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Time to remake VET funding arrangements – ACPET

15 June 2015

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  At a recent Australian Council of Private Education and Training (ACPET) forum, assistant education and training minister Simon Birmingham mused that it’s perhaps time to rationalise VET funding arrangements in Australia, which he placed in the context of the current review of Federation arrangements.   ACPET has come out, tentatively, in support of such a review, with chief executive Rod Camm saying  we need to “…admit that our national approach is seriously breaking down…. what are we looking for? Do we want a national approach or the current localised model ?”.   It is more than time to not merely review but to remake “national” arrangements, as argued in this extract from a submission made by the LH Martin Institute to a House of Representatives inquiry.

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VET Reform

Australia’s VET system is recognised internationally as having considerable strengths, including its framework for nationally recognised and industry-informed qualifications.

In this context policy-makers, industry, the VET provider sector and analysts need to be mindful of the sometimes enervating effect of constant changes to and attempts to remake the VET system.  A restless, seemingly ceaseless search for perfection seems to characterise the official mindset about the VET sector.  At any one time, it is almost certainly likely to be that one or other or several of Australia’s nine government jurisdictions will be inquiring into VET and or have in train a process of “skills reform”.

The sector would undoubtedly benefit from a period of stability, certainty and consolidation.

That stated, it is, of course, a requirement that policy settings and system architecture including funding arrangements be understood to be and broadly accepted to be “about right”.   Whether such a condition of broad consensus is achievable appears moot: it has, evidently, proved beyond achievement for a decade or more.

There is a strong  case for a broad overarching, root and branch review of VET, as has occurred in recent years in higher education (the Bradly Review) and schools education (the Gonski Review).  It’s well past time: such a fundamental review has not occurred since the Kangan Committee in 1973/74.

In particular, attention needs to be paid to funding arrangements, to place them on a basis that will sustain the sector and ensure some national consistency: Australia has, in effect, nine different funding models: the eight state and territory systems overlaid by the Commonwealth model.

Quite simply, the quality of training outcomes cannot be divorced from funding.  It is a matter of record that national funding of the VET sector has been in relative decline for a number of years: expenditure per hour of training in VET actually decreased around 25%. Whatever the perceived funding travails of the higher education sector, they pale in comparison to those of the VET sector.

Such a national review of VET would bring together and, as far as possible, synthesise the findings of the diverse reviews that have taken place in recent years.  It would enunciate a revitalised vision and mission for the VET sector in helping to meet Australia’s skills needs in a rapidly changing economic environment.  Importantly, it would clarify respective Commonwealth and State/Territory   roles and responsibilities, including funding.  The work of this inquiry would be an important contribution to such a renovation project.

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Brendan Sheehan, a senior fellow of the LH Martin Institute and the editor of The Scan,  was one of the authors of this submission. 

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