1 December 2012
As always with a complex reform process, the devil will be in the detail and the implementation – one suspects there will be significant moments of drama ahead over industrial relations and the level of public subsidy for specific courses. But in its approach to skills reform and moving to greater contestability, the Queensland government has adopted a moderate and measured plan. The least that might be said of it is that it eschews the the Victorian Götterdämmerung model. And overall, if you’re going to have skills reform, this is a pretty good plan.
In its response to the Skills and Training Taskforce Report, the Queensland government says it will avoid a “massive cost blowout” by rejecting a Victorian-style free-for-all in its open training market.
The government has accepted, in full or in principle, all 40 recommendations of contentious report but watered down a proposal to close 38 of the state’s 82 TAFE campuses.
Queensland Training and Employment Minister John-Paul Langbroek said the government will rationalise campuses but had not settled on a number. He said 12 would be given to a university-TAFE merger in central Queensland and 13 would be sold, but additional closures were on hold.
Langbroek said those earmarked for sale were mostly disused campuses in Brisbane and the proceeds would go to the TAFEs. “Instead of aged crumbling relics, we want people in better facilities.” Significantly, the government appears to have committed to reinvesting the proceeds of asset sales back into the TAFE sector
Contestability of funding will be phased in from 1 July 2013, with an initial “contestable funding pool” established through $21 million from National Partnership Agreement funds (new Commonwealth money) and a matching $21 million State VET Revenue General (existing state money) contribution. Full contestability will be introduced on 1 July 2014.
In contrast to the Victorian model, the government has undertaken to fund TAFE to provide services that cannot be delivered contestably. Similarly, the higher costs associated with government service provision will be recognised and funded through an agreed base funding and service arrangement. In its response, the government specifically recognises
… that some of the services delivered by TAFE, particularly in rural and remote areas and to meet the needs of disadvantaged learners and equity groups, are delivered to meet government priorities, equity outcomes and address market failures. TAFE Queensland also incurs additional cost by virtue of government ownership including: higher salary costs; depreciation and maintenance on a large capital base; the additional reporting and accountabilities required by government entities; and historical provision of a comprehensive range and level of qualification outcomes and support services.
The government has accepted that there may be a need for an initial investment of resources into TAFE Queensland, “in order to realise longer term efficiency and productivity gains. The additional funding will be directed towards the effective transition of systems and other corporate infrastructure.”
But analysts say the plan to concentrate training funds on the key industry areas of mining, construction, tourism and agriculture (the “four pillars) will damage rather than boost the economy.
RMIT University tertiary education analyst Gavin Moodie said the four-industry approach was “shallow and short-term”, excluding community services and health although they were the fastest growing area of the economy. Moodie criticised plans to prioritise funding for training in schools to courses that led to jobs. He said this ignored the 57% of school leavers with vocational qualifications who goon to university, further training or apprenticeships.
The government has supported “in principle” the Skills Taskforce’s recommendation to create a comprehensive Skills Commission as a statutory authority separate to the department, However, it has not actually committed to it, saying only that it “will rejuvenate industry engagement arrangements to more effectively identify the state’s key skills shortages and directly advise the Minister…on the prioritisation of government funding to qualifications that will match training with job opportunities”.
TAFE Queensland is to be established in legislation under a parent entity, independent from the Department of Education, Training and Employment and with “a commercially focused board”, accountable to the Minister, from 1 July 2013.
The government will release a five-year VET action plan in early 2013 detailing a vision for Queensland’s skills and training sector.
The government says it is committed to fostering closer links between the VET and higher education sectors and will consider “innovative post-secondary options”, including dual sector universities, “where there is a clear benefit”.