Why income contingent loans are vital to Vocational Education and Training
September 21, 2015 6 Comments
There has been a lot of bad press over the pass few months about the problems with the VET FEE-Help system. I myself have criticized the activities of some brokers and RTOs who have been at least in the opinion of a vast number of people using the system inappropriately and unethically. However amidst all of these criticisms it is important to remember something. The VET FEE Help system like FEE Help for Higher Education is a vital and necessary part of the how vocational education and training in this country should be delivered and paid for.
Now I know that there are going to be people out there who yell instantly that education is a right and that education should be free to whoever wants to undertake it, and to a large extent they are right, well at the very least about the first part of the proposition. Everyone should have equality of access to education, they should be able equitably to access whatever training and education that they desire as part of their life goals. The problem is of course that someone somewhere has to pay, be that the individual, organisations or the government, at some point there needs to be an accounting and the costs associated with the delivery of education need to be met. Now it is also important to note that it doesn’t matter how this education is delivered, whether it be through publicly owned entities like TAFE or private, enterprise and not for profit providers, there is still a cost which needs to be met. Now given that there is always going to be a cost somewhere in the system and given the amount of people in this country who wish to undertake post-secondary education, it seems at least to my mind difficult to suggest that on an ongoing basis we as a country could afford to fully fund the educational whims of everyone. This in turn then of course means that we need to come up with a range of systems around how it is possible for us as a country to allow for equitable access to education for all those who wish to undertake it by simply ‘paying’ for such education, while at the same time, not damaging ourselves economically, severely limiting the choice students have to courses or providers or radically altering the quality of the outcomes produced by the system.
This is of course where income contingent loans have a vital part to play, in conjunction with direct government funding for courses and programs which are seen to be priorities. Income contingent loans have been a vital part of the Higher Education landscape in Australia now for a significant period of time and have allow a wide range of people to enter and complete University programs to the highest levels, who would never have been able to undertake them had these loans not been available. I myself would not have the degrees and the knowledge that I possess, nor it could be said the enjoyment of the life I now have, had it not been for my ability to study, a subject that interested, me through the assistance of an income contingent loan. My degrees sit in an area which would not ever make it onto a government priority funding list. I studied Philosophy and Ethics and in particular professional ethics, research ethics and Bioethics, not subjects known for their ability to attract government funding for those people who wish to study them. However because of income contingent loans I was able to study an area which I found stimulating and interesting and which has even if indirectly provided me with most of the roles I have had over my working career since I completed my studies.
Without income contingent loans, there would be a massive segment of Australian Society who would miss out on being able to access education and training. It is simply the case that for most Australian’s coming up with a fee of even $5,000 to undertake a course of study would not be something they could do easily, or without going into debt in some other way, such as credit cards or the like. Systems like VET FEE-Help allow equitable access to education. They provide a way of reducing the stratification which occurs within society when education is only available to those with enough resources to be able to pay for them directly from their own pockets.
So the question then becomes does the value provided by programs like VET FEE-Help in terms of equity of access to education out-way the problems associated with them? For me the answer is clearly yes, however this does not mean to say that we do not need to work as hard as we can to ensure that students, employers and the nations are getting the best possible outcomes from the system and that those organisation who seek simply to profit through inappropriate, unethical and in some cases illegal behavior should not be stamped out by the full weight of the law.
Anyway that’s just my opinion.