Report of the Senate Enquiry into TAFE

The Senate Enquiry into TAFE has been released

 

So what does it say and what if anything does it mean?

 

Well like a lot of these Senate enquiry reports, while it makes a lot of recommendations (some good, some bad, some interesting) that all they are recommendations.  It is always up to the government of the day to make decisions based on those recommendations another other relevant information. This is particularly interesting given that there is a dissenting report (coalition senators) which forms part of the paper, and additional commentary from the Greens Senator.

The dissent is interesting as it would be might contention (not presuming to know the minds of either the Minister for Industry or those in the Department themselves) that the dissenting view shows us the Government thinking and direction on these matters.  The first and large standout for me that came from the dissension view was:

Recommendation 1
1.29 The Coalition Senators recommend that states and territories take steps to ensure each TAFE is given capacity to negotiate industrial agreements to ensure TAFE operates on an equal footing as other vocational education providers.

There is a strong view here I think that TAFE is the property and responsibility of the States and that the States need to be able to act is such a way as to ensure that TAFE is able to compete with other vocational providers.

1.35 Amend Recommendation 1 from the majority report to read:
The committee recommends that the Commonwealth work through its COAG partners on the National Partnership Agreement on Skills Reform to ensure that all States and Territories provide clear statements of policy direction on the role of TAFE in of TAFE in consultation with affected industries to ensure a quality education for students.

The dissenting amendment to the original recommendation is a small one, but again points to the heart of what seems to be the Government thinking on the relationship between the training sector and industry.  The current view (which is one that I have sympathy with) is that there needs to be strong consultation and links between industry and the providers of education.  In previous roles where I was more directly involved in the industry/TAFE interface, I was often critical of TAFE’s perceived inflexibility and inability to deliver to the needs of industry.

1.36 Amend Recommend 6 from the majority report to read:
The Committee recommends that COAG work collaboratively to develop a national workforce strategy for TAFE that addresses the level and quality of teaching qualifications in the sector.

Again the amendment to Recommendation 6 is a telling one, while the intent is essentially the same, any specifics, such as the reference to casual workforce have been removed.

And now for what I think is the most telling part of the dissenting comments;

1.37 Coalition Senators do not support Recommendation 10 in its entirety.
1.38 Coalition Senators recommend that for quality vocational education outcomes, a mix of contributors is required that includes government, industry and students.

This sits in a very different space to the Recommendation 10 in the main report which reads 4.51 The Committee recommends full and immediate reinstatement of TAFE funding cuts by State Governments.  TAFE is an expensive proposition, it is necessary, but it is expensive and there is a need to make it more economically viable while maintaining its ability to deliver training in those areas and sectors where other providers can’t or won’t deliver.  While some will disagree with me I tend to lean towards the thinking of the QLD government in the Skills and Training Taskforce Report which spoke to the need to know the base costs involved in the delivery of programs by TAFE, better asset management and better staff and workforce management.

Now for the comments from the Greens.  

I am troubled by the comments from the Green senator, some of you may remember a post from last year where I was concerned about a policy paper released by the Greens prior to the last election.  Where as I stated it seemed to be the Green position that the competitive VET market place has ruined TAFE, failed miserably and not met the needs of the country, so in order to rectify this they needs to give TAFE $1.2 Billion. So when I read the comments in the enquiry from the Greens and looked at their recommendations I struggled to see whether the comments came from a deep misunderstanding of the sector in general or from an inability to overcome their ideological tenets (this is not to say that other parties do this better by the way).

Recommendations like 1.15 The national entitlement to a guaranteed training place should only be offered at TAFE, it should not be restricted to selected qualifications or industry areas, and it should be available as many times as a student requires seem to be ideologically based and fail to see the evidence of the high quality of training which has been delivered by providers other than TAFE and the contribution of private and enterprise RTO’s to the market and to the provision of quality training.  Also to say that the there should be no restrictions on qualifications and that students can have guaranteed training places seems to simply be something that would just shall we say exponentially increase the bill that government would be footing, for perhaps tenuous actual effect on real vocational outcomes for both participants and industry.

The comment in Recommendation 5 – Every provider seeking registration to deliver vocational education in Australia should have the provision of vocational education as its primary purpose shows an utter lack of understanding for the contribution that industry itself provides, through organisations who don’t have vocational education as their primary purpose, but still run and maintain high quality RTO’s, and whom in the vast majority of cases have better connection to the needs of their workforce, their industry and sector that a TAFE could ever hope to have, no matter how much consultation was undertaken.  It is a deeply misguided statement.

As I said at the start I am deeply troubled by the position taken by the Greens in this report.

So in general I don’t really disagree with anything in the main recommendations (with the exception of Recommendation 3, but what it would mean in real terms I am not sure of, so I am currently happy to reserve my judgement), although I do prefer the additions and changes made in the dissenting comments from coalition senators.

We need all parts of the VET sector to work together from providers, be they TAFE, Private RTO’s or Enterprise RTO’s, to industry, to Federal and State Government and to participants.  It is only then that we will have a system to provides high quality vocational outcomes.

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About pauldrasmussen
Paul Rasmussen is one of Australia’s most widely read Vocational Education and Training Commentators. He provides deep, unbiased analysis and insights not only on topical issues, but also on the underlying structure and policy which supports the industry. His writing and analysis has been praised for its uncompromising and thought provoking style and its ability to focus on the issues of real importance to the sector. He has advised various government departments and ministers, training providers, public and private organisations, not for profits and small to medium enterprises on the VET sector and the issues and opportunities facing it. He is one of Australia’s most awarded learning professionals and a regular speaker at a range of conventions and forums. His extensive experience in vocational education, and learning and development coupled with formal qualifications in philosophy, ethics, business and education management allow Paul to provide a unique view of the road ahead and how to navigate it.

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