Why does the Australian Government Department of Education and Training refuse to recognise not-for-profit adult and community education providers?

The following is an opinion comment by Dr Don Perlgut, CEO of Community Colleges Australia (CCA)

Why does the Australian Government Department of Education and Training refuse to recognise not-for-profit adult and community education providers?

That question continues to mystify me, following my participation this week in the Department’s VET Student Loans Implementation Advisory Group.

Every six months the Department publishes its VET Student Loans Statistics, which helpfully lists all of the currently approved providers of this Commonwealth Government loan program. VET Student Loans succeeded the much-abused VET FEE-HELP program, widely acknowledged to be one of Australia’s worst public policy disasters, with significant responsibility for trashing the reputation of Australian vocational education and training (VET).

The most recent half-yearly VET Student Loans (VSL) report (January to June 2018) shows the breakdown of the 180 program providers during the period: 23 TAFE, 13 “other public” and 144 “private”.

The report puts community not-for-profit and other not-for-profit (including faith-based or industry-based) education VSL providers with the private for-profit providers. On at least 3 occasions going back more than 12 months I have asked that the not-for-profit providers be separated out from the for-profit private providers – to no avail. I count in this report at least 20 not-for-profit organisations that are listed as “private”, which are not universities or TAFEs.

Why is this important?

Because from a public policy, governance, risk and programmatic perspective, most for-profit VET providers and not-for-profit VET providers are very different. Let’s take one example: in all of the widely publicised abuses of the former VET Student Loans program, NOT ONE of them was a not-for-profit VET provider. Not one.

When you are making educational policy, you must deal separately and differently between the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors. The business models, organisational missions and governance structures are all different. The profit margins are different. All National Centre for Vocational Education and Training (NCVER) reports separate for-profit from not-for-profit providers. All state governments acknowledge the differences. But curiously, the Australian Government’s Department of Education and Training has not done so – and continues not to.

It’s not like this is a Ministerial directive. Both the previous VET Minister (the Hon Karen Andrews) and the current Minister (Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash) have spoken (or will speak) to our national conferences, both acknowledging and celebrating our sector’s achievements and unique characteristics. The Shadow Minister (Senator Doug Cameron) has also spoken to our conference and been explicit about how the not-for-profit sector must be treated differently.

Yet our national Department of Education and Training steadfastly refuses to acknowledge how different the not-for-profit VET providers are.

As Geoffrey Rush’s character in the 1998 film Shakespeare in Love repeatedly proclaims, “It’s a mystery.”


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