TAFE & Adult Provision Federal review backs Morrison agenda

There are two reviews into vocational education currently in play, both of which will lead to major reforms in the sector. But the difference in their respective process and agenda could not be starker. 

While the Macklin review currently underway in Victoria recognises TAFE at the heart of the vocational education sector, the federal ‘Strengthening Skills’ review has the interests of business firmly at its core.  

In late 2018, the federal government appointed Steven Joyce (former skills minister in New Zealand’s conservative National Party) to lead a major review of Australia’s vocational education and training (VET) sector. 

Many of the Morrison government’s pre-election announcements were based on recommendations from the Joyce review, released in April 2019.

Among the recommendations are reforms to strengthen the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA), the national VET regulator, and piloting a new business-led model of organising skills for qualification development. The AEU rejects this recommendation.

The Morrison government has continued to ignore the public TAFE system in its processes for implementing the review’s recommendations.

The review – which is heavily focused on speeding up the process of creating and updating qualifications – claims to be focused on giving students the skills that employers’ need. 

However, TAFE was almost completely sidelined in the review’s consultation process and barely rates a mention in its recommendations.  

The Morrison government has continued to ignore the public TAFE system in its processes for implementing the review’s recommendations – chief amongst them the establishment of a national skills commission and a national careers institute. 

Of the six early actions identified by the Joyce review, these were the two budgeted for in 2019-2020.

The Morrison government has committed $48.3 million to establish the National Skills Commission, tasked with developing a nationally consistent funding model based on the ‘shared needs’ of states and territories. 

The federal government claims to have undertaken an ‘extensive co-design consultation process’ with stakeholders across Australia, but most were stakeholders with vested interests in a more business-led VET system, many of them with no direct experience in education. 

The result is a one-sided focus on the short-term skills, rather than on the broader education of workers who want careers, not merely short-term skills for insecure jobs. 

Representatives from TAFE and trade unions, not to mention teachers and students, were marginalised – though the AEU did succeed in demanding (and winning) a place on one committee. 

The result is a one-sided focus on the short-term skills some employers want, rather than on the broader education of workers who want careers, not merely short-term skills for insecure jobs. 

The government is framing this as a preference among stakeholders for a move away from the ‘traditional focus on qualifications, which would limit capacity to consider other learning approaches such as micro-credentials, non-accredited training and informal learning’. 

According to the government’s paper, the NSC could set national standards for RTOs, training products (including content), apprenticeships and developing the VET workforce to ‘articulate quality beyond compliance’. 

It also hints at the potential for the NSC to have overall responsibility for standards of training packages and their design. Joyce has even argued for paying industry to have input into the review and to develop training packages and curriculum.

The way this paper is talking about the use of micro-credentials as opposed to qualifications is of great concern. 

The AEU is deeply concerned at the notion of industry taking over the responsibility for developing curriculum – part of a general shift away from education in favour of a limited focus on skills training. 

The AEU has been arguing that micro-credentialing should come on top of base qualifications, treated as professional development to keep those qualifications up-to-date or as a way to upskill. 

The AEU is deeply concerned at the notion of industry taking over the responsibility for developing curriculum – part of a general shift away from education in favour of a limited focus on skills training. 

As those who understand the need to develop students for long-term careers in industry, teachers should be central to developing curriculum. 

The curriculum information needs to sit with the Industry Training Advisory Bodies and Industry Advisory Groups, which are a combination of industry and unions, along with relevant teachers and even current or recently graduated students. 

We must also guard against outsourcing any aspects of assessment to industry or profit-focused edu-businesses as has happened overseas.

Rather than looking at increased student enrolment, student satisfaction and industry growth as the markers of a return on government investment – as the AEU would recommend – it seems the NSC might also be tasked with monitoring the performance and effectiveness of the VET sector to ‘assess return on investment’. 

The Morrison government says it remains committed to establishing the National Skills Commission on 1 July 2020. 

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