Community Colleges Australia has provided a submission to the Australian Government Productivity Commission inquiry into the national Skills and Workforce Development Agreement. This inquiry has been commissioned to examine how well Australian, state and territory governments have achieved their goals for the vocational education and training (VET) system, as set out in the National Agreement for Skills and Workforce Development (NASWD), and the suitability of this agreement for the future.
CCA’s submission (link to submission) focusses on the needs of vulnerable and disadvantaged groups, including Indigenous Australians, people with a disability, people from non-English speaking backgrounds, people from lower socio-economic backgrounds and residents of regional, rural and remote areas. CCA focused on these groups as they are more likely to:
- participate in and benefit from VET than other groups;
- be among those Australians most susceptible to health and medical problems during a time of pandemic;
- experience greater unemployment and economic challenges than other Australians, arising from the current environment; and
- participate in greater percentages in education and training delivered by Australia’s not-for-profit community education providers.
Summary of CCA Recommendations
Community Colleges Australia recommends that the Productivity Commission:
Recognise and acknowledge
- The unique role that Australia’s not-for-profit adult and community education providers play in delivering foundation skills and VET to high percentages of Australia’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged learners, including the achievements in lifting unemployed learners into employment;
- The importance of VET as a means of engaging and training Indigenous Australians, people from non-English speaking backgrounds, people with a disability, people from lower socio-economic backgrounds, and regional, rural and remote residents;
- That VET plays a more significant role in regional, rural and remote Australia, and in outer metropolitan areas;
- The evidence that the “marketisation” of Australian VET has not resulted in increased equity or learning quality, and in many cases has done just the opposite; and
- The challenges and difficulties of implementing online learning in VET, given that it is not a lower-cost means of delivery.
Remove from consideration
- The recommendation to subject community service obligations to market testing and contestability.
Other Submissions to the Inquiry
CCA notes the following important submissions to the inquiry:
- Adult Learning Australia, endorsed by Neighbourhood Houses Victoria, ACE Victoria, Lifelong Learning Council QLD Inc, Australian Council for Adult Literacy and Community Centres SA
- Macquarie Community College
- Mackenzie Research Institute
- Dr Don Zoellner, Charles Darwin University
- NSW Adult Literacy & Numeracy Council
On VET Marketisation, Competition and Contestability
Bruce Mackenzie, Mackenzie Research Institute: “Despite extensive research, I have been unable to identify any international organisation that suggests that competition is an essential component of effective and efficient VET systems. Where providers offer the same curriculum and the subsidies for delivery are set at the same rate, the pursuit of efficiency will not lead to any great gains. What Australia has produced in the pursuit of competition and user choice has been a range of small, private, metropolitan Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) clustered around city centres that offer popular or inexpensive courses with only loose connections to the labour market. Very few offer training in the traditional trades, or for occupations that are often on the skills shortage list, while only a very small percentage of private providers are found in regional and remote areas. It has never been clear why the VET sector is subject to “competition” and the university sector is not.”
Professor John Buchanan: “It is time we recognised the 30 year experiment with markets in VET has failed. Instead, we should engage with reality and build on the best of practical approaches to vocational education that actually work. It is very clear that the last thing we need is to be preoccupied with having yet another go at making the sector operate on market principles. Funds not allocated to TAFE should only go to not-for-profit providers who can also provide these services. Those interested in providing training for profit should seek markets that build on the requirements of workers who have gained foundational education capabilities and well-rounded vocational qualifications delivered by the TAFE and not-for-profit sectors.”
Victorian Government: “There are significant risks in returning to a fully contestable and competitive market in VET. Victoria has learnt from its previous fully demand-driven, contestable funding system that without robust quality controls, rogue providers will rort the system and leave vulnerable students with potentially worthless qualifications.”
Dr Don Zoellner: “One of the most intriguing aspects of the Interim Report is the absence of examples of when and where Australia’s long-standing policy of having open and competitive markets for VET have been successfully implemented and sustainably operated.”
TAFE Directors Australia: “Returning to open and poorly managed competition in VET as the salve for the sector raises deep concerns for those committed to positive outcomes for all students who seek out a vocational education experience. Many in the sector have seen these policies play out before and a sense of their return quashes the very confidence Joyce sees as critical to the sector rising again. There are other policy tools at the disposal of governments to drive to successful social outcomes, that leverage the best of the government and non-government sector and civil society. Approaches that moderate the impacts of profit seeking behaviour. ‘System stewardship’ offers a safer pathway to success than competition models and although embryonic should be explored as a valid and more reliable public administration policy tool.”
Dual-Sector Paper in Response to VET Funding Reform Discussion: Proposals from Australia’s Dual-Sector Universities: “The VET FEE-HELP debacle, and the virtually unregulated access to Government subsidies by private entities it enabled, is sadly not an isolated incident, and Governments of all political persuasions do not appear to have learned the lesson that despite the protestations of free marketeers, allowing near unfettered access to Government subsidies with little to no oversight will invariably lead to exploitation and profiteering…. When VET funding is fully contestable, public providers will invariably be at a significant competitive disadvantage, as private providers can choose offerings with a view to extracting maximum profits from the taxpayer, rather than addressing identified community and labour market needs. Further, as Australia seeks to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, a renewed market driven focus during a period of increased volatility for VET would have a destabilising effect on both the sector and student outcomes.”
On VET FEE-HELP
Professor John Buchanan: “Disappointing … has been the Commission’s failure to reflect on key critical incidents – especially those associated with the VET FEE-HELP debacle. There is no sustained analysis of this in the report. Bland assertions that it reflected problems in implementation of a sound policy miss these key points:
- The rorts were only finally addressed after journalists (lead by those in the Australian Financial Review) over many months pursued the issue
- The capital markets intervened, and the share price of several private providers collapsed. ASIC, in following up on these matters, could not believe what it found.”
On Equity Groups
Adult Learning Australia: “Community education providers support many adults to improve basic foundation skills and provide pathways into work or further vocational learning. In 2018, ACE providers accounted for 7.3% of all program enrolments in government-funded and 8.8% of total VET accredited adult basic education programs. They are significant providers of accredited adult basic education to key equity groups; such as people with a disability and people who are unemployed. These cohorts are significantly more represented at community education providers than all other VET providers of adult basic education. Furthermore, students in accredited adult basic education at community education providers have a rate of success above that for students at all other VET providers” (Adult Community Education, Australian Environmental Scan, ALA, 2020).