Australian vocational education is beset by several big problems that have accumulated and enlarged over decades. But solutions seem as remote as ever because vocational education is limited by seemingly intractable constraints, some of them contradictory, and many extending far beyond vocational education. So pervasive, longstanding and deeply embedded are many of these problems that perhaps the only feasible approach may be to start with undoing the simplest and most blatant of the problems and progressively work towards improving the system.
DANNY BIELIKThe Australian12:46PM November 16, 2016 The election of Donald Trump is a continuation of a story playing itself out around the world. Disaffected people are railing against the entitled know-it-alls and rent seekers of the world. In Australia we have a changing economy that is in the midst of a decades-long transition. Mining is down from its peaks and manufacturing is all but dead. We saw this coming so we heard the cry to move into services. Now, many services are being outsourced and automation is coming for other industries with much further disruption to follow. The boomers are retiring and will soon need a lot more care. Our economy will soon cry for skills in predominantly vocational areas — in sets of skills garnered over a lifetime, much more than in full qualifications gained at university. Our system is well designed with pathways that build from skill sets to vocational qualifications and into degrees. But our system is tilted. And the tilt recently became a lean which in turn is almost bent to the point of breaking. Universities churn out far more accountants, teachers and lawyers than we could possibly absorb; especially when work like accounting and law is easy to offshore. The vast and disaffected middle are being sucked into universities by a system where low ATARs and a zero-cost at point-of-entry system leave them with little choice. This year, vocational education has been systematically demonised. The failure of the government-designed, government-run VET FEE-HELP system facilitated much negative hype about providers, scaring learners. The system is now to be replaced by a lopsided, unresponsive, pick-a-winner loan scheme with no matching subsidy mechanism. To top it off, the discussion between states and the Commonwealth is now only about cash. They talk about cost-shifting and funding caps and national partnerships. I once remember discussion about students and outcomes and jobs — apprentices and trainees. What does one tell a prospective student of 2017? If they want to study a diploma or certificate the funding and loan mish-mash is indecipherable. But a university degree? Just fill in a HECS form and you’re done. The university lobby have convinced successive governments that university must be everyone’s ultimate destiny. While universities’ roles in research and international education are truly world-class, this does not excuse the great confidence trick that seeks to disavow vocational education and training and draw everyone into great halls of academia for years at a time with questionable outcomes. This is the true market failure. And successive governments were the authors of this mess. Back to my point. Middle Australia is where people feel helpless against the tide of a changing economy. They need and want access to a fair education system that meets their future needs, not something a government picks for them. They don’t want to feel like second-class citizens when they sign up for a vocational qualification. And they really don’t want to have to fork out thousands in cash when they need no cash to study at university. Vocational education needs a fair and equivalent funding and loan scheme and an end to the negative talk. This will allow students the choice that suits their needs, reducing the risk of the unemployment and skill-shortage nexus that we face. When you play with people’s livelihoods like this they stir. Then they vote. Watch out. Danny Bielik is a tertiary education entrepreneur, former ministerial adviser and host of the weekly Courses and Careers Show on 53 radio stations around Australia.
AFTER almost a year of study, Michelle Dryburgh was told this week she will be left high and dry to pay about $8000 in upfront fees — just because she is enrolled in a VET course the government doesn’t think is worth supporting.
The Department of Education has announced for the first time that some students will have their debts cancelled after the Government was able to recover money from training providers rorting student loans.
The peak TAFE body wants threshold provider standards introduced in vocational education in the wake of the failed VET FEE-HELP loan scheme. TAFE Directors Australia said the federal government should borrow policy settings from higher education to ensure the replacement scheme, the VET Student Loans program, did not attract the catastrophic rorting that had plagued the old scheme. Chief executive Martin Riordan said the Education Department faced a “colossal task” in judging the financial viability of hundreds of private companies applying for approval to offer the new loans, and threshold standards would help. He also said colleges should sign up to more rigorous teacher standards to demonstrate “this is a group committed to the industry, and not fly-by-nights”. On Monday, the government released a draft list of courses to be covered by the new scheme, together with proposed loan limits, and gave stakeholders two weeks to provide feedback. Mr Riordan said the consultation should extend beyond courses and caps. “We want to support the legislation and see that urgent changes are made, but we will not just be giving feedback on the pricing. We want to give feedback on governance. “We can’t understand why on one side of the tertiary sector thresholds are a key underpinning of the system, and on the other side they are not even proposed. We should see a full package, not just something to save money or stop rorting.” Mr Riordan said the new scheme should not be finalised until the Australian National Audit Office had released its report on the administration of VET FEE-HELP, expected to be tabled in December. “It is challenging, particularly for crossbenchers, to be considering emergency legislation in the form that’s been proposed. “(The audit report) would be very helpful. If this legislation goes to a Senate committee, we’ll be hoping the committee seeks at least an interim report.” Education Minister Simon Birmingham said he was surprised anyone would want to see action delayed. He said the government had pursued a “comprehensive and consultative” approach to implementing the new scheme, including a pre-election discussion paper, stakeholder meetings and roundtables, and this approach would continue “as we move into final implementation”. Senator Birmingham said the government had strengthened financial obligations on providers last year. “Additional financial requirements will also be placed on providers as part of the new VET Student Loans program,” he said. “Unlike current arrangements, providers will be required to comply with these arrangements for the duration of their approval.” Mr Riordan said industry and consumers needed more clarity on the types of providers admitted to the new scheme. “Some sort of coherent structure, like the commonwealth applies to higher education in terms of threshold standards, could be (useful), not just for student loans but potentially for funding, student visa issues and so on.” He said higher education providers were differentiated into self-accrediting and non self-accrediting institutions. “They’re treated differently, they’re funded differently, they (attract) differently named loans. There’s much more coherence in what that means.” The Australian Council for Private Education and Training said the government had used a sledgehammer approach in forcing all private colleges to apply to the new scheme, while giving TAFEs automatic entry. “Instead of recognising good performers, and creating the race to the top, all private providers were thrown into the same bucket regardless of their outcomes,” chief executive Rod Camm said. “This is an opportunity missed to reward excellence while punishing poor performance.”
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