Community Colleges Australia Comments on Labor Budget Reply

With the Commonwealth Government Budget announced, followed by the Opposition Leader’s Budget Reply Speech, national political and economic debates are getting hotter.

Last week Community Colleges Australia (CCA) analysed what the Commonwealth Budget means for Australia’s not-for-profit community education providers. This week, CCA CEO, Dr Don Perlgut, analyses Opposition Labor policies, especially in relation to vocational education and training.


Background on Australia’s Adult and Community Education Providers

CCA’s members over-perform in providing VET to vulnerable and disadvantaged groups, including Indigenous Australians, people with a disability, regional and rural residents, and those in lower socio-economic backgrounds. Our sector usually out-performs both TAFE and private for-profit VET providers with these equity groups. Not-for-profit community-based VET providers work primarily with disadvantaged groups; therefore CCA strongly supports government policies – including many Labor proposals – that relieve the burden on these groups and provide properly funded education, training and employment services.

The community education sector is a significant VET player: with more than 450 providers of government-funded VET, in 2016 nationally our sector delivered to 9% of VET students, some 380,000 people. Most of our members also offer complementary community development and other educational services, which build the social fabric and economic capacity of their communities.

Australian community VET providers also obtain the highest increase from unemployment to employment for our graduates, compared to TAFE and private for-profit training organisations. In 2017, community providers achieved a 15.2% increase in employment outcomes, compared to 8.7% of TAFE graduates and 10.1% of for-profit training organisation graduates. The message is simple: if you want to make a difference to the employment prospects of Australians out of work, the not-for-profit community education sector is your best bet.

The Role of TAFE in Australian Vocational Education and Training

CCA supports proper funding of TAFE, which is the anchor institution of Australian VET. Our members complement TAFE’s role and activities. Our policy on TAFE reads in part:

“CCA recognises the shared values and important contributions that public technical and further education (TAFE) and community education providers undertake to promote access and equity in education and training across all segments of Australian society…. CCA recognises that TAFE is both the largest provider and an anchor institution for equitable VET…. The community VET sector complements TAFE in that it excels in delivering pathway programs that help vulnerable and disadvantaged students to get jobs, advance their careers and access further training frequently at TAFE.”

CCA Comments on Labor Statements on TAFE

Labor has committed $473 million to supporting TAFE, including:

  • waiving fees for 100,000 students;
  • investing $100 million in modernising TAFE facilities;
  • guaranteeing at least two out of three Commonwealth training dollars goes to TAFE;
  • ensuring one in every ten jobs on Commonwealth priority projects are filled by Australians apprentices;
  • providing 10,000 pre-apprentice programs for young people who want to learn a trade; and
  • providing 20,000 adult apprentice programs for older workers who need to retrain.

While CCA supports increases in TAFE funding – woefully lacking in recent years – CCA has major concerns about implementing the 100,000 places and $100 million of facilities investment if they are not accompanied by additional support for Australia’s not-for-profit community education sector.

Our criticisms of these announcements come from three perspectives:

  1. The free places and infrastructure investment have been announced prior to the planned investigation of Labor’s “once-in-generation National Inquiry into Post-Secondary Education, and will in pre-empt the findings of that review. For instance, what if providing a percentage of those free places to not-for-profit community education providers is a more suitable policy? What about investment in the community sector’s buildings and facilities? CCA has identified that funding infrastructure of community providers is essential, with no investment occurring since the Commonwealth Government’s 2009 “Investing in Community Education and Training” (ICET) program.
  2. There is a significant possibility of unintended consequences arising from a one-off policy of 100,000 free TAFE places and funding only TAFE buildings. The VET system will inevitably be skewed, to the disadvantage, we fear, of the not-for-profit community education providers, who often operate with similar learners. We see a strong possibility of TAFE growing in exactly those areas that our members already service well, to the long-term disadvantage of Australia’s diverse ability to service the needs of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged VET students. If the capacity of the community VET sector is damaged, lost or diminished, the chances of regrowing it is very small.
  3. The announcements do not recognise the work of Australia’s community education providers, and do not mention previous commitments by Senator Doug Cameron, the Shadow Minister for Skills and Apprenticeships.

Other comments

Geoff Sharrock (University of Melbourne) has proposed “Six things Labor’s review of tertiary education should consider” (The Conversation, 25 May 2018): (1) look beyond a 2020 vision; (2) work back from the future of work; (3) learn from other systems such as Canada; (4) consider new types of credentials such as “micro-credentials”; (5) learn from mistakes, such as those in the UK; and (6) settle structure, then governance and then who funds what.

CCA notes that this last point goes to the heart of the current confusion on VET. We have lost a sense of national strategy and no longer know who is in charge of Australian VET policy. While the Commonwealth Government avoids leadership, the Labor Opposition first announces a national review, then follows with a piecemeal set of TAFE promises (above) that pre-suppose the review’s findings and conclusions.

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