1 April, 2016

Premiers must reject the proposed federal VET takeover because it would destroy TAFE

By Rosie Scroggie

A proposed Federal Government takeover of Vocational Education and Training which would see TAFEs privatised and fees for students raised is scheduled for discussion at the COAG meeting today.

Despite the huge problems with the flawed VET FEE-HELP scheme – which cost $4 billion in 2015 alone – secret documents prepared for the Council of Australia Governments meeting leaked in February showed the Federal Government would push ahead with its takeover plan.

Under the plan TAFEs would be privatised and a federally-controlled VET system, funded by student fees, would begin in 2018.

TAFE and VET fees would be further deregulated and TAFEs would receive the same levels of funding as private colleges, removing the capacity of states to fund TAFEs for their community service and other obligations. Funding for VET would increasingly come only from student loans, rapidly shifting costs on to students.

The VET FEE-HELP scheme forces students to take out taxpayer-funded loans to pay for VET training. Poor regulation has allowed shonky private operators to sign up students and collect the government money while providing substandard training and failing to ensure students complete courses.

The AEU’s Federal TAFE Secretary Pat Forward said the states and territories needed to resist the proposed takeover and defend their TAFEs.

“It is unbelievable that this is even being considered while the flawed VET FEE-HELP scheme is funnelling billions in taxpayer dollars to dodgy for-profit private providers.

“VET FEE-HELP is delivering huge profits to poorly-regulated for-profit private providers who are offering low-quality courses and in many cases simply ripping off students and taxpayers by providing no training at all.

“Yet under this proposal state governments would be unable to directly fund TAFEs to ensure they were able to function as the core of the VET system.

“The Federal Government needs to fix the VET FEE-HELP mess and ensure that TAFEs get the funding they need – not keep going down the path of privatisation.

Victorian TAFE Review chair and former TAFE Directors Australia chairman Bruce Mackenzie said the ideas contained in the paper were "clumsy" and "outdated" and would lead to increased fees for students.

The VET FEE-HELP scheme has proved so catastrophic that even Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham has called it a disaster and “one of the worst get rich quick schemes I’ve ever seen.”

NSW Skills Minister John Barilaro has slammed the Federal Government’s handling of VET FEE-HELP, saying that he: "couldn't believe any federal government could have administered a program like they have."

But the NSW Government is still pushing ahead with privatisation plans, such as the NSW Government’s Smart and Skilled program which has already seen the loss of up to 5000 teachers and 60,000 students over three years through deregulation.

Ms Forward said that State Governments need to reject any Federal takeover and concentrate on supporting TAFEs to guarantee quality vocational training in Australia.

“We must move away from privatisation and ensure that at least 70 per cent of funding for VET is reserved for TAFEs so that they can remain at the heart of the training system,” Ms Forward said.

“It can already cost a student $40k for a Diploma in Design with a for-profit provider – twice as much as a university degree. Under this proposal, there would be no control over fees.

“This proposal from the Federal Government must be opposed because it will lead to even greater increases in fees for students, a deterioration of quality in the sector and the end of the TAFE system.”