CCA notes the Commonwealth and all State and Territory Governments have agreed to create an additional 180,000 “fee-free” TAFE places, to commence in January 2023. This was confirmed at the meeting of Commonwealth and State/Territory skills ministers on 7 October, following an announcement at the National Jobs and Skills Summit.
CCA strongly endorses additional resources to TAFE as the first step to revitalise Australia’s training system in a way that reaches all students, especially those who are disadvantaged and unemployed. CCA strongly supports a strengthened TAFE sector as the anchor VET institution (see our policy on TAFE). However we are concerned about the possible unintended consequences for Australia’s ethical, community-based, not-for-profit ACE providers, which each year deliver training to almost half a million VET students – more than 10% of learners.
CCA is keen, in the Prime Minister’s words, that the additional TAFE funding will be “the beginning, not the end” of progress on skills or training. CCA requests the Commonwealth and the states to develop policy protocols around “free TAFE” that include appropriate “guardrails” to ensure that both VET students and the ACE sector are not inadvertently disadvantaged, to the long-term detriment of Australian skills; and that long-overdue formal pathways are developed between Australian ACE providers and TAFEs.
ACE providers should not be disadvantaged by the larger marketing power of TAFE, so that students might skip ACE providers – which specialise in enrolling vulnerable and disadvantaged students (see below) – and enrol in TAFE courses just because of a higher level of “brand awareness”. Vulnerable and disadvantaged students could also enrol in inappropriate TAFE courses just because they are free and promoted, commencing higher level qualifications beyond their capability. The lessons of the disastrous VET FEE-HELP Loans program – as summarised by the Australian National Audit Office review – are that many low level learners enrolled in qualifications way in excess of their capabilities simply because they were seen as “free” and therefore desirable. Although “free TAFE” will, thankfully, not saddle learners with debt, if the free programs recruit students incorrectly, those learners will not complete the courses, wasting funds and potentially dissuading VET learners from engaging in further training.
CCA strongly supports national government policies that relieve the burden on vulnerable and disadvantaged groups and provide properly funded education, training and employment services. However, such funding should not and cannot be at the expense of the community managed, not-for-profit ACE providers, which substantially work with disadvantaged groups and attain a high degree of success.