COAG Communique 16 April 2012
The Commonwealth’s proposed skills reforms package, with an additional $1.75 billion in funding to the states over the next four years, sailed through the Council of Australian Governments meeting on 13 April 2012 without much difficulty, despite state complaints that the Commonwealth government’s new funding deal leaves them “hundreds of millions of dollars” out of pocket. Key reforms include:
- introduction of a national training entitlement for a government-subsidised training place to at least the first Certificate III qualification;
- provision of income-contingent loans for government-subsidised Diploma and Advanced Diploma students;
- developing and piloting independent validation of training provider assessments and implementing strategies which enable TAFEs to operate effectively in an environment of greater competition;
- improving access to information about training options, training providers and provider quality on a new My Skills website, so students and employers can make better choices about the training they need; and
- supporting around 375,000 additional students over five years to complete their qualifications, and improving training enrolments and completions in high-level skills and among key groups of disadvantaged students, including Indigenous Australians.
Meanwhile, John Ross reports that the Commonwealth government appears to have reneged on commitments not to impose a training market on the states, which must now consider extending public training funds to private colleges. Under the agreement signed at COAG, the new national training entitlement must be “accessible through any registered training organisation, public or private, which meets state-based criteria for access”. This is described as a “minimum” essential criterion for the entitlement, which guarantees government-subsidised training up to certificate III for people without qualifications at this level. Last September, Tertiary Education Minister Chris Evans told a TAFE conference that the Commonwealth was only interested in results, not how the states achieved them. “The Commonwealth will not be mandating what form of training market the states implement,” he said. The Commonwealth says it’s wrong to interpret this as a requirement for an open training market, and that states would be free to decide whether to fund private colleges.
While the COAG package has been generally well received, University of Ballarat v-c David Battersby sees it as a missed opportunity for achieving greater integration of the tertiary sector and the Australian Education Union has slammed it as paving the way for states “to career headlong down the path forged by Victoria”, with unscrupulous providers flourishing at the expense of TAFEs and students’ retraining options.