PM plunging TAFE students into a profit-driven feeding frenzy

The Morrison government’s push to put big business at the forefront of Australia’s VET sector will only create a profit-driven feeding frenzy that hurts the career prospects of thousands of Australians who need access to high quality vocational education.

Since being in government, the federal Coalition has already overseen $3 billion cut from vocational education and training (VET) and a dramatic drop of 140,000 fewer places for apprentices.

Australian Education Union President Correna Haythorpe said that Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s plans to privatise VET would leave hundreds of thousands of trainees and apprentices across Australia at the mercy of profit-seeking private training providers.

“Putting profit-seeking private training providers in charge of vocational education is all about helping big business line its pockets at the expense of ordinary Australians,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“The Prime Minister is on record as saying he thinks TAFE is as good as university. Yet if this is the case, why has he stripped $3 billion in funding from TAFE, our world-class public vocational education provider?

“If Mr Morrison supports TAFE so strongly, why didn’t it get a single mention in the federal budget? Why do we have 140,000 fewer apprentices learning their trade today than back in 2013?

“History has already shown us, via the VET FEE-HELP scandal, that private training providers will go into a feeding frenzy in their drive to extract profits from VET students.

“People need to remember that Australia will always need TAFE as a strong public provider at the heart of VET to provide affordable and high quality vocational education,” Ms Haythorpe said.

The latest available data from the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) on government funding[1] shows that:

  • Since 2013, the year the federal Coalition was elected, the number of students in government-funded vocational education has fallen by 25%, from 1.48 million to 1.1 million. In addition, the number of hours of vocational education delivered has fallen by 28% between 2013 and 2018.
  • In 2017, following the VET FEE-HELP scandal, nearly $1.2 billion of public money flowed directly to private providers. 
  • Despite the fallout from the VET FEE-HELP scandal, in 2017 more than a third of the hours of training delivered by private providers were funded from public sources (34.5%) and more than a third of all state and commonwealth publicly funded hours (34.3%) were also handed to private providers.

“Despite the clear and undisputed benefits that a fully funded high quality public TAFE sector provides our economy and our society, there has been a concerted and continual drive from successive Coalition governments to marginalise vocational education and deprioritise TAFE,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“The Morrison Government just isn’t concerned enough about the 25% fall in TAFE enrolments on its watch to even acknowledge the existence of TAFE anywhere in the budget, let alone to do anything about this crisis.

“Instead of reigning in private providers and rectifying the incalculable damage they have inflicted on the sector in recent years, Mr Morrison plans on handing them the keys to the piggy bank.”

Ms Haythorpe said that TAFE must remain a strong public provider of vocational education in Australia. She called upon the Morrison government to:

  • Guarantee a minimum of 70% government funding to the public TAFE system. In addition, no public funding should go to private for-profit providers, consistent with other education sectors.
  • Restore funding and rebuild the TAFE system, to restore confidence in the quality of the courses and qualifications and the institution.
  • Abandon the failed student loans experiment, and cancel the debts of all students caught up in private for-profit provider scams.
  • Re-invest in the TAFE teaching workforce and develop a future-focused TAFE workforce development strategy in collaboration with the profession and unions.
  • Develop a capital investment strategy in consultation with state governments, to address the deplorable state of TAFE facilities around the country.
  • Support a comprehensive independent inquiry into TAFE.

“Any proposal which undermines the importance of the Commonwealth and state and territory governments working together to build a strong, vibrant, fully funded public TAFE will be fiercely opposed by the AEU,” Ms Haythorpe said.