The Community Colleges Australia (CCA) submission to the Australian Government’s Expert Review of the VET Sector highlights the important contributions that not-for-profit community education providers make to Australian post-secondary education. Key points of the CCA submission:
VET Sector and Community Education
- In 2017, 442 not-for-profit community education providers delivered training to 384,260 students (9.1% of the national total of 4.2 million), with private for-profit providers (2,549,380 students, 60.2%) and TAFE/government-owned providers (680,180 students, 16.1%) delivering the majority of the courses.
- Despite the extensive political and media attention that is given to state and territory TAFE systems, in 2017 community education providers delivered training to more than one-half as many students as TAFE providers did.
- The large number of VET students who studied with private for-profit providers (3,156) – 2,549,380 (60.2% of the total) – indicate that VET as an education sector has substantially been privatised, much of it taken over by the private sector. This means that private for-profit commercial organisations can – and do – exert an outsize influence on sector priorities, programs, policies and choices.
- CCA believes that making a profit out of education – and especially out of education funded by government – is inappropriate and against the best interests of the students, because there will always be pressures to reduce quality (of teaching, of student services, of hours delivered) and increase quantity of students, to obtain maximum profit. All of this means poorer training as a result.
- Although Victoria leads the country with the most government-funded community education VET students (and providers), New South Wales community providers have the most VET students: approximately 146,000, indicating a larger “fee-for-service” cohort.
Community Education Student Outcomes
- Community education providers topped all categories (TAFE, private for-profit, university), with almost half (48.9%) of graduates employed at the end of the training that had not been employed prior to commencing their study.
- Students who studied with community providers rated their experience highly:
- Graduates were highly satisfied (87.1%) with the overall quality of their training, second only to TAFE graduates (at 87.7%).
- A record 92.7% of graduates (the most of any category) would recommend community training providers: more than TAFE (92.3%), universities (90.6%) and private training providers (89.6%).
- Community education student completions across all levels have consistently grown over the 4 year period from 2012 to 2016: on a sector-wide basis, increasing from 36.8% to 48.1%, indicating a continuing ability of Australia’s community education providers to ensure that students finish their study.
Government-Funded VET Community Education Students
- The community education sector’s share of government-funded VET in 2017 was 5.7% (68,170 students).
- Community education providers consistently reach Australia’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged learners, in almost all cases much more capably than other types of providers: TAFE and the private for-profit providers. The categories of vulnerable and disadvantaged where community excels are students who:
- are aged 45-plus;
- have a disability;
- are Indigenous;
- are from Non-English speaking backgrounds;
- live in rural regional and remote areas;
- are female; and
- experiencing socio-economic disadvantage, as indicated by the SEIFA index.
- The community sector especially out-performs all other provider groups with respect to students aged 45-plus, students with a disability and female students.
If Australian governments wish to reach, engage and train Australia’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged individuals and communities, it is essential to commence with community VET providers, and to build programs with community providers in mind.
Major Issues Facing Community Education Providers
A number of organisational, institutional and funding barriers prevent not-for-profit community providers from reaching their full potential to help Australians prepare for the future workforce and to engage actively in their communities. These are:
- an ongoing need for infrastructure and building support, with no funding programs available since the (then) Commonwealth Government set up a $100 million “Investing in Community Education and Training program”, part of a $500 million VET Capital Fund that included TAFE;
- recognition of Australian adult and community education (also known as “ACE”) as a distinct sector;
- limited capacity to provide professional opportunities for staff;
- restoring the community education, community college, Learn Local and VET brands, given the unsavoury practices by a number of for-profit VET providers, some of whom take on names to pretend that they are not-for-profit or government organisations;
- proper funding for VET system as a whole, which lags behind all other education sectors;
- reversing the marketisation and privatisation of VET;
- providing proper funding for foundation skills, adult literacy and numeracy; and
- supporting the activities of not-for-profit community providers in regional economic development, both in non-metropolitan areas, as well as in outer metropolitan Sydney and Melbourne.
VET in Regional and Rural Australia
- VET is particularly important in rural and regional Australia, where participation rates run at least 50% higher than in metropolitan areas, because of geographical, economic and business structures.
- A much larger percentage of regional and rural VET students study lower level qualifications – Certificate III and below – just those qualifications that community education providers excel in, with their focus on vulnerable and disadvantaged learners.
- Community education providers proportionately over-deliver VET outside of the capital cities, on a population basis, making them a significant national force in non-metropolitan Australia: in 2017, approximately 41% of community education government-funded VET students nationally and a substantial 61% in New South Wales were rural and regional, easily exceeding the percentages of TAFE and private for-profit providers. For instance, some 22 – of a total 33 – approved community providers (for Community Service Obligation programs) in New South Wales are headquartered outside of Sydney.
There are a number of issues around regional and rural VET program design and delivery to consider, when planning the proper contribution of community education providers:
- “Thin markets” and unproductive competition – including “contestable” funding – damage the ability for rural VET providers to deliver efficiently.
- Resourcing and costs in regional and rural areas are consistently greater;
- The quality and availability of trainers and assessors is limited, as is the availability of professional development.
- Australia has a well-documented “digital divide”, with almost three million Australians not online. While this divide is narrowing, important divisions still persist. Community providers are well-placed to reach and engage these learners through programs such as the Tech Savvy for Seniors
Read more about the National VET Review here.