Senator Cameron re-states Federal Labor’s commitment to a VET system that supports community providers and is not based on profit

Senator Doug Cameron, Federal Labor’s Shadow Minister for Skills, has given a strong speech stating that his party is committed to a national vocational education and training (VET) system not based on profiteering, situating TAFE as the anchor institution and supporting not-for-profit community education providers.

Senator Cameron spoke on 30 August in Canberra to the national conference of ACPET (Australian Council for Private Education and Training), the peak organisation representing the private education and training sector in Australia.

In his speech, Senator Cameron took direct aim at the private VET training market: “A fundamental flaw in the vocational education system is that it is a market. It is right to criticise and condemn the rent-seekers and the rorters – but equally, the market is behaving the way that markets do.”

Senator Cameron restated the Labor commitment: “Labor is unequivocally committed to ensuring a robust and sustainable public TAFE network is put firmly at the centre of our vocational education and training system. That is why we are guaranteeing that at least two thirds of government funding goes to TAFE, and the balance goes to not-for-profit community and adult educators, and only high quality private providers with demonstrated links to industry.”

Dr Don Perlgut, CEO of Community Colleges Australia (CCA), comments: “Senator Cameron’s support for the not-for-profit community education sector is not new – he was very clear about this at CCA’s Conference in July 2017, and again in April 2018. Nevertheless, this speech is important, particularly in light of the critical comments that Senator Cameron also made about private RTOs engaging in rent-seeking behaviour, and connecting high-quality VET with reducing inequality in Australia.”

“CCA welcomes Senator Cameron’s commitment to active reform of Australian VET and the important role that not-for-profit community providers will play,” said Dr Perlgut. 

Following are other extracts from Senator Cameron’s speech:

“The training market and the commercial ascendancy of for-profit training provision, has put at risk the viability of TAFE and other not-for-profit providers seeking to deliver quality.

“There are those RTOs that do not uphold the mission and commitment to education and vocation – but operate business models that are designed to extract profit with an inevitable lowering of standards.

“There is an important role for non-TAFE providers in a high quality VET system complementing the role of TAFE, collaborating with each other – but if profit remains a driving and distorting force in the system, nothing will change for the better.

“The Australian training market and its evolution provides a salutatory lesson in how market competition and rent seeking in education can do enormous damage. If quality is not a consideration, operating in the training market can be a very lucrative business.

“We are faced with choices – an impoverished version of the future – one that increases inequality, and facilitates low quality jobs and endlessly flexible labour swept along by the apparently inevitable force of the digital revolution – from which some large corporations will profit and ordinary people will not. I don’t think that is a vision that Australians share.

“We have consensus that reform is critical …. It is part of the conversation we need to have as a community, as governments, as employers, as parents and as creators of a strong, fair society; and an economy that reduces inequality and operates in the service of that society.”

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