Could Private RTOs replace TAFE
May 19, 2015 7 Comments
So for a while now I have been tossing this idea around in my head as, in the great tradition of philosopher’s everywhere, a thought experiment and I just wanted to put some of that thinking down on paper to hopefully garner the opinions of others. Firstly it needs to be said that I am a believer in equality of educational opportunity, everyone should have the same opportunity to receive the best education and that, within some boundaries, that education should be available at little or no cost to them. I will talk about boundaries and co-contributions in a later piece, but any structure or framework for the delivery of educational outcomes need to meet the equality of educational opportunity position. Now it has often been suggested that it is the equality of educational opportunity proviso which creates the need for public educational institutions to deliver such outcomes. I would posit, that this is not necessarily the case, that at least theoretically one could construct a system where public education was replaced by private providers, particularly if we are able to let go of ideological positions. Now before we go on, while I think I could probably make a case across the entire realm of education I am going to in this instance restrict myself to considering the delivery of Vocational Education and training.
So the question then for me becomes could non-public RTOs replace public providers (TAFE)? Now there are in my opinion some areas where we have and also probably should have seen the vast majority of vocational education being delivered by non-public RTOs. Take for example the community services sector, an enormous amount of training in the community services sector is already outside of the public provider system and of that training, a significant proportion is done by organisations (mostly not for profits) who are already service providers themselves and who hold RTO status to either simply train their own staff or their own staff and other people who want to enter the sector. We see disability support providers delivering disability training, aged care providers delivering aged care, and despite some arguments to the contrary doing it quite well and meeting the needs of their own sectors.
So could this concept be translated to other areas? One of the arguments raised by the public sector against the proliferation of non-public providers is that non-public providers play in the low delivery cost, high student number areas (often referred to as low hanging fruit), which leaves the public providers with having to deliver high cost, both in terms of delivery and infrastructure, programs and programs which may have very small intake numbers, which makes them less financially viable therefore requiring more support. However, and here for me is the nub of the question, are for example trades, such as plumbing and electrical, delivered by organisations other than public providers? The answer is, of course they are, they are delivered by industry associations, employers, and other non-public providers. So if and again I would posit that this is the case, non-public RTOs are just as capable of delivery training and assessment programs across the range of qualifications within the VET system, given that they have or have access to the appropriate resources and infrastructure, the argument, if we ignore ideological commitments, is simply one about funding and structure. If we ignore ideological positions, there seems to be no fundamental reason why public institutions need to be involved in the delivery of vocational education. It appears that we could develop a framework where all of vocational education and training was delivered by non-public providers and that we could still meet the proviso for equality of educational opportunity.
Bear in mind here I am looking solely at the delivery and assessment of vocational education, I am not considering the other social contributions it is often suggested public providers make to communities, however as I have suggested in other places at least a significant proportion of these social contributions may be able to be achieved through other means. Also it is important to note that I am not suggesting that this is what we need to do, as I said at the beginning I am simply tossing an idea around in my head to see where it leads me, and it seems, that it is possible to hold a position that says there should be equality of educational opportunity and at the same time hold the position that there is no requirement for the public provision of Vocational Education. It appears that the basis for the public provision of vocational education is at its heart an ideological one and that equality of educational opportunity could be met through non-public provision given the right regulation, structures and funding. There seems in my view no fundamental reason why public provision is required.
Anyway, as I said I am just playing with some ideas here and my thinking is still very early on a lot of this, but I would appreciate any input that others might have about this. I would ask though that as I am particularly focusing here on structural and theoretical ideas and not on an ideology that prefaces on viewpoint or another, that if we could keep ideological positions out of the mix that would be useful. At least in the first instance I am simply interested in whether or not it is possible to create a structure of non-public provision which could meet an equality of educational opportunity proviso and achieve outcomes similar to what are currently being achieved.