Why investing in Australia’s ACE provider infrastructure makes economic sense in a pandemic

Investing in Australian adult and community education (ACE) provider infrastructure makes economic sense, as Australia struggles to recover and emerge from the economic downturn caused by the Coronavirus epidemic. That’s the conclusion CCA draws from recent research by the Australia Institute (TAI), which published its paper Design Principles for Fiscal Policy in a Pandemic.

The TAI paper, by Richard Denniss, Matt Grudnoff and David Richardson, presents eight design principles for fiscal policy in a pandemic – in other words, what should governments spend, and why, based on who it will assist. The authors write:

“The economic crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic requires fast, large, effective and well targeted fiscal stimulus. While the size of the government’s initial three spending packages is appropriate as an initial response, both the shape of that response and the design of future spending measures need to be carefully evaluated.”

The paper argues that, in designing subsequent rounds of fiscal stimulus, governments should consider eight separate principles:

  • Go early: Timeliness of the stimulus is key
  • Go hard: The size of the stimulus is important
  • Go households: Put purchasing power with households who are more likely to spend it
  • Targets domestic production
  • Targets activities with high direct employment intensities
  • Targets those most impacted by the crisis
  • Targets useful projects that deliver co-benefits
  • Targets regional disadvantage

While not all good projects will meet all of the criteria, most good stimulus projects will meet most of them, the authors say.

“Since mid-2017, CCA has been advocating for a national and state-based infrastructure and maintenance programs,” says CCA CEO, Dr Don Perlgut.

“When you analyse the investment into ACE facilities, it will easily meet the criteria of six of the eight principles: it will be timely, because ACE providers will spend immediately; it will target domestic production and delivery of education and training services; it will target activities with high direct employment – education is one of the very highest; it will target those most impacted, because ACE providers deal with many of society’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged; it will deliver substantial co-benefits through education and training, not just economic stimulus; and it will target regional disadvantage," says Dr Perlgut.

One of the greatest challenges facing Australian ACE providers is how to maintain existing and construct new buildings. Small and medium providers, especially in regional, rural and many outer metropolitan areas, face special and welldocumented challenges to maintain the high infrastructure costs imposed by accreditation and competitive tendering.

In 2009, the Commonwealth Government set up a $100 million “Investing in Community Education and Training program, part of a $500 million VET Capital Fund that included TAFE. This fund offered not-for-profit community education providers grants up to $1.5 million for major capital infrastructure developments and upgrades.

Community Colleges Australia (CCA), working with Per Capita, surveyed almost half of the community providers that received funds under this program. We found that more than 100,000 additional students undertook training in the following seven years as a direct result of that funding, as well as greatly enhanced accessibility for students with disabilities and numerous other community benefits. In other words, a new student was trained for every $1,000 invested, a fabulous return on investment,” says Dr Perlgut.

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