The AEU is warning the federal government against repeating the significant policy failures of the broader vocational education and training (VET) system in its response to a national review of the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP). The proposed shift to an outcomes-based funding model would subject the respected AMEP to a race to the bottom and again put the learning needs of students last, the union has argued.
The Commonwealth Department of Home Affairs (DHA) has invited public feedback on its initial discussion paper outlining possible changes to the AMEP – a free service to help migrants and refugees with low English levels to improve their language skills and settle into Australia. The union made its submission to the review following feedback and consultation with AEU members working in AMEP in TAFEs across the country.
In its response, the AEU has expressed serious concerns about the proposed outcomes-based funding model, which ties the majority of funding to a student’s completion of a unit or certificate. With 67% of funding delayed to the completion of the course, and contingent on circumstances beyond the provider’s control, there would be no choice but to cut costs due to the unpredictability of money being recouped.
Seemingly based on the same flawed logic that led to widespread rorting of the VET system, history shows the DHA’s proposed model would fail on every metric it proposes to address – making the program less accessible, creating lower quality outcomes and diminishing participation.
In again opening the door to private providers seeking to fast-track student ‘outcomes’ in the pursuit of funding, the model risks narrowing the curriculum and degrading the high-quality skills and knowledge provided by qualified AMEP teachers. In AEU feedback sessions, members immediately drew negative comparisons with the VET Fee Help Scheme, widely acknowledged as one of Australia’s greatest policy scandals.
The union’s submission has highlighted the inevitable problems of accountability – detracting from the time teachers could otherwise spend with students – and of waste, forcing public funds to be spent on increased regulation of providers rather than on the core business of education.
Instead, the most effective way to incentivise student outcomes is to provide proper funding upfront for TAFEs to plan appropriately for small class sizes, with qualified teachers who are resourced for the entirety of the work they do. It is also essential that teachers’ informed judgment about student achievement is respected, to ensure that those students needing extra help can access that support – something that does not fit with a simplistic outcomes-based funding model.
While governments love to talk about ‘flexible delivery’, they are often very vague on the purpose. In its submission to the review, the AEU has strongly emphasised the importance of face-to-face tuition – including for teaching much-needed digital skills, which help students access employment or other training pathways. Online learning should be an equity measure for those who can’t attend in person, not an alternative to classroom learning.
The AEU has welcomed some decisions made by the DHA – the first being the removal of the 510-hour limit on classes, to provide unlimited hours of tuition. Secondly, allowing students to continue with the program until they attain vocational English, to better facilitate settlement into the community and entry into further education and employment. Also, the removal of time limits on the registration, commencement and completion of tuition for students who were in Australia on or before 1 October 2020, enabling those who did not engage with the AMEP earlier to access the program.
AMEP educators understand the unique lived experiences of their students. Not only do they help adult migrants and refugees learn English, they play an essential role in helping them settle, integrate with the broader community, build social networks and avoid isolation. If the government wants to maintain a quality program that genuinely supports student need and achievement, AMEP must be fairly funded, in line with the actual costs of running the program, and delivered by appropriately qualified educators with secure employment.