This week, Fairfax economics columnist Ross Gittins wrote an opinion piece on educational challenges facing Australia’s young people: “The young are mostly right, they are getting a bad deal”, Sydney Morning Herald, 20 September 2017.
Much of what Gittins writes about vocational education and training (VET) in Australia is so correct that it is worth quoting:
It be surprising if school leavers are steering clear of vocational education when they've read so many stories about the tribulations of TAFE and some private providers ripping off the young and trusting, so as to rort the federal government's VET version of the student loan scheme?
The truth is that the efforts of federal and state governments of both colours to make VET "contestable" by making for-profit education providers part of the system have been a disastrous failure.
Now the federal bureaucrats have belatedly sorted that mess, we're left with private providers who will only ever cherry-pick the most popular and profitable courses, usually those with low capital costs.
So we're back to relying on good old government-owned TAFE – always the education system's poor relation, towards which the feds' commitment runs alternatively hot and cold.
But the misguided reformers were right to believe TAFE needs to change from its old complacent, inflexible ways, where the convenience and income of staff were given priority over the changing needs of employers and of young people wanting to gain skills relevant to the needs of present and future employers.
CCA CEO Dr Don Perlgut comments:
“Ross Gittins is correct when he writes that Australia’s “contestable” vocational education and training (VET) system that promotes for-profit education has been a ‘disastrous failure’. The answer, however, is not just relying on ‘good old government-owned TAFE’.
“Australia’s not-for-profit community education sector – often known as “community colleges” – taught 378,900 people in 2016, according to the National Centre for Vocational Education Research, some 9 percent of the total VET student numbers of 4,207,700. The community education student numbers compare favourably to TAFE, which had 739,800 students (17.6 percent of the total), although both are dwarfed by the for-profit providers with 2,470,800 students (58.7 percent).
“Not-for-profit community providers have proven to be sustainable, user-centred and ethical organisations that deliver high-quality outcomes, particularly to the most vulnerable and disadvantaged learners,” Dr Perlgut said.