VET marketisation in NSW has disadvantaged lower income learners and outer regional areas

VET marketisation in NSW has disadvantaged lower income learners, and residents living outside of metropolitan areas, especially in outer regional and remote locations.

These are the conclusions of research undertaken by Dr Don Zoellner (Charles Darwin University, pictured), just published in the Journal of Vocational Education & Training, with the title "VET market prognostications two decades later: using ‘big data’ to compare omens with outcomes," on 25 June 2020.

Dr Zoellner previously examined VET marketisation in Victoria (see his submission to the Productivity Commission), and presented his findings at CCA's national conference in Brisbane in November 2019.

Key findings of Dr Zoellner's research:

- From 1998 to 2017, the number of government-funded VET students in NSW has remained steady, fluctuating around 450,000 in spite of increased population. TAFE NSW share of these students dropped from 84% to 62.4%; Adult and Community providers fell from 22.9% to 4.4%; other registered providers increased from 3.8% to 33.2%.

- From 2004-2017, NSW VET delivery has been progressively shifted from remote and regional areas to the major cites and their nearby surrounds in line with the national trend. Smart & Skilled continued this trend with major cities and inner regions gaining 10,000 students (+8.7%) and outer regions, remote and very remote losing 6,700 students (-8.7%) between 2013 and 2017. Total NSW VET activity indicates +4.2% of student in metropolitan areas compared to +0.5% in the other areas.

- While not as extreme as the national change, the pattern of shifting training from the most disadvantaged members (-2,300 or -1.0%) to the most advantaged (+2,700 or +2.6%) is also evident in NSW from 2013-2017.

- NSW had 1142 registered training organisations headquartered in the state in February 2019. 98% were based in the major cities and inner regional areas and none were in remote and very remote areas. Out of 972 private, for-profit training providers 91% are located in major cities and inner regional areas and only 10 are located in outer regional areas. (Exception of TAFE NSW is noted post-One TAFE).

Don Zoellner’s conclusions (last page of his journal article):

“The reasoned hypotheses of the researchers into the likely outcomes of introducing and extending user-choice principles into the NSW VET market have stood the test of time. They foresaw that government policy changes can make a difference, even if not always as anticipated. The predictions of increased numbers of providers, decreases in student enrolments at TAFE NSW, training providers disappearing from some markets, reduced regional and remote delivery, the unwillingness of private providers to operate in the full market, concentration of provision in qualifications with low barriers to market entry and entrenching inequities for some disadvantaged groups have been borne out. The early forecasts of uncertain growth in apprenticeships and traineeships did not materialise; nor did the possibility of a wider range of training pathways developing under user-choice or its extension through Smart and Skilled.

“Subsequent observation of events confirms that government allocations of funding in the VET marketplace also influence the behaviours of providers and students and this can mask or alter the achievement of policy goals. Large data sets assist more nuanced and tailored analysis of trends over long periods of time. Using ‘big data’ to identify the timing of disruptions to market arrangements allows for changes in a range of student and system characteristics to be monitored in ways that can contribute to a better understanding of market design and management. Locations and groups of residents that are not well served by user-choice principles can be identified and alternative arrangements put in place to ensure equitable access to VET – if governments chose to be guided by research findings to more carefully tailor user-choice provisions and the operations of the market.”

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