The Labor Shadow Minister for Skills Senator Doug Cameron has re-stated Labor’s commitment to Australia’s community education providers. In a speech last Friday – 13 April 2018 – to the AEU National TAFE Council, Senator Doug Cameron said:
The current vocational education and training system is flawed and it needs to be fixed – but the problems in VET are a manifestation of deeper ideological trends that have shaped policy development in Australia for far too long. Inequality is growing. Trickle-down economics – and relying on the good agencies of rich corporations to share wealth – always a delusion – has now been comprehensively discredited.
It is my view that the rise in inequality has been exacerbated by the misuse and misapplication of competition policy – the slavish adherence to increasing competition, privatisation and outsourcing has done considerable damage. In 1996 98% of students receiving publicly funded VET were in TAFE (with 83%) or not-for-profit community education providers (with 15%) but, by 2016 this had fallen to 52% and 6% respectively.
That is why Labor have already announced we will return the $637 million the coalition stripped from VET in the last budget and why we have committed that at least two thirds of all government funding for vocational education will go to TAFE. The balance will go to not-for-profit community educators and only the very best of the private providers with demonstrable links to specific industry requirements.
My comments in my capacity as CEO of Community Colleges Australia (CCA):
I am pleased to hear that Shadow Minister for Skills Senator Cameron has re-committed Federal Labor to supporting Australia’s community education providers.
When Senator Cameron spoke to the CCA conference in July 2017, he said similar things. We are pleased that Labor has maintained its commitment to Australia’s community education sector, as an important complement to the VET anchor institution of TAFE.
Senator Cameron’s analysis is consistent with CCA’s own interpretation of VET policy and recent history. We are keen that all sides of politics recognise the important role of Australia’s community providers in building our nation, and commit to proper funding of our sector. It’s no longer acceptable that community providers receive the crumbs from the table.
The challenge for the current government and the Assistant Skills Minister is to elaborate on a vision that is also compelling. Erasing the much-based VET FEE-HELP program, replacing it with VET Student Loans, was a great start – but not nearly sufficient. Announcing the Skilling Australians Fund is an interesting innovation. Unfortunately neither one of these programs have much resonance or relevance to Australia’s important community education sector.
Excerpts from Senator Cameron’s Speech to the CCA Conference in July 2017
The following are excerpts from Senator Cameron’s speech presented at the CCA national conference in Melbourne on 26 July 2017:
Community Colleges and the people who work in them, excel at assisting disadvantaged learners. You work with individuals to achieve goals they had thought were beyond their reach – providing critical literacy and numeracy skills and assisting them to gain important foundation life and employment skills.
You give young people, alienated from formal schooling, a second chance at education. Your colleges also offer quality, vocationally-focused training and education to people seeking to start work, return to work, change jobs or keep their job. Community-based education is a critical launching point for disadvantaged learners into further education and into work; particularly in regional and rural communities where the support is especially valuable and needed.
Importantly, adult and community education institutions build and sustain local communities by bringing people together through their shared interests; by forging partnerships with other local organisations; and tailoring courses from the community and for the communities they serve.
In a world where inequality, fragmentation and isolation are growing, the work community educators undertake – creating and sustaining local connections; nurturing resilient, engaged and involved citizens; and smoothing transitions into work and further learning – is of enormous value. The socially, politically and economically engaged communities you foster are the foundations upon which strong democracies are built.
More extracts from Senator Cameron’s speech on 13 April 2018
The evidence shows that the training market in Australia has led to:
- an overall decline in the outcomes for students – the latest official annual survey of VET students taken in mid-2017 found that of students who graduated during 2016 and were employed, just 30% were in an occupation group related to their training
- a decline in quality– the government’s own regulator has called the training market “a race to bottom” – which has placed enormous pressure on providers like TAFE working to maintain quality
- the proliferation of wasteful and rigid bureaucratic processes – that have seen the development of 17,000 units of competence and 1,400 different qualifications, many of which remain unused
- dissatisfied employers continuing to complain of skill shortages and gaps – despite being given the authority to lead the system
- cherry-picking and rent seeking by for-profit providers
- insufficient investment in infrastructure and in teacher qualifications and resources
- money wasted on marketing, promotion and advertising
- the development of a market for low quality courses
- and, at its very worst, the defrauding and exploitation of citizens trying to improve their lives through gaining education and qualifications.
The commodification of education is summed up by the words of a capital investment adviser spruiking the money-making benefits of education:
“Education is a beautiful business when it works. Fat fees, hefty annual increases, recurring income and high switching costs are just a few traits of high-performing education providers. Investors who have understood the sector’s potential have done exceptionally well…The sector has excellent long-term potential. Not-for-profit education providers…look like sitting ducks as technology eventually reshapes the sector.” (Tony Featherstone, “Top Performing Education Stocks”, 17 March 2014).
About this post
This post is an adaptation of a news item on the Community Colleges Australia website on 13 April 2018; I am re-posting and expanding it here in order to extend the message.