New Governments and Vocational Education

Finally we have a result, well a result of sorts at least.  It is the case the the LNP has won the election and will probably be able to form government in their own right.  What then does this mean for the Vocational Education sector (VET) in this country, what can we hope for and more importantly what needs to happen.

Two things right of the bat here;  the coalition winning provides at least more certainty than there would have been should Labor won in its own right or in a worse case scenario had been forced to use The Greens or others to form government. To a large extent the sector knows the general thinking of the ‘new’ government in terms of the sector and this along with the relatively good relations that most of the players in the field have had with the government provides a level of certainty that simply would not have existed if there had been a change.  This should not be seen as a debate about the relative merits of various views, however, just that knowing a view is better than not knowing it.

The other thing, and this is something that I think is really important  Mr Turnbull;   could we please have a Minister for skills and training that hangs around for a while.  What we need in this sector is stability in terms of who is setting the rules and guiding the ship so to speak.  Both Senator Birmingham and Senator Ryan were both great advocates for and of the sector, (as was Minister Hartsuyker, who really was not in the ministry long enough for his impact to be judged) and I think the sector would be please to have either of them back.  However, whoever in the long run ends up with the portfolio please let them stay for a while, preferably for until the next election.

What then can we expect for the sector going forward.  I would be relatively confident that we would see things shaping up pretty much as we had before the election.  There has been a lot of work already done around the changes which need to be made to VET-FEE Help, how those changes might be implemented and what we can expect to see as a result. There is however,  another item which needs to be dealt with, has rarely been mentioned by anyone other that a couple of state training ministers, and needs to be dealt with both effectively and efficiently. That is the National Partnership Agreement.

Why is the National Partnership agreement on skills reform important, well it makes up a large part of where the funding comes from for the states to be able to pay for the funded training that they want/need to deliver  and also sets the scene for the delivery of that training.  Now there have been criticisms of the current agreement and how effective it was and what resulted from it, however these are discussions for another time and place.  What matters at this point is the federal government in conjunction with the states needs to reach a new agreement before the old one runs out, if for no other reason then to ensure that the various state governments are able to effectively fund their training sector for at the very minimum the 2017-18 financial year.  Now apart from the money of course, I think that there are five things I would like to see in any new agreement;

  1. A continuing and stronger commitment to both apprenticeships and traineeships
  2. A continuing commitment to income contingent loans, in what ever form they may take in the future
  3. A continuing commitment to a competitive market place, and
  4. An emphasis on quality of students outcomes
  5. Funding guarantee or entitlement arrangements particularly for those with no of limited qualifications

In the long run though the NPA is something for more important heads than mine to decide on so we shall just have to wait and see.

What about the elephant in the room; what can we expect to see around VFH.  I would expect that after all of the new government official thingys are all taken care of and all of the new ministers are in place we will quickly see some movement on this front.  One thing I expect to see happen is that all of the current contracts will be closed off, with perhaps a 12 month ‘teach out’ period attached to the contract to deal with students who have only recently enrolled.  The big question is will current VFH providers have to reapply for new contracts whatever those new contracts look like.  My personal opinion here is yes.  I think there will be a line drawn in the sand which will mark the movement from the old system to the a new system, if for no other reason then the political expedience of being able to say, ‘well that happened under the old system which wasn’t designed by us, look at our new system.”

With respect to any new system I think there are two things that probably shouldn’t to happen.  Firstly I don’t think it should be possible for any RTO to become registered and then simply apply for VFH.  Actually I think this applies to all government funding regardless of source, but that also is another discussion.  Secondly this concept of having delivered a diploma for a period of 5 years needs to go.  My general thinking around this is that an RTO needs to have been reregistered at least once or show quality in some other observable way.  The provider also needs to have a suitable risk rating from ASQA, solid financials and a history of acceptable student outcomes.  If these things don’t exist then they should simply not be given access.  The same should go with removal of access, there needs to be a simple but robust process through which the government can suspend payments or cancel the contract where they consider the provider to have breached the rules.  The department also needs robust reporting and contract management protocols in place so that things such as the rapid growth driven almost entirely by brokerages cannot happen again.

So there are a few things that any new minister into this portfolio will need to look at, and look at fairly quickly, but as I said at the start as we are not seeing a change in government, a lot of the hard work that has been done can be used as a basis for moving forward, so rather than there being a an issue of babies and bathwater which often happens in this sector when there is a change of government we will hopefully see some stability and focus around the sector.

Anyway, that’s just my opinion.


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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