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Like the parrot, TAFE is alive and well

Sydney Morning Herald   |   28 February 2014

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Victorian TAFE is travelling a little bit better than the legendary Norwegian blue parrot but Peter Hall, as the Victorian minister for skills, has certainly lived through the interesting times of VET reform.  It’s a process which has seen  the Victorian TAFE network – the VET public provider network – severely reduced, at least by some accounts.  Hall has announced his impending retirement from politics.  When asked whether this reflected some degree of disillusionment, Hall’s office gave us an emphatic “no!”.  In this opinion piece – which, rather strangely,  first appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald – Hall gives a reasonably convincing impression of enthusiasm – if not outright illusionment – for Victoria’s radical venture in VET reform.

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Peter hall3

Peter Hall explaining that he really, truly supports cutting funding to TAFE. Source: The Age

People have asked me this week, since I announced I won’t be standing at the next election, how I feel about walking away from Victoria’s training system.

My answer is that I am confident the reforms we have made have set a strong foundation for sustainable delivery of quality training for Victorians now and into the future. We inherited a system that was under-funded, mismanaged and in dire need of reform. We are fixing the system, not by cutting funding to the sector, as some claim, but by boosting funding to record levels and changing the way it’s allocated.

We need to remember it was the former Victorian Labor government that introduced an uncontrolled, market-driven system that ultimately blew the training budget by $400 million in 2011 and drove thousands of students into highly subsidised, low-fee, quick courses that gave them no sustainable job outcomes.

For example, the system experienced massive blowouts in training in many lifestyle courses including a 1955 per cent increase in fitness training and a 2700 per cent increase in retail services between 2008 and 2011 – at the expense of participation in apprenticeships and areas of skills shortage.

As ACTU president Ged Kearney said on radio 3AW on February 19, “As much as Melburnians love their coffee, we are churning out squillions of baristas that are being funded by the government. We need to make sure our vocational education system trains people that can work in manufacturing.”

All reforms require a period of transition and while some TAFEs are responding faster and more effectively than others, the incredibly strong performance we are seeing from some TAFEs shows their ability to compete and deliver in the modern training marketplace.

For those TAFEs that are still working hard to adjust and modernise, we are providing support. There have been changes to ensure boards are commercially savvy and the Victorian Coalition government has established a $200 million TAFE Structural Adjustment Fund.

TAFEs have the same opportunity today as they ever did to earn revenue. The record $1.2 billion in subsidies we invest in training each year is as available to TAFE as it is to any other accredited training provider.

TAFEs and other contracted providers receive subsidies on the basis of their student enrolments and not as some allocated handout. Any TAFE can increase its revenue by increasing enrolments.

The quality of training is a prime focus of our training reforms. By increasing the standards we reduced the number of contracted providers of government-subsidised training from 600 in 2010 to 490 this year. More registered training organisations are being randomly audited, resulting in $10 million in training subsidies being repaid in 2013 because of substandard training delivery.

We recognise that TAFEs play a special role in the community and their advantage as a strong and reputable brand, their standing in the community and their significant asset base which belongs to the taxpayer. That is why we are making these reforms because to do nothing in the face of the issues facing our TAFEs would have been irresponsible.

Since coming to office, the Coalition government’s Refocusing Vocational Training reforms have worked to strengthen the public investment in training in a way that leads to job outcomes.

Our changes to subsidy rates have, in the past 15 months alone, seen the share of subsidised enrolments in areas of skills shortages and public value increase from 49 per cent to 70 per cent. Our changes are directing training to areas of highest need and greatest job opportunities.

In the past three years we have seen a 36 per cent increase in indigenous student enrolments, 51 per cent more enrolments from students with a disability and 113 per cent more enrolments from students who identify as being unemployed.

And contrary to Daniel Andrews’ claims that TAFEs won’t be around to support workers in transition, TAFEs are on the front line and are responsible for providing almost 80 per cent of training to retrenched workers under this government’s Workers in Transition Program. Training in the regions is also thriving with a 33 per cent increase in student enrolments in the past three years.

The negativity that seems to be directed towards TAFE fails to acknowledge the valuable contribution of the hundreds of Adult and Community Education and private providers.

Before Daniel Andrews replies with further tales of doom and gloom, he should bear in mind that every time he cries wolf that TAFE is in crisis he is chipping away at the aspirations of future students. We are implementing our plan to build a better vocational training system and TAFEs are a key part of that plan – and our reforms are working.

So when I am asked if I am happy with the state of training in Victoria the answer is a resounding yes. I am pleased with the progress that has been made so far and there’s more to do, but I have no doubt we have set the system on the right track to deliver, and to support students with training that will fulfil their dreams of meaningful and prosperous employment.

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