The coronavirus pandemic has shown that it is more important than ever for Victoria to maintain a world-class vocational education sector with a strong focus on quality outcomes over profit. Our public TAFE system must be at the centre of this endeavour.
Earlier this year, the Victorian government commenced a substantial review into the state’s post-secondary education and training system led by former federal Labor minister Jenny Macklin. The Skills for Victoria’s Growing Economy review was commissioned to demonstrate the importance of the post-secondary system in educating Victorians for the state’s future prosperity.
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An issues paper drawn from the initial research and targeted consultations already undertaken has identified the critical issues in five key areas:
- economy and society
- industry and unions.
The review has identified Victoria’s need for a vocational education workforce development strategy that will ensure an adequate supply of high-quality, industry-relevant teachers.
Quality teachers are the most worthwhile investment the sector can make in improving learning and assessment. It is concerning that the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) has identified the capability of teachers as an area of challenge for VET in its last three regulatory strategies.
Given the importance of teacher capability to student engagement and learning, this review is keen to explore how recent reforms can provide a basis for ongoing professionalism and development of the VET workforce.
Positives so far
The issues paper acknowledges the extreme damage to VET, and to TAFE in particular, caused by dramatic variations in government funding, including the failure of the market-driven system and the many other erratic changes in policy.
It also identifies the importance of having a world-class Victorian VET system, led by TAFE, and that the current Commonwealth–State funding arrangements do not reflect the important and distinctive role of TAFE as the public provider.
This has never been more evident than right now as we see first hand the impact of COVID-19. Given the very high and increasing unemployment levels across Australia, TAFE is playing a crucial role in helping to get people back into work.
As we recover from this crisis, TAFE will be critical to rebuilding the economy and meeting the needs of industries facing significant skills shortages.
The issues paper also confirms the concerns the AEU has been raising about the increased focus and time allocated to regulatory requirements, which is having a negative impact on quality learning and teaching and on students’ experience.
It also looks at ways in which TAFE institutes can work together as a single unified TAFE system rather than in competition with one another.
It has been gratifying to see that the paper includes clear evidence of the benefits of vocational education for the economy. It recognises that investment in skilling local workers achieves higher wages and productivity growth than the pursuit of short-term job creation strategies; and that higher levels of educational attainment lifts productivity for businesses.
For workers, post-secondary education and training leads to better employment opportunities, higher salaries and improved living standards throughout their working life and in retirement.
The Macklin review is an opportunity to show how excellence and innovation in the VET sector can be generated from a well-funded, efficient and high-quality TAFE system, first and foremost, combined with well-regulated publicly funded provision with a focus on quality.
This review will canvass how sustainable arrangements for TAFE infrastructure investment can best be achieved, through a combination of state-level strategies and negotiation with the Commonwealth.
Areas of concern
While the signs are positive, there remains some areas of concern for the AEU. These include:
- piloting of skill sets rather than full qualifications with industry
- the recommendation to improve the recognition of short-form credentials in response to the Australian Qualifications Framework review
- employer/industry perception of job-ready graduates
- referring to teaching roles as ‘Assessors’.