The best way to reverse the fall in enrolments at government-funded vocational education providers is to restore funding to TAFE and return it to being the primary provider of vocational education in Australia.
According to a new report by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER), student numbers, subject enrolments and training hours at public vocational training providers all fell in 2018.
AEU Federal TAFE Secretary Maxine Sharkey said that the Morrison Government’s obsession with private vocational education providers at the expense of TAFE was already hurting the career prospects of thousands of Australians who need access to affordable and high quality vocation education.
“TAFE is one of the crown jewels of the Australian education system. However, it’s clear that years of funding cuts and official disinterest by successive Federal Coalition governments have left TAFE, our world-class publicly-owned vocational education provider, in a weakened state,” Ms Sharkey said.
“This has resulted in falling student numbers and TAFE campus closures. The solution is quite simple. We need a strong public TAFE sector that is fully funded.”
According to the NCVER figures, in 2018, compared with 2017:
- estimated student numbers decreased by 1.9%
- subject enrolments decreased by 5.7%
- hours and full-year training equivalents (FYTEs) decreased by 6.4%
The figures also reveal 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.
“The introduction of private-for profit education providers has been a disaster for Australia’s vocational education system,” Ms Sharkey said.
“History has shown that private providers aren’t interested in quality education – they are interested in profits.”
“The private sector’s idea of VET-sector competition is to drive down costs and standards and drive the ‘competition’ (read TAFE) out of business. Then it can jack up its prices and force students to pay through the nose,” Ms Sharkey said.
“The Australian Skills Quality Authority, the Government’s own regulator, said parts of the Australian training market are already in a race to the bottom. The Productivity Commission has described the Australian VET system as a mess.”
Ms Sharkey 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 Sharkey said.