE’s scale and access to quality vocational education has given millions of Australians a real chance of a secure career. That’s why Australians hold TAFE in such high esteem. In a survey late last year, 94% of Australians said they wanted to see more Federal funding for TAFE to help the country recover from recession.”

We have seen TAFE defunded and the number of TAFEs drop from 98 in 1996 to only 35 in 2018. Regional and rural communities are the hardest hit, as there is no profit for private providers in these markets and people are left behind.

There is nothing in this report that addresses this issue.

“The Federal Government must ditch its failed VET marketisation model. It has seen billions of dollars of funding stripped from TAFE and millions of dollars funnelled into the pockets of dodgy private training providers.”

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