Some VET Fact and Myths

Rod Camm wrote a really interesting piece for his ACPET National Monday Update this week, which really struck a chord with me, primarily because it is looking at the VET sector and trying to inject some facts into a discussion often held ransom to media outbursts and ideological positioning.  I thought therefore today I might look at the facts that Rod outlined and perhaps some others to see if we can’t get a little less biased view of our sector.

The first, and I think one of the most important facts pointed out, is that there is only about 2500 providers in the VET sector, actively delivering training, not the 4-5000 which is an often quoted number and the enrolments with these providers range from 1 student to over 100,000 students.  A lot has been made of high-flying corporate whiz kids, cashing in on the VET sector and making massive profits at the expense of everyone else The media, the various education unions and some politicians have had a field day promoting this view, often for their own ends.  The truth is however that private providers have average student enrolments of 819 with the median number being much lower at 204.  This is tiny in comparison to the 19,000 and 16,000 figures for TAFE.  The overwhelming majority of private providers are not huge corporate monsters, whose only goal is to make as much profit as they possible can; with just under 1000 private providers have less that 100 students, the vast majority are simply small providers, providing awesome outcomes to their students and the industries they serve.  I bet we will never see that little nugget from the news media or the deep left, who much prefer the sensationalism of corporate failures.  As I said in my piece early last year non-public providers are an incredibly diverse lot.

There is another myth that has been perpetrated upon this sector or more specifically upon the non-public side of the sector and that is that business and industry trusts and is more satisfied with the public provision of training than with the private sector.  You could wonder I  think, when you read the news media and the various commentaries and interviews around it as to why there was even a a need for a non-public VET sector given the love which is espoused for the public providers.  When we look at the data from NCVER however, we see a different picture; employers indicate 80.0% satisfaction with private providers, 83.6% with industry and professional associations and 66.1% with TAFE. 80% of employers are very satisfied with the training delivered by non-public providers.

Now please don’t think I am trying to badmouth or undermine TAFE here, I have always been, and will continue to be a strong supporter of a well-funded and healthy public provider system.  The public providers have a  tough job, constrained in ways the non-public side isn’t, funding, bureaucracy, student cohorts, and the needs and wants of governments, it is no wonder their satisfaction figures are lower. This doesn’t mean that they do not do as good a job as or produce outcomes equal to that of the non-public providers, it is just that when you are trying to keep so many, often competing stakeholders happy, you are never going to succeed in doing that.

On to some other stuff now, well some facts and figures, which Rod doesn’t mention, but which I think are worth commenting on, primarily costs, funding and VFH.  Now I have covered all of these points in other articles before, however I think that they are all worth mentioning again in this context.  The first is of course the issue of funding for TAFE, much has been made of the fact that TAFE needs to be better funded and interestingly in 2016 we saw a lot of people talking about the need for TAFE to receive at least 70% of the funding available for VET  This of course stopped quite quickly when it was pointed out that the public providers received around 80% of the public funding available in the sector already.  Now before you ask where this figure comes from, it comes from the actual budget papers of all of the state governments, who are the ones responsible for the funding of the TAFE sector.  The bigger question, which I asked last year and never got an answer for is where did that figure come from in the first place?

The other point is this idea that training delivered through a private providers is far more expensive that training delivered through the public provider, in one case it was claimed by The Greens, that private provision cost as much as 7 times the cost of public provision.  These claims are demonstrably incorrect as I explained in detail here.  These sorts of claims are based in general of really poor interpretation of information by people who have little or no knowledge of the sector itself.  They ignore facts such as, that under most of the entitlement funding models the subsidy if the same for all providers, so the amount of money being paid is the same no matter who delivers the training.  Even when we roll VET fee Help figures into the whole mixture of other funding and models that are out there, we see that at the very outside non-public provision across all courses at all levels the cost of delivery of a qualification through a non-public providers is about the same as it is through a public provider with both, when it all comes out in the wash costing around $45,000 per enrollment.  It is important to remember however that is figure is going to dropped substantially with the introduction of the VSL scheme in its entirety from June this year.  It will be interesting to see what happens to these figures and comparisons, when we get to look at them again at the end of the next financial year.

So why bring all of this up and talk through it?  As Rod suggested it is important that we know the industry that we are working in.  It is important that we know not just how to do the jobs that we do but the facts and figures which underpin that.  Why? Because if we don’t then we might be tempted to believe some of the  ill-informed, ideology fueled nonsense that comes to us through and is promoted by the media and other sources.  Whether it is delivered by a TAFE, and industry association, a not for profit, an enterprise RTO or a private company, Vocational education is important to this countries future and decisions about it and how we can make it better need to be based on fact not opinion.

Anyway that’s just my opinion.



Student cohorts, learning outcomes and employment possibilities

So as you may have noticed I haven’t posted anything for a couple of weeks, this was mainly due to two things, firstly I was on holidays and secondly I have actually been out on the boards so to speak again, delivering some training.  A certificate II in community services to be exact which has kept me in the field and somewhat away from the keyboard.  It has done something else as well, it has driven home to me the need that we have in this sector to make sure that when we enroll people in programs that they are in the right program for them.  The level of the program needs to be right, both in terms of content and assessment, it has to link to what they want to do with their lives and there needs I think to be the possibility of an appropriate outcome for them.  Unfortunately I think that perhaps we in the sector and those around the sector who recruit, for want of a better word (I will explain what I mean later), student cohorts for us to deliver training to sometimes don’t look hard enough at those who are going to be doing the course before we start them on their journey.

Now as most of you know I am a strong believer in the value of education for everyone, particularly in terms of the possibility of improving a persons lot in life shall we say, for example assisting them to move into gainful employment.  At the same time I am troubled that a lot of the programs and funding which is spread around by various governments with the idea of helping highly disadvantaged people to improve their prospects  may in fact by quite ineffectual simply because the student cohorts who are being recruited into these programs, for a range of reasons, such as, the  eligibility requirements, the pressure on organisations to reach certain numbers of attendees and recruitment being often done by third party organisations (community sector and NFP’s) who don’t understand the VET system.

I have had this exact thing driven home to me over the past weeks, while as I said delivering a Certificate II in community services through a program where community sector organisations are funding to recruit and provide a range of wrap around services like CV’s for example and the provider ‘simply’ delivers the accredited part of the program under standard funding arrangements. That I encountered such issues with a lower level qualification may puzzle some of you, but bear with me as I explain.  Firstly there are a range of criteria set by the government for who can undertake these programs, students must be either unemployed and not receiving commonwealth benefits or have been unemployed for a period of more than six months.  Now as anyone who has been unemployed for more than six months, either by choice or not, their are in general significantly more issues around getting back into the workforce then for people who are currently employed or only short term unemployed.  Secondly the organisations are given funding for a certain number of students, so if they don’t get the numbers they need they may well have to refund money to the government when the program is over and thirdly the vast majority of organisation involved in these programs have little no experience in the provision of accredited training, they are service providers not training organisations.

So what happens when all of this comes together?  Well you get a group of people (twelve to be exact) out of whom, I would suggest only two will gain employment as a result of the program and maybe another two more will go on to do further study.  So about two thirds of the group will not achieve one of the listed outcomes for the program. Why? Well there are a variety of reasons some of which are,

  • lack of social and work skills, to such an extent that it will take far more work and training than what they are having to overcome
  • Attitudinal issues bought about from previous experiences, both in work and elsewhere
  • a lack of ability to determine what is appropriate behaviour and act accordingly, and
  • their world view

The first thing that is interesting about this list is that for the most part none of these issues relate to their ability to successfully complete the assessments for the program.  There are one or two who have really struggled with the content and assessments, but all but one will actually successfully complete.  What is interesting is that when the class first started I thought the number of people who would get an appropriate outcome would be much higher, but as time has progressed and we have had more and more conversations, the students have felt safer and more comfortable, they have said and done things which show clearly why a number of them have had the experience of never keeping a job for more than about 3 months.

None of this of course should not be taken to suggest that the students have not grown, learnt things and perhaps become a little better equipped for life.  What it is to suggest is that we need where we can, across the board, to try and do a bit better job when it comes to recruiting students, across all levels of qualifications.  Now can we always get it right at the start, no and to think we could would be foolish.  We recently had to withdraw a student who had an undisclosed mental illness, which made it impossible for him to complete the requirements of the course.  He didn’t disclose it, because he thought it was going to have an impact, but as the course rolled on it did and despite the supports we were able to offer it was impossible for him to continue and as I have said with my recent experience, issues didn’t become clear until we touched on a particular subject or the student felt sufficiently safe.

The other thing that needs to be done is for the funding bodies to look at the criteria they are placing on these courses and programs and ask themselves some hard questions about whether the criteria themselves are making it more difficult for everyone, students included to get the desired outcomes.

Anyway that’s just my opinion.

What is Queensland VET doing right with its funded training?

So on Sunday I was pondering what it was I was going to write about this week.  I had planned to look at who won the election and work through what that might mean in terms of the sector, but that had sort of gone out the window by about 9.00 pm, on Saturday night.  I even contemplated not writing something this week (I know, the horror), but then yesterday NCVER saved the day for me, with their statistical report on Government Funded Students and courses 2015.  I had heard a lot of people talking yesterday about how the numbers looked and the fact that there were declines in the number of government funded students, and further claims from some circles that it was all the fault of private providers in the market.  However, when I got to sit down and read it I was pleasantly surprised.  Pleasantly surprised because I am a Queenslander and what seems to me to ring quite loudly when you look at the report is one sentence in particular “Queensland was the only jurisdiction to experience an increase in student numbers in 2015 — up from 264 100 students in 2014 to 283 300 students in 2015 (7.3%). In addition, subject enrollments increased by 278 000 subjects (10.6%), hours by 8.8 million (10.7%) and FYTEs by 12 300 (10.7%).” 

Now lets just think about that for a moment, out of all of the states in Australia in 2015, Queensland was the only one where student numbers, subject enrollments, hours and FYTE went up, by between 7 and 10%.  This then lead me on to a very simple question.  What is Queensland doing right with its government funded training?  I can see the assumption that some pundits in the sector might leap to, Queensland has a Labor state government and a strong, supported TAFE sector so naturally they are going to have a good result.  Now as I have said on a number of occasions I think TAFE QLD is a bit of an exemplar about how TAFE should be run, and the kinds of outcomes for both students and the state we should be expecting from our public provider, however as we go on let’s just keep in mind that South Australia last year basically gave all of its public funding to the public sector provider.

There is another interesting piece of information which sits in this report though, Queensland has the highest number of private providers involved in government funded training of any of the states and the second highest overall number of providers involved in funded training (It is worth noting that the reason Victoria has higher overall numbers is the enormous number of Community Education providers involved in their system).  Its interesting isn’t it, the state with the highest number of non-public providers has the only increase in student numbers.

The other thing which makes this interesting to me is that it is quite difficult to become and continue to be a Pre-Qualified Supplier (PQS) in Queensland.  In fact with the new contract arrangements we have seen a number of providers not invited to have their contracts continue and others only invited to continue with conditions imposed upon them,  to ensure that those providers who are delivering qualifications under the Queensland funding programs are of the highest quality.

In addition we then have the fact the Queensland government has reintroduced its Skilling Queenslanders for work program which strongly links community organisations, RTOs and employers in order to attract, train and find employment for those people who might ordinarily fall through the cracks in the system for whatever reason.  Its policy settings for its VET investment plan, also seek at least in my opinion, to make it possible for those people who are most likely to need to access government subsidised training places to be able to do the training they need.

When we add all of this together, what is it that Queensland is doing right when it comes to VET?   I think first and foremost they are approaching the concept of government funded training from reasoned, sensible and not ideologically driven viewpoint.  A viewpoint that recognises that we need to have a strong public provider in TAFE, but that we also need to have strong non-public provision, to provide student choice, niche markets, alternative delivery strategies and really just options for both students and employers.  It is a viewpoint that recognises that there needs to be support given to particular cohorts of students, over and above the support given by the training providers, in order to assist them not only to successfully complete their training but also to find employment pathways as a result of it.

When we look at the differences between Victoria and Queensland in their approach in terms of what qualifications were funded, who was allowed to deliver them, and how that delivery was managed from a government perspective, I think we can see why there have been problems in the Victorian market that haven’t been present in Queensland.

When we look at South Australia where we see a nearly 17% drop (the highest of all states) in student numbers on the back of a decision of the state government there to all but exclude non-public providers from the market.  Now, I think it says something powerful.  It says something powerful to those people who insist that the reason that numbers are declining is because of the effect of non-public providers in the market.

But anyway that’s just my opinion.

QLD budget 2016 and the VET sector, some thoughts and snippets

Well it was QLD budget time yesterday and if we go to the main budget website we can see training and education right there on the front page highlights with ‘record funding for training and education of $12.9 billion.’  Now I have to admit that that sounds like an absolute wheelbarrow of money, but what is it that the VET sector is actually going to get out of that great big pot.  After digging through the budget papers, (for those of you who are interested, here are the more interesting of them  Budget strategy and outlook and service delivery statements) we see that not to much has changed and the QLD government as it has had a bit of a tradition of doing over quite a period of time has shown a good understanding of the sector and the needs of students and stakeholders.

So what are we seeing, firstly let’s look at the the funding arrangements;

  • User Choice Apprentice and Trainee Training Subsidy increase slightly from  $209 million to  $220 million
  • Certificate 3 Guarantee Tuition subsidy decrease from $152 million to $140 million
  • Higher Level Skills Tuition  Subsidy increase from  $54 million to $60 million

Now firstly you might thing hang on why is the certificate III guarantee going down.  It’s not, the reduction to $140 million is just a better indication of the demand for places under this program and with a $10 million boost to this to provide second chance funding to students who already hold a certificate III, there are not any real losses here for anyone. There is also the $60 million which forms part of the Skilling Queenslanders for work program, which while it is not directly part of the VET sector itself, does increase the number of students having access to training, which is always a good thing.

In addition there are some interesting little tidbits hidden away in the various parts of the budget as well that I think provide a bit of an insight into the sector, and are worth while looking considering;

  • The average annual dollar value of user choice subsidy per student is $2,532
  • The average subsidy value for Certificate III funding is $2,734, with the subsidy for each qualification ranging from $530 to $7,880
  • The average subsidy value for the Higher skills program is $4,281, with the subsidy for each qualification ranging from $2,130 to $11,060
  • The average total cost (to the government) per competency successfully completed is $525 (This figure is calculated by dividing the Training and Skills service area budget by the number of successful VET competencies (individual study units) directly funded by the department)
  • The average cost per competency successfully completed through TAFE is $776, with the 16-17 estimate being $799. (This figure is calculated from total expenses divided by the number of competencies successfully completed by students)

See I told you there were some interesting snippets of information did I not.  When we look at the information in the budget papers it seems to suggest that a unit of competency is about $275 more costly if delivered through TAFE than the average cost to the government of a funded unit.  Now we need to be careful with this information mainly because it may be the case that there are costs associated with non-public delivery (Student contribution fees, offsetting costs through fee for service training etc) that are simply not captured in this information and which may make the cost per unit very similar when calculated in.   What we can say however, from a purely economic and budgetary perspective, for the government, non-public provision of funded training is less expensive than public provision. Please remember though that that is from a completely economic standpoint and does not take into account, the high costs associated with regional and remote training, training for specialist populations, TAFEs high overheads (staff and facilities) and other considerations.

Importantly what I think we can take from this, is that non-public provision of funded training (at least in QLD) forms a vital part of the overall picture of the Vocational education and training sector and without the inclusion of non-public providers the costs associated with the delivery and assessment of VET in this state would rise.

So where does the VET sector stand in Queensland after the 2016 budget, in a pretty strong place I think.  When we roll in the Departments increased risk assessment strategies around PQS providers, a training ombudsman and Training Queensland, I think there is a very solid footing for the next few years to be positive.  The only hole on the horizon though is that the National Partnership Agreement runs out next year and no matter who gets into government federally this could in the long run result in wholesale changes, but that is 12 months away, we can worry about that later.

Anyway that’s my opinion.


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