July 15, 2013

The most expensive TAFE Course in Australia?

By Bill Dudley

This issue came to light recently when my son received a notice from CIT advising him that his debt from semester one of the Diploma of Graphic Design course was $7,128. This prompted a detailed investigation of the fees, and comparison with other course providers.

Our daughter had studied for an Advanced Diploma of Graphic Design at CIT in 2007 and 2008. Her tuition fees ranged from $481 to $631 per semester - approximately $2,226 in total (and she also received a 50% concession as a recipient of Youth Allowance). So when our son started the course this year, it never occurred to us to check for a major increase in fees. We assumed that an entry-level TAFE qualification would be affordable for a young person without having to mortgage their future.

What we found was that CIT fees for studying Graphic Design are unreasonably high - much higher than comparable courses at the University of Canberra and in the NSW TAFE system. It appears that CIT no longer offers an affordable course in Graphic Design, as it did in the recent past.

Is this the most expensive TAFE course in Australia?

How much does a TAFE course cost? Until recently, the cost of an Advanced Diploma from the Canberra Institute of Technology (CIT) was around $3,000 to $5,000 for two years of study – and less for students receiving fee assistance.

This year, students embarking on an Advanced Diploma of Graphic Design will finish up with a debt of just under $27,000. This puts the cost of a two-year TAFE qualification well above the cost of a university bachelor degree.

As well, unlike all other Australian jurisdictions, CIT does not offer any concession rates for disadvantaged students enrolled in the Graphic Design course, including those in receipt of Commonwealth benefits.

So what’s changed?

As a result of funding cuts for vocational education and training (VET) courses by the Commonwealth and ACT governments, CIT is moving to a cost recovery model for fees for some VET qualifications. They say that they have had to increase fees to “commercial rates”, and they have taken the decision to apply the increases to courses in the “arts” sector rather than in the health and community sector.

So far the increases have only taken effect for students of Graphic Design, and International Hotel and Resort Management. According to Jenny Dodd, Acting Chief Executive of CIT, the intention is to migrate more courses to the new model next year.

The ACT Minister for Education and Training, Ms Joy Burch, says “CIT has experienced increasing demand for subsidised training places particularly in the health and community sector. As the total amount of funding is limited, this means that some programs previously delivered by CIT as subsidised training places have moved to a full cost recovery model.”

Coinciding with the higher fees has been the introduction of a HECS-style loan scheme for VET courses that enables fee payment to be deferred. One of the features of the scheme is the imposition of a 20% “loan fee” by the Commonwealth government who administer the scheme. While this may be a positive for students who can’t afford upfront fee payment, some students will be incurring debts that will take many years to repay and others will be scared away by the huge debt they would incur.

Students studying Graphic Design appear to be bearing the brunt of the increases. The CIT website says average fees for full-time study for an Advanced Diploma are $785 – $1,350 per semester. The fee for the Graphic Design course is approximately $22,400 and comes to just under $27,000 with the addition of the loan fee. The fee for the hotel management course is $12,500, and $15,000 including the loan fee.

Fees vary across the country but no other TAFE system comes close to the fees being charged by CIT. In NSW, the fee for studying for an Advanced Diploma of Graphic Design is $1,720 per year, and the concession fee is $100 for the course.

Even a three-year degree course in graphic design at the University of Canberra is cheaper than CIT – costing approximately $5,868 per year.

Minister Burch says “CIT accepts that universities are able to offer a degree at a more competitive price. This is because universities receive Commonwealth funding to subsidise the cost of delivery. CIT is not able to access Commonwealth funded training places. CIT also acknowledges that some TAFEs are still offering the Diploma of Graphic Design through subsidised training places. In general however most TAFEs are increasing the number of programs offered on a fee for service basis.”

The Gonski reforms may bring about positive change at the school level but the Commonwealth and ACT governments’ commitment to education at the tertiary level seems to be evaporating.

Is CIT’s Graphic Design course the most expensive TAFE course in Australia? It looks that way, and based on the advice from Minister Burch and CIT, it heralds a new era of high debt for Australians unable to get a government-subsidised university place.