So What’s Wrong With Australian Vocational Education and Training?

So what’s wrong with Australian vocational education and training (VET)? That’s a reasonable question to ask, says Community Colleges Australia CEO, Dr Don Perlgut.

The latest comparative figures of Australian education sectors are compared in a just-released report from the Mitchell Institute, Expenditure on Education and Training in Australia 2017 (December 2017). The figures show that from the 2005/06 to 2015/16 financial year (latest year available; see Figure 1 below):

  • Australia’s VET sector expenditure in 2015-16 decreased 7%
  • Higher education expenditure increased 52.6%
  • School education expenditure increased 30%
  • Preschool expenditure in 2015-16 has increased 150.2% (although came off a much lower base)

“These figures for Australian training sector are profoundly disturbing,” said Dr Perlgut. “How can we reasonably expect Australia to prepare itself for rapid changes in workforce participation and 21st century jobs when we are slowly starving one education sector?”

The report states:

Expenditure in the VET sector has declined dramatically, to below levels seen over 10 years earlier in real terms. From 2005-06 to 2015-16 national expenditure fell by 4.7%, or $280 million, when adjusted for inflation. In the most recent reporting year, between 2014-15 and 2015-16, VET expenditure fell by 5% in real terms.

However, at the same time the National Partnership Agreement on Skills Reform expired on 30 June 2017. This has been replaced by the Skilling Australians Fund, which has been allocated between $350 and $390 million each year from 2017-18. It has yet to receive any funding through the proposed levy on firms employing skilled migrants (to be implemented from 1 January 2018).

While we need to be mindful that expenditure on higher education accounts for much more than just teaching and learning, the divergence between VET and higher education is considerable.

The overall picture is complex, and continues to show the disjointed approach to expenditure on education and training in Australia.

“While the report states that, ‘Some of the decline in VET expenditure over this period has been offset by increasing Commonwealth Government outlays through VET FEE-HELP,’ that is of virtually no use for community education providers,” said Dr Perlgut.

“VET FEE-HELP and its replacement program, VET Student Loans, have been established in such a way as to lock out almost all community and not-for-profit VET providers,” Dr Perlgut said.

“There is only one answer to this situation: the Commonwealth Government must take the lead in addressing this continued decline, in the interests of our national social and economic future. Community Colleges Australia proposes a national inquiry into Australia’s VET funding. That’s the only way to address a drifting policy,” Dr Perlgut said.

Image source: Mitchell Institute analysis of Australian Bureau of Statistics data (custom request)

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