9 February 2012
Julia Gillard’s announcement of sweeping reform of national VET funding arrangements, with income contingent loans at its heart, has evoked a full range of emotional responses from various stakeholders. The Australian Council for Private Education and Training (ACPET) is rather enthusiastic; most commentators and peak groups such as TAFE Directors Australia TDA) are guardedly welcome; and the Australian Teachers Union is utterly appalled at the prospect.
Leading commentator Gavin Moodie (RMIT – # 29 & bullet on The Oz Hotlist) observes that while the national agreement for skills and workforce development adopted by governments in 2008 aims to double the number of diploma and advanced diploma completions by 2020, workplace competition has led to degree enrolments growing strongly while diploma/advanced diploma enrolments have flatlined. The removal of caps from university enrolments, while diplomas remain capped, will only exacerbate that. But uncapping diplomas to increase their uptake will need, realistically, student fees to increase substantially to make it affordable for governments. Setting the political difficulties this presents governments, this needs a HECS-style universal loan system so that increased fees don’t become a barrier to greater participation and attainment. Which is exactly where Pat Forward (Australian Education Union ) takes fright. She says portraying it as somehow a “better deal for VET students” is simply an attempt to mask a significant policy change in the VET area …“to shift the funding of vocational education away from governments and onto individual students.”
But there is a point on which they all mostly agree: avoid the Victorian model of reform, which includes income contingent loans, at all costs. Brian MacDonald, the long serving CEO of Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE, describes the Victorian model as ”… costly,damaging to) the TAFE brand and the TAFE sector, has not delivered to match skills shortages and is a navigational quagmire [for those seeking information about courses]. It drags resources away from core business activity to be wasted on mindless bureaucratic micro-management in the absence of effective regulation”.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister says that, while eligibility rules are yet to be settled, the government is “conscious of the design flaws in the Victorian system, and will work with the states to develop a nationally consistent system.”
The Commonwealth is expected to take its reform proposals to the next Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting in March, along with a bucket of money as an incentive for state/territory sign up ($1.7 billion over four years, though the extent to which that is new money is disputed) .
It could all , of course, be rather moot. Moodie points to research by Tom Karmel (director of the National Centre for Vocational Education Research) which shows that :
Diplomas from the vocational education and training sector are rapidly losing their currency in a labour market looking for ever higher qualifications which risks a narrowing of the VET sector’s appeal. The diploma and advanced diploma are under threat. There is nothing wrong with these qualifications, but they lead to lower level jobs than in earlier generations.
The future relevance of diplomas may be as a transition point to a higher degree qualification.