At the AEU TAP Conference in October, keynote speaker Gayle Tierney, Minister for Skills and Minister for Higher Education, explained the key changes the Andrews government has made to the departmental structures overseeing the VET sector and TAFE, as well as outlining their ongoing priorities.
These changes have been informed by the government’s review of the sector, led by former federal Labor Minister Jenny Macklin. The review, Skills for Victoria’s Growing Economy, highlighted the fact that the system did not work collaboratively, stating: “Its competitive market model too often pits training providers against each other to deliver courses that generate short-term profit without the long-term benefit for learners or the economy.”
The Victorian Skills Authority (VSA) is an independent entity reporting to the Minister. Its key initial task will be the development of the state’s first annual Victorian Skills Plan. It was very pleasing to see AEU Vice President TAP Elaine Gillespie appointed to the VSA Advisory Board. Unions will have a strong voice on behalf of their members with Luke Hilakari, Secretary of Trades Hall, and Lisa Fitzpatrick, Secretary of the ANMF, also appointed.
The newly created Office of TAFE Coordination and Delivery (OTCD) in the Department of Education and Training (DET) will be critical to the success of the government’s reforms. The AEU has been pushing for the need not only to see a more collaborative VET sector, but also a more unified TAFE system – one that could see our TAFEs working more closely together, rather than competitively, and feature joint development of curriculum, and more consistency of course delivery and fees. There would be significant benefit for students, to find the right course, at the right location, and to enable industries to find qualified employees from within their local communities.
To this end, the OTCD’s key role is the coordinated and cooperative delivery of high-quality, collaborative training, and policy advice on public provision.
DET has outlined that this will be achieved by driving reform, collaboration and coordination across the network in a range of areas, including assets, workforce strategy, shared services, governance, performance and accountability, finances, setting expectations and priorities via plans and legislative reform, and responding to the Victorian Skills Plan. Each TAFE will be required to develop an individual response to the TAFE Network Statement of Priorities – an annual agreement between the Minister and TAFEs outlining government’s clear expectations about objectives, roles and a shared vision focusing on students, skills and sustainability.
These changes are all positive. However, the reality will need to be tested, and any reforms will not be successful if government does not address inadequate funding levels. The AEU will also be working to ensure the voice of the teaching profession is clearly considered.
TAFE members are committed to delivering high-quality education for their students, and they need to be legitimately included in conversations about any changes or opportunities for improvement because of the expertise and experience they bring to the table. Without this, the government and DET risk introducing hollow reforms. Most importantly, students will miss opportunities to develop the skills they need for decent, secure jobs, and industry will struggle to find the skilled workforce it needs.