TAFE & Adult Provision TAFE under review

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into stark relief what we have known in the TAFE sector for more than a decade – that privatising public entities and commodifying public services is a path to poor quality outcomes for our community.

TAFE in Victoria has been through a tumultuous time over the past decade, beginning with a Labor government introducing contestable funding and allowing the private sector to dominate, followed by frequent policy changes and funding cuts by the Baillieu Liberal government. Federal Coalition governments have, over the past seven years, cut more than $3 billion dollars from TAFE. Despite considerable investment by the Andrews government, Victorian TAFEs remain in a fragile financial position.

The Victorian government review into The Skills for Victoria’s Growing Economy, led by former federal Labor minister Jenny Macklin, will be critical for the future success of TAFE in this state. Despite the impact of COVID-19, the review has received many submissions from stakeholders and the broader community. 

The AEU made its own submission, incorporating feedback from TAFE members. This responded to the review’s Issues Paper, which acknowledged the extreme damage to VET, and to TAFE in particular, caused by dramatic variations in government funding and erratic changes in policy. It also identified the importance of having a Victorian VET system, led by TAFE, which can compete on the global stage, and that the current Commonwealth–State funding arrangements do not reflect the important and distinctive role of TAFE as the public provider.

The role of microcredentials should be enhancing qualifications, not replacing them.

Our submission made specific recommendations about governance, funding, stronger relationships between sectors, quality provision, and the need to invest in and develop the workforce.

Governance arrangements should remove barriers to cooperation between TAFEs, ensuring we have a unified TAFE system that can respond to the policies and initiatives of government. There must also be improved links between sectors, perhaps through the provision of incentives that strengthen and embed links between schools, TAFE, universities and industry. If the post-secondary system is going to meet the needs of students, it is essential that all players, including industry, work together.

The funding system in vocational education is broken. The contestable funding policy has done enormous damage, and TAFEs are forced to be far too reliant on self-generated funding, as has been shown during this pandemic. While fee free TAFE, introduced by the Andrews government, has been extremely successful, bringing thousands of new students into the TAFE system, it is not the answer alone.

With the federal government belatedly recognising the importance of the vocational education sector, funding agreements between the states and the Commonwealth are going to be critical. These are currently being negotiated and must ensure the bulk of funding goes to TAFE rather than being frittered away to line the pockets of for-profit private providers. The Morrison government continues to be obsessed with handing over public money to the private sector, despite the brutal lessons of the past.

More concerning, however, is that funding and quality of delivery are not the only things at risk this time. Now, the Morrison government is pushing for microcredentials (skill sets) to be part of the pandemic recovery, putting vocational education qualifications, job security and decent wages in jeopardy. Previous experience with ‘skill sets’ resulted in many workers being paid minimal wages and employed on an as-needs basis.

The economic need to skill, reskill and upskill cannot be at the expense of secure employment and a living wage. Getting Victoria back to work should be done by providing quality education, apprenticeships, traineeships and cadetships that enable people to earn as they gain a full qualification.

The role of microcredentials should be enhancing qualifications, not replacing them.

DET must work with TAFE institutes to undertake comprehensive workforce planning and development to ensure both current and future training needs are met. We also want to see the provision of financial incentives, such as bursaries or scholarships, to attract new entrants into the profession.

With the state budget having been delivered on 24 November, the timing and reforms proposed by the Macklin review will be critical, especially as we look ahead to the next state budget in May 2021.

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