National Vocational Education And Training Sector Review

A Shorten Labor Government will undertake a comprehensive review of the National Vocational Education and Training sector to ensure it is properly equipped to train young Australians and re-train adult workers for the jobs of the future.

The Vocational Education and Training sector deserves a comprehensive, evidence-based approach to policy-making to ensure it is fit for the critical task of preparing Australians for a rapidly changing economy.

Why does the VET sector need a review?

Despite its importance to Australia’s social and economic future, Australia’s VET sector is at a crossroads. Costs are increasing but quality is declining, particularly in private courses and states which have experienced funding reductions.

Labor’s review will ensure that proper standards within the VET sector are developed and enforced and the central role of our public TAFE system is recognised.

Our national skills and training sector used to be the envy of the world – however since the election of the Liberal Government it has been significantly damaged by shonks and sharks ripping off vulnerable people.

“We have never seen the Australian training system in such a parlous state.”

Innes Willox, Chief Executive, Australian Industry Group, 17 February 2016

Having a strong VET sector is an important part of Labor’s plan to tackle inequality.

That is why we need to restore confidence in the VET sector, and protect and promote the value of vocational qualifications. This requires an honest assessment of the state of the sector, and a clear articulation of the principles that should underpin VET today and into the future.

While schools and universities have had important structural reviews in recent times with the Gonski and Bradley reviews – the vocational education and training sector has been left behind. The sector has not undergone a full review since the Kangan Report in 1974.

It is time for a full review of the operation of the sector including quality, funding and access. As new jobs emerge and existing industries go through extensive restructuring the nation will rely on an effective, quality vocational sector to provide the qualifications to enable people to enter the workforce, upskill or retrain.

What we have seen from the Abbott/Turnbull Government is chaos in the sector followed by policy on the run.

Who will benefit?

The VET sector is critical for training Australians for the jobs of the future –it must be a quality-based system with outcomes that deliver for students, businesses and communities, including in the regions. A well-functioning VET sector is critical to improving productivity, growth and national wealth.

A strong TAFE network must be central to Australia’s VET system. Our TAFE system, as a public provider, delivers courses no private provider would deliver, in parts of Australia that no private provider would service and in important industries requiring expensive training.

TAFE has given millions of Australians the education and skills they needed for the jobs they wanted and a second chance at education – it must continue to play that vital role in our towns, suburbs, cities and regions.

These actions will ensure quality, ethical private providers will not suffer reputational damage because of the action of shonky providers. All private providers must be required to deliver quality and act ethically, the devastating behaviour of the last two years must not be tolerated.

A Federal Labor Government will make skills and training a national priority.

A comprehensive review will deliver an evidence-based approach to guarantee a strong and effective VET sector that is more responsive to the needs of students, industry, and regional skills requirements.

This comprehensive review complements Labor’s announced TAFE National Priority Plan, which will ensure funding for TAFE as the public provider, so that quality training can continue to be delivered in our regions, in key sectors such as aged care, and to disadvantaged groups.

Labor is backing TAFE and training because we believe every Australian - young or old, from the city or the bush -has an equal right to share in the jobs and opportunities of the future.

Turnbull Government’s record on vocational education

Since the election of the Abbott/Turnbull Governments, the Liberals have cut almost $2.5 billion from skills and training, including $1 billion from apprentice programs and the Tools for Your Trade program. They have also axed great programs like the National Workforce Development Fund and language, literacy and numeracy programs.

The $1 billion cut to apprentices has seen apprentice numbers across Australia plummet from 417,700 apprentices in September 2013 to 295,300 apprentices in September 2015.

That is 122,400 fewer apprentices in training.

In the six months since Malcolm Turnbull was elected he has not backed TAFE once and has failed to put a stop to the rip-offs in the sector. There have now been four different Ministers in just two years and the chaos continues.

Malcolm Turnbull has secret plans for a TAFE-destroying takeover of vocational education. These plans were recently revealed in a leaked secret document.

The document states that:

“Government-owned providers will be funded on the same basis as private providers.”

- Sydney Morning Herald, 4 February 2016

This will be the final nail in the coffin for TAFE. Malcolm Turnbull has refused to rule out this plan and he has refused to back TAFE.

Labor’s plan to build a stronger VET system

To date, Labor has put forward plans to guarantee funding for TAFE and to implement strong and sensible measures stop the shonks and sharks in the private sector.

The National Vocational Education and Training Sector Review adds to the announcement last year that a Shorten Labor Government would guarantee TAFE funding into the future by working with Premiers and Chief Ministers on a comprehensive National Priority Plan that defines the role of TAFE and places it squarely as the public provider within the VET sector.

Last year, Labor called on the Government to put forward strong, sensible measures to:

  • Establish a VET Ombudsman;
  • Cap tuition fees in line with how university fees are set;
  • Lower the lifetime limit for VET FEE-HELP loans to half the current amount;
  • Require loan applications for students to be handled by the department rather than a private college or broker;
  • Ban or place restriction on brokers;
  • Provide the Minister with the power to suspend payments to a private college under investigation.

There is significant evidence that the vocational training sector must be underpinned by a strong and viable public provider.

We must protect the reputation of the sector, prioritise outcomes for students and meet the national need for a well-trained workforce into the future.

ATTACHMENT A - Terms of Reference

Australia’s skills and vocational education and training (VET) sectors are a vital part of our nation’s education system.

The VET sector is an important part of the continuum of education across life – either post-school, during career transitions or as a pathway to university.

VET courses provide adults with foundational as well as technical and job-specific skills. VET also provides a pathway for young people into skilled careers that don’t require a university degree as well as providing adult workers transitioning between industries with important additional and new skills.

As such, VET has a critical role to play in improving literacy and numeracy, as well as addressing our growing skills shortages in growth industries such as ICT, health, ageing and disability care and construction.

In an economy of continuous and rapid change, the VET sector has a critical role to play supporting people who lose their job and need to re-skill for new employment, as well as assisting workers to upskill, re-skill and adjust to the rapid technological change that is now so significant a part of our labour market.

Despite its importance to Australia’s social and economic future, Australia’s VET sector is at a crossroads. Costs are increasing but quality is declining, particularly in private courses and states which have experienced funding reductions.

Australia’s training system has been the envy of the world. However, the reputation of our VET sector has been tarnished.

Evidence of dishonest education providers delivering poor-quality courses, and students being saddled with high costs and significant debts for substandard outcomes is now rife.

The current Commonwealth-State funding arrangements encourage cost shifting, blur responsibility and has resulted in fragmented governance models across the sector.

That is why a Shorten Labor Government will undertake a comprehensive review into the vocational education and training, to ensure that the sector is equipped to support jobs and growth into the future.

The Review will be tasked to make recommendations to Government on the basis of the following principles:

  1. A high quality, strong TAFE network, and high quality private providers that ensure course offerings meet the needs of students, and the economy.
  2. A VET curriculum that prepares students for the jobs of today and the jobs of the future.
  3. That the VET sector responds to labour market needs, with job-ready graduates.
  4. A rigorous performance framework that focuses on completions and the highest quality standards to ensure that students are ready for employment or ongoing education and study.
  5. Integration with schools and universities to provide seamless pathways for students.
  6. Clarity around roles and responsibilities for different levels of government, with clear performance and funding, resulting in a National Plan for Vocational Education and Training.
  7. Sustainable funding (from all levels of government) that supports a strong sector, and ensures affordability and access for students.
  8. Appropriate balance of student/government contributions to vocational education, including up-front payments and responsible utilisation of VET FEE-HELP loans.
  9. Ensure choices made by students are supported by quality information and appropriate safeguards and protections, including consumer protection measures and regulatory efficacy.
  10. A regional presence to ensure all Australians have access to quality vocational education and training opportunities.
  11. Consideration of assurance that online and blended study options are of high quality and appropriate to learning needs.

The Review will consult with industry, trade unions, employer groups, teachers, students and VET provider organisations to ensure a comprehensive range of advice is provided to the Review.

The Review will run concurrently with Labor’s proposed COAG National TAFE Priority Plan and the Plan will form part of the considerations of the Review Committee. The Review will also work with State Governments, and incorporate existing reviews and bodies of work such as the 2015 Victorian Government VET Funding Review.