Would a Federal VET funding system be good for TAFE?
July 29, 2015 1 Comment
So I wrote a couple of days ago about the discussions that are happening around the idea of the Federal government taking over responsibility for Vocational Education and training from the various states and what that would mean. One of the points I talked about was the idea that essentially under a system where funding and regulation are the responsibility of the Federal government, TAFEs become simply another provider within the system, albeit one that is owned by the state rather than by some kind of non-public entity. A small amount of criticism to the idea or use of words, that TAFE would be ‘simply another provider’ was raised. Central to the criticism is the idea that TAFE being just another provider devalued the social value and functions that TAFE provided and its special responsibilities as a publicly owned provider. It would be my contention however that a federalised VET funding system would, if there are in fact special responsibilities in terms of social functions and value for TAFE, make the provision of these functions easier and in addition far more transparent than what they currently are.
The idea that TAFE has some special responsibilities, social functions and value in excess of the responsibilities of non public providers is often raised as a reason why TAFE needs to be protected, needs to have some percentage of funding allocated to it and outside of any contestable model which might be being utilised. Now while I am sure that there are areas in which some TAFE institutes do have these social functions and responsibilities I have never been completely convinced by this argument, particularly when used to justify funding allocations, primarily because while it is quite often talked about in terms of support for people with disabilities and other special needs, providing community hubs and various things like that, a lot of what is discussed is provided by a range of other organisations. Non-public VET providers, particularly those not-for-profit providers, do substantial work with disabled and disadvantaged people in assisting them to achieve their educational and other goals. There are also numerous community sector providers (non-VET) who provide substantial amounts of social value and function in communities and in a lot of cases the services and outcomes provided by both these types of organisations are often better then those provided by TAFE.
No withstanding that however, let us assume that TAFE or at least some TAFEs have special responsibilities or functions in terms of social and community value. A federalised system would it seems, create a situation where these functions could be properly resourced and funded , by the state governments, without that resourcing and funding being rolled up or conflated with funding for the provision of vocational education outcomes. Essentially a federal system would be responsible for the regulation of all registered training organisations and for providing a pool of funding which would be allocated under some type of contestable model to meet the skills and training needs of both the nation and where necessary particular states. Given that the states were no longer involved in the allocations of funding for training and were simple the owner of a number of providers of vocational education there would be no need for funding at a federal level to be portioned off into that which was solely for TAFE and that which was available for all other providers.
This is the case because like any other training provider, the operational costs for the delivery of VET services should be covered by the income they generated through the provision of those services, be that through the delivery of funded training, fee for service or income contingent loans. Capital expenditure, maintenance of infrastructure and any additional functions should be provided either from additional revenue raised through the provision of educational services or in the case of TAFE from the state government. This would then allow the state governments to allocated state funding to TAFE institutes for the provision of these special responsibilities and social functions, over an above the income which the TAFE generated through a contestable federal funding model.
This would have some additional side effects as well. It would make what funding was being allocated to public education providers, and for what purposes extremely transparent, which would in turn indicate what the special responsibilities and functions that public providers had were and what they cost. This would then allow the government to determine whether or not using an educational provider to provide these special social functions or values was the best way of achieving their social goals or whether it might be the case that in most cases TAFE should simply be a training provider and the other functions were better off being provided in some other way. This transparency would also show the true costs associated with delivery within the public providers, as being responsible for their operation expenses through the generation of training income would show whether or not they needed to be supported even in this area and whether, depending on the particular institute that was the best use of resources or if in cases where they were seen to be unable to cover their operational expenses through the delivery of training services and where there were no other substantive reasons, or the situation was not likely to improve, hard decisions about their continued existence and form might need to be asked. The costs in terms of capital expenditure, maintenance etc. would also be clear. In essence a federal funding system for VET, where state owned TAFEs were simply another provider, would actually improve the system of public provision, by allowing TAFEs to concentrate on what they should be doing, that is the business of delivering educational outcomes and the State governments to simply act as the capital support mechanism in a way that was far more transparent than it currently is.
Yes it would be a substantial change to the mindset of both those in the government and those managing TAFEs and some of them might not survive at least in their current form, but a federalised system would also have a effect upon non-public providers as well and those who were not able to cope with the change would not survive. All in all a system of federal regulation and funding where all providers are essentially playing on a level field is one it seems likely to produce solid outcomes for everyone involved.
Anyway that’s just my opinion.