Community Colleges Australia (CCA) has requested changes to the selection criteria and processes of the NSW Government’s Smart and Skilled program expression of interest (EOI), to ensure the state’s not-for-profit (NFP) adult and community (ACE) providers will not be disadvantaged.
About Smart and Skilled: The NSW Government’s Smart and Skilled program provides eligible students with access to government subsidised training. All registered training organisations (RTOs) that wish to receive Smart and Skilled funding in 2023/24 must apply (or re-apply) to become providers. The expression of interest (EOI) application process opened on 1 November 2022 and closed on 2 December 2022. Community Colleges Australia (CCA) agrees that the Smart and Skilled program provider base was overdue for a “refresh”. However, CCA has identified concerns as to how this process will impact the state’s NFP adult and community sector.
The CCA submission (download a copy here – PDF) details six issues that need to be addressed as part of the Smart and Skilled EOI selection process from the perspective of NSW ACE providers:
- The way the “financial viability” test may be applied that disadvantages CCA members and other not-for-profit training organisations.
- Inadequate inclusivity: the criteria for allocation of Smart and Skilled funding should include the ability of providers to meet the needs of their local communities, including engagement with disadvantaged and vulnerable cohorts.
- The impact of opening the Foundation Skills Entitlement Program to for-profit providers, more than just TAFE and community education providers.
- The limitations of regional skills forecasting intelligence that may impact the ability of providers to access/apply for relevant qualifications and meet community need.
- The lack of relationship of the Smart and Skilled EOI and significant national and New South Wales policy developments.
- Information privacy and information transparency.
Skills strategy developments: The current NSW “ACE Program” targets disadvantaged NSW students and supports students that cannot access Smart and Skilled Entitlement programs. The ACE Program also supports small business owners and their employees. The ACE Program and the Smart and Skilled program thus operate together as complementary NSW government-funded skills strategies to meet the training needs of the state’s disadvantaged learners. The NSW Government is currently developing a full strategy for the state’s ACE sector, which builds on and extends the “ACE Policy Statement” issued by the NSW Skills Minister in July 2021: this will be the most important strategic development for the NSW ACE sector in at least 10 years. CCA is concerned that the role of community education providers in the state’s training strategy has not been properly recognised in the processes and criteria of the EOI. The ACE Strategy does not appear to have a direct relationship with Smart and Skilled EOI, although both are major state skills policy developments.
Other policy developments: In addition to the NSW ACE Strategy, four other current major policy developments may impact the Smart and Skilled EOI: the Commonwealth’s Foundation Skills Strategy, the establishment of Jobs and Skills Australia, the implementation of “free TAFE” with increased funding for 180,000 students in 2023 and a further 300,000 from 2024 onwards (see CCA’s recent submission) and the new Workforce Australia providers, many of which are also RTOs with the capacity to refer their job-seekers to their own training.
Not-for-profit RTOs are different than for-profit RTOs because they are values-based and have explicit “missions” – they exist to serve the communities they work in and with. This is reflected in their attitudes to profit and surplus – NFP community providers invest surplus funds in their communities and organisations. They provide a higher level of service, particularly increased student support for the most disadvantaged and highest needs learners; they are thus much better positioned to provide foundation skills to these learners. CCA has expressed particular concern about opening the Foundation Skills Entitlement Program to all Smart and Skilled providers, including for-profit providers and not just TAFE and NFP community providers.
Regulation: NSW not-for-profit and ACE RTOs also have greater degrees of regulation and oversight through the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) than for-profit RTOs. This level of regulation and oversight has been reflected in the EOI, which treats NFP RTOs the same as for-profit RTOs.
Community Colleges Australia requests the NSW Government to:
- Apply flexibility in the “financial viability” test for not-for-profit ACE providers that are well-established, well-performing and well-governed.
- Give local community networking and support a high ranking in assessment, as indicated by established networks and support from local and regional service organisations.
- Rescind plans to open the Foundation Skills Entitlement Program to all Smart and Skilled providers, and that it be limited only to TAFE and to not-for-profit community providers which have shown the ability to meet the needs of foundation skills students.
- Conduct a review of the Department’s regional skills forecasting intelligence to ensure that it does not disadvantage any region and clarifies how it is applied in the Smart and Skilled EOI.
- Ensure that contracted NSW ACE Providers do not automatically lose their ACE Program contract if they are unsuccessful in obtaining a 2023/24 Smart and Skilled contract.
- Implement protocols between TAFE NSW and NFP ACE providers that allow for career/study pathways and mandate coordination on a regional and local level.
- Develop and implement protocols around “free TAFE” funding that do not disadvantage NFP community providers, including the delivery of Smart and Skilled-funded places.
- Provide details as to the privacy and use of personal data provided to Equifax as part of the EOI.
- Implement a transparent process of detailing the names of business Directors, senior managers and the ownership structures of all Smart and Skilled providers.
Download the Community Colleges Australia Submission on Smart and Skilled 7 December 2022 (PDF, 436kb).